The villages are connected by a trail called Sentiero Azzurro, which weaves along the side of the cliffs overlooking the sea. Each village has a sanctuary, perched at the peak of the mountains behind the villages, with a grand vista of the Mediterranean and the village below. In the olden times, villagers would go on this difficult hike as an act of penance, but now they have become a “must do” experience for the tourist.
We bought the pass for the trails and set off on our journey of discovery, which soon became an endurance test. The Via dell’Amore is a scenic easy half an hour walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola. Overlooking the sea, with a café to stop for a drink, we passed through a partly open tunnel, where a man sat playing “Strangers in the night” on his accordion. It was magical!
Manarola, like the other villages, was quaint, with an interesting but small high street. Trail 6, which our travel guidebook had recommended as the most beautiful of the hikes, led to a sanctuary in the village of Volastra. The trail to the mountaintop started from the back of the village of Manarola. The trail, through well-tended vineyards, was gentle at first, but it wasn’t long before it became steep. With the hot August sun beating down, we kept going with the help of swigs of water from our bottles, pausing to catch our breath and then struggling on. It took us almost three hours, with many breaks, before we reached Volastra. The other hikers, who had chosen to brave the heat, were younger spirits.
Hungry and tired we arrived at the small hamlet of Volastra. Its streets looked deserted with no watering hole in sight. A young man came to our rescue and invited us to partake of the food he was cooking. We sat in the courtyard of his small winery enjoying the freshly baked dish of aubergines, and were soon joined by two students from South Korea who knew Paul. Refreshed by the light lunch, we found the sanctuary down the road, a small church, where we crashed out on the benches under shady trees in its courtyard.
Refreshed by the siesta, we headed back along the summit of the hill, a trail well marked but at times narrow with steep sides. The view was breathtaking: miles and miles of vineyard covered green hills, falling down into the blue sea below; the coast dotted by villages with houses painted in earth tones, and the occasional white streak of a boat moving slowly across the sea. This was Cinque Terre at its best! The path was not so well traversed, or at least this time of the day it was deserted. It was another three hours before we climbed down to the village of Corniglia, with my knees worse for the climb downhill. Corniglia has 277 steps going down to the railway station, with no modern conveniences like an elevator or a lift. We were happy to catch the train back to Riomaggiore, and wind up the day with a dinner of pasta with pesto sauce, a local specialty.
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(July 07, 2017)