Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Between the Centuries-old Fishing Villages of Cinque Terre

Gazing over Manarola, one of the centuries-old seaside villages in the coastal area of Cinque Terre
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In September, we visited the Ligurian captial Genova as part of the #KLMtop10 campaign with KLM and afterwards extended our Italian trip to the highly popular Cinque Terre - the famous five fishing villages on the Ligurian Riviera. Drawn by the postcard-perfect scenery and the romantic description of this coastal community, we were simply dying to see what all the fuzz was about.

The Cinque Terre, Italy - Cinque Terre is a string of five centuries-old fishing villages, namely Monteresso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, perched high along the rugged Liguria coastline. Brimming with pastel-hued perfection, these clusters of puzzle-piece houses are tugged between vineyards and mountainside terraces. Private automobiles are banned thus visitors jump between the famous five by boat crossing the water, by railway cutting through the cliffside or by hiking the mountains. The Cinque Terre National Park encompasses an extensive network of hiking trails - including Sentiero Verde Azzurro (marked as SVA, 11 km), the famous coastal path passing through the Cinque Terre villages. Being avid hikers, braving the vertiginous medieval staircases and narrow paths spiraling among rocks and shrubs, was the ultimate way for us to experience the Land of Five.

↠ A Photo Diary of Sorts from two days in Cinque Terre ↞

The second we got out of the train in Riomaggiore it became a reality. We had to take the bitter with the sweet, when visiting a massively popular destination as The Cinque Terre. The air in Genova's medieval old town had been summing with a local feel and we had been blissfully happy in this low-key atmosphere. The villages of Cinque Terre was quite the opposite. Before we were getting lost in the capitals's maze-like alleyways in all quietness, now we were loosing ourselves in the hectic crowds of bustling tourists. Luckily, our plans involved putting our leg machinery to work and thus the mountains became our euphoric escape from the hordes.
Early morning walk between the colorful houses in Riomaggiore while the village is still fast asleep
Riomaggiore - It was in the morning hours that we really got the chance to digg deeper into Riomaggiore and discover the beauty lying within its narrow steep stairways. While most of the village was still fast asleep and the streets only occupied by few working locals, we wandered around the village freely and with a much greater appreciation of the smaller details normally drown away during the busy and crowded daytime hours. In the upper end of the village, where the church of Saint Giovanni Battista and Castle of Riomaggiore are located, we found a nice spot to sit and eat breakfast while looking across the mosaic work of multi-colored houses.
Narrow valley view of Riomaggiore seen from the water front
Down by the sea we tried climbing out on the rocks to get that full frontal and classical Cinque Terre village view. Morning dew was still glazing the rocks, making them extremely slippery, so we quickly retreated our efforts and went down to a safer spot. Viewing Riommaggiore from the harbour, we grasped just how tightly enclosed the houses were within this steep and narrow valley and it seemed almost impossible to manoeuvre around the homes stacked haphazardly on top of each other. We watched the boats swaying gently on the calm water until the morning stillness broke into disturbing chatter, thus hinting us to move on.
The furthest we went out on the slippery stones down by the water front
Manarola - Since the SVA-paths to both Riomaggiore and Corniglia were closed, we initially wanted to stay for half a day and take our time in Manarola. We had planned to treat outselves with small plates of culinary art at Nessun Dorma, which, on top of divine food, blasts its guest with gorgeous view of the Manarola harbour. However, things did not go as planned and this time it worked out for the better.
Glimps from the village of Manarola
In the other end of Manarola, we found a path taking us up to the wineyards. We went up there to see the village from above and get away from the crowds. The further up we went, the more we noticed people decending from the top of the hill. Curiously, we asked a woman what was up there and she told us that there was a path to Corniglia. Without much hesitation we climbed to the top and continued on the path, which we later discovered was path no. 586.
In the deep end of Manarola, we found a path leading up to the vineyards
Path 586 - This trail was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, showcasing us a dazzling panoramic view of Cinque Terre's natural grandeur and the sparkling azure blue sea below. We passed through shady olive groves, lemon orchards and dozens of terraced vineyards. Every inch equally amazing. Simply grinning in the strong sun, we almost could not believe how fortunate we were. We made a quick stop at Madonna delle Salute Church in Volastra before continuing along the path, which - to our pleasure - leveled off for a while. Lastly, the path traversed pine woodland before eventually descending down steep stone stairways, into the streets of Corniglia.
Path 586 connecting Manarola and Corniglia took us through beautiful terraced vineyards
Corniglia - The sun was slowly setting as we arrived in Corniglia, the smallest and most secluded village of the famous five. We were completely knackered from our unexpected hike over the mountains, but felt exhilarated after a day roasting in the afternoon sun and drinking in breathtaking landscapes. Corniglia was different form the other villages - encompassing a quaint and quiet character: A charming attribute which its sisters seemingly have lost over the years of fame. Being nestled high on top of a small promontory (100 m.a.s.l), we descended the Lardarina, a 380-step brick staircase, to catch the train back to Riomaggiore for a well-needed rest.
The tiny village of Corniglia seemed to hold a quaint and quiet character
The next morning we got up early to hike the SVA-path 592-3 from Corniglia to Vernazza (4.1 km). The path was less sceneric and more crowded, yet still worth the hike to add to the full Cinque Terre experience.
Halfway on the path, we stopped at Bar Il Gabbiano to grab a cold lemonade on their terrace and catch the perfect view of Corniglia and Manarola.
Our first sight of Vernazza, a village acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful in Italy
Vernazza - For nearly two hours we walked on the coastal path traversing along the mountainside before reaching Vernazza. A stunning view sprung upon us as we arrived at the end of the path, allowing us to catch the first glimps of the village acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful in Italy. Cultural sights such as The Church of Santa Margarita d'Antiochioa and The Doria Castle with the Belforte Tower pooked above the rooftops, intriqueing us to discover what Vernazza had to offer. Having worked up an appetite we went directly to the main street, which catered to our hunger with a large variety of Italian street food.
If into food, one should try and explore the food scenery - we just opted for something quick to grab and enjoy by the seaside
Unfortunately, our stay came to short faster than expected as heavy rain forced us to take shelter. With no prospect of the rainfall stopping anytime soon, we jumped on the first train back to our room in Riomaggiore to wait it out.

Later that evening we returned to Vernazza to see if the check-point for the SVA-path 592-4 between Vernazza and Moneteresso el Mare was open. Earlier it had been closed - but now, to our luck, we had free passage and thus one last opportunity to admire a breathtaking seight of yet another one of the Five Land's idyllic pastel towns.
A classical view of Vernazza seen from the SVA-path leading from Monteresso el Mare
Despite the overwhelming popularity of the Cinque Terre, its ravishing beauty still knocked us of our feet. With the SVA-path stretching through all the five famous villages on a 11 km path, it is possible to experience the Cinque Terre on a 1-day trip. However, remember to check the availability of the different paths on the official website before planning your visit. Personally, two days did not cut it for us and we could have spent a few extra days really digging deeper into the villages' true charm, hiking more in this magical Italian rugged coastal landscape and last but not least visit Monteresso al Mare.

Combining a stay in the busy Cinque Terre with a stay in the calmer Lingurian capital of Genova, seemed for us to be a perfect way to experience the best of both worlds on the Ligurian Riviera. Certainly, we learned what all the famous five fuzz was about and having a quieter city - such as Genova - to retreat to, can only be good for the soul.
Collaboration information
The trip to Genova, Italy was arranged as part of the #KLMtop10 campaign, uncovering KLM destinations around the world, and made in collaboration with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines & Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The extended stay in the Cinque Terre showcases an alternative destination on the Ligurian Riviera with Genova as the starting point.