After four nights in Rome, it was on to Vernazza. The Cinque Terre was the first place I decided to go when I booked my ticket. As a result, I knew plenty about it and now that I’m beyond it I’ve realized I should do a bit of reading about the other places I am planning to go!
I had a really pleasant train ride from Rome to La Spezia (the closest major train station to the five tiny fishing villages). The only downer was hauling my stupidly heavy pack through the train station, up and down steps and trying to get it in the rack above my seat. I knew when I packed it that it was too heavy, but I couldn’t work out what to cull. The culling has begun in earnest.
Vernazza is one of five very small fishing villages in the north west of Italy, on the Ligurian sea. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site known for hiking and fishing, and thanks mostly to an American travel writer named Rick Steves, it is unashamedly touristy. There are yanks everywhere.
Literally everyone I met that was not running a business was American. Most were retired, which I believe to be Steves’ key demographic. It didn’t matter. Everyone was lovely. It was kind of hard not to be in a place that looks like that.
The general idea of the Cinque Terre is that you base yourself in one village and hike between them. Or, as a day tripper, start at the bottom and work your way up, then move on to Genoa. The stretch between the five towns is just under 20km. There is a local train if you’re not a walker or if the weather turns. As it turned out, two of four trails were closed when I was there, due to instability after a mudslide.
The first morning I walked from Vernazza north to Monterosso – the most northern town of the five. This was apparently the most difficult trail. I didn’t think it was terribly hard, but it certainly wouldn’t have passed Australian safety standards. There were a lot of areas on the edge of steep cliffs with no handrails or fences.
The trail actually reminded me a lot of the Great Ocean Road. As you come around the bend towards Monterosso, it feels a lot like driving into Lorne.
The trail took about an hour and a half – traffic was good – I got going at about 8:30 and didn’t see anyone for the first half an hour – other than locals tending to their veggie gardens and olive groves over their morning pipe. They love it when you say good morning in Italian. The worse your accent, the more they love it.
Monterosso was meant to be the only one of the five towns with a sand beach. Either I was lied to, or those are the biggest grains of sand I have ever seen.
I feel like I should talk about the view, but I think it would be easier just to show you. Suffice to say, the entire four days were visually impressive. As was the seafood. And the wine.
As I was still staying in private accommodation, I was basically spending my days alone, which was fine with me. That said, striking up a conversation with an Italian might be the easiest thing to do in the world. They just do it for you.
On the third night, I was sitting outside a bar, wrapped in a blanket drinking wine and writing in a notebook. A man on the next table leaned over and asked ‘whata you thinking abouta?’ (I know, shitful attempt at the accent). I told him I was doing my budget and wondering if I would have enough money for my trip. He laughed, rummaged around in his pocket and put 40 cents on my table and said ‘nowa you no need worry’.
We got to talking. His name was Guilliano. His family owned the bar. He also owned a guest house that he pointed out up the hill. He invited me to have dinner with his other guests the next night. He was cooking for them for free as a trial to see if it was something he could start charging for. After he invited them, he realised as guests, they would be polite and not give their honest opinion. So I was only allowed to come if I was brutally honest.
I realise you’re not supposed to accept invitations from strangers, but I’m so glad I went. I was getting sick of sitting by myself in outrageously touristy restaurants (my only option unless I wanted to eat pizza in my room). The company was lovely. More of the aforementioned retired Americans. The food was basic but fresh and tasty. A spinach and cheese tart and balsamic tomato and spinach salad – mostly from his garden.
Guilliano, it turns out, used to play soccer for Italy (googlable and a little famous) and is the leader of Vernazza’s version of the SES. He had plenty of stories to tell about the mudslide that ruined the town in 2011 and the rebuilding of the town since. He was not short of an opinion, or an English swear word. The other, crucifix wearing guests struggled with that a bit. He and I giggled.
Not to mention, it was hands down one of the best views in the entire four days.
The next morning I battled four trains running on Italian time (ie. no scheduled time at all) to get to Venice.