Cinque Terre Trekking

12 July 2013

Breakfast at 0730: four pieces of ‘biscotti’ (tiny pieces of bread pre-toasted); jam; Nuttella; yogurt; a sweet bun thing; coffee from the espresso machine. Not bad, but very sweet. Bit of a change from the DIY ‘bran sticks’ and milk.

Today was walk-north day.

Cinque Terre (in case you didn’t know) sits on Italy’s west coast. Each of the five seaside villages sit at the foot of some very big (up to 700 m, or about 2100 ft), very steep, very rocky hills — which means morning is a superb time to walk on them, because you are not in the direct sun.

Cinque Terre is known for the coastal walking trails between its five villages. However, a number of the lower-level ones have closed as a result of rock slides which occurred in the torrential downpours and flooding of 2011. This is currently the case with the just-above-sea-level track between Manarola and Corniglia, the next town to the north. Consequently, to walk between these two towns requires following a 6.5 km track up, along and then down the side of a very steep hill.

Getting up to the main grape-growing area takes you past some streams (lined with fig trees)…

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(Not bad for no tripod, I reckon!)

…and past locals’ verdant gardens: tomatoes, peaches, apricots, pears, onions, basil, olives, raspberries (I think) — food everywhere, and so neatly arranged and lovingly tended. And water-delivering Alkathene pipe — threaded precariously via inventive means — is the region’s veins.

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And all the time the sound of what I initially thought were baritone cicadas; but today we think we found the culprit: gigantic, grey, cricket-looking things:

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These guys are about twice the size of a black NZ cricket.

But the dominant foliage is that of grapes. They are established on narrow terraces that are buttressed into place by stone walls. Each terrace has a goat-track-sized walkway around the edge to enable the viticulturists to tend to their vines. There is a designated transit-way for tourists, marked by the occasional little red-and-white paint lines, but we managed to get off that somehow and suffered something of a detour, scrabbling around on the edge of a precipitously steep hill and trying hard not to stomp on the growing tips of the vines that had ventured out on to the tracks. Eventually — with the help of an English family who had suffered the same fate — we found our way back on to the official track. The entire traverse (with numerous photo stops and the detour) took 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The views afforded by the walk are stunning. When I regain access to my computer and Photoshop I have a lot of panoramas to stitch together, but here are some other shots from today.

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Snapseed has some interesting filters.

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The colours in the grasses caught my eye.

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There were poppies and other wildflowers about the place.

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Another smaller, more colourful cricket.

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Cicada was here.

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The blue beyond the grape foliage is the sky and sea blending together, over 1000 ft below.

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Picturesque and ancient landscape.

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Manarola in the background.

We think the tracks below exist to haul the grapes out at harvest time. Precisely how they work, we are not sure; but considering the terrain, setting up the system must have been an engineering feat and a half. They extend up and down the hill as far as the eye can see, and it’s incredibly steep.

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After our slightly creative tracking, we finally made our way to Corniglia (pronounced Cor-nee-lia.)

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This shot gives some feel for our elevation, the steepness of the terrain, and the location of the train station at Corniglia.

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We managed to miss the turn-off to the actual village of Corniglia (which is the only one of the five villages that is not right at sea level, but up on the hill a bit), so we ended up at train-station level with several other people who had made the same error. Given that the stairs at the end of the track were steep and winding,…

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…and we wanted to get further north to Monterosso al Mare anyhow, we hopped on the train for the not-quite 10-minute journey (feeling somewhat self-conscious at our hot-and-sweaty state!)

It seems the people at Corniglia Stazione have had enough of tourists asking them when trains leave:

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Monterosso is a buzzing hive of European beachside holiday activity. From our Kiwi perspective, it’s really funny. The ‘beach’ is not that big, there’s hardly any sand, and you have to pay — yes, pay — to get access to the water. That’ss because you get a chair and an umbrella, and you get to use one of the hundreds of itty-bitty changing sheds. It’s all very, well… urban, and nothing at all like a real beach.

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But at least there is actually sand. At Manarola there is no sand. It is just rock right to the water, and there are a few metal ladders that swimmers can climb up and down to get in and out of the water. People sunbathe on the concrete boat ramp and the rocks. It’s very cramped.

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The ‘beach’ at Manarola.

But, all of that said, the water is beautifully clear.

After a lunch of panini with ham and cheese and a cappuccino, I decided to attempt the 2 km walk to Sant’Antonio — the remains of an old church on the point high above Monterosso. Dave wasn’t quite so sure he was all that keen after the morning’s walk, so he came part of the way with me and then waited on a step on the track near to the Bella Vista hotel while I ‘summited’ and came back. Not the smartest thing to do, necessarily, as it was in the heat of the day, so somewhat hotter than 30 degrees (1240 to about 1320 for me to get up and back from abeam the Bella Vista), and it was very steep, albeit with stone steps most of the way. Dripping wet with sweat by the time I got to the top I was, at least, rewarded with some great views from the 341 m (about 1100 ft ) high peak.

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At the top are the remains of an old church, but the little information plaque was all in Italian. Have yet to research it.

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There was also an abandoned, more modern building that appeared to have once been a lookout. At least it was shady inside.

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Back in Monterosso — and a dishevelled comedy of sweat, dust and sunburnt shoulders — I waited with Dave for 45 minutes for the 3 o’clock ferry back to Manarola (there being a breeze on the ferry, and less likelihood of offending fellow travellers with our aroma!!!)

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Ferry captain.

The ferry gave a different outlook on the coast. Although the mountains were very hazy by this stage, the view from the sea did give us an insight into the area’s geology

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Vernazza from the ferry.

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Corniglia from the ferry. Corniglia is the only one of the five villages that is not actually down at sea level — and hence the ferry doesn’t stop there.

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‘Home’, Manarola, swings into sight.

20130713-202144.jpg And the same image played with a bit in Snapseed.

Dinner consisted of some fresh bread and ‘insalata (salad) fantasia’; (greens, tuna, corn, tomato and mozzarella) for Dave; and ‘insalata Gallica’; (mesculun, mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs) for me, from another of the tiny food shops in town. We topped it off with the rest of the vino rosso, and put the 5 euro vino da tavola bianco in the fridge for tomorrow.

Walking south tomorrow.

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