Flashback Friday — this is the first of a series of Friday posts about memorable events from recent travels. They are a collection of writings that didn’t quite get published while we were on the road.
Our plans to visit Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) on the west coast of Italy in 2011 were thwarted by a killer storm on the night of October 25th. We arrived in La Spezia during the early part of the tempest that did harm to the entire region, and catastrophic damage to 2 of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. In progress rescue work and the damage to the trail, the roads, and the rail line made doing the hike impossible at that time. Not only could we not hike, but we were trapped in La Spezia for 3 days until the first road opened that would allow us to leave.
After this trying experience, we were glad to have the opportunity to revisit Cinque Terre in June, 2012. We weren’t sure whether the famous Sentiero Azzurro (‘Azure Trail’) that connects the villages had been re-opened or what state it would be in, but we suspected that the people of the region would do everything possible to resurrect the primary source of their livelihoods as quickly as possible.
After our bad experience last visit in the only RV parking place in La Spezia, we decided to stay in a campground by a river in Ameglia, a few kilometers south of town. The large, concrete bridge over this river that we had crossed during the storm had washed away later that evening, so on our return trip we had to detour upstream to another crossing and back down again to get to the campsite. The receptionist said that the entire campground, including the buildings and the swimming pool, was flooded under 2 meters (6.5 feet) of water during the storm. Thankfully everything was restored in time for the 2012 camping season and looked in fine shape to us.
We left our campground at 7:20 AM the next morning, drove to La Spezia to park, walked across town, and caught the 10:06 train to Corniglia, the 3rd of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. By doing so we avoided the crowds who walk only the easiest section of the trail between the 1st village (Riomaggiore) and the 2nd village (Manarola). We would return to see these village and hike this section later in the day. When we disembarked in Corniglia, while most others walked up the stairs, we hopped on board the free shuttle that runs up the steep hill (something the others may have been unaware of), bypassing the 368 steps and getting a head start. Corniglia is a tiny village suspended on a rocky outcrop overlooking steep cliffs and the beautiful Mediterranean. After a quick walk around (these villages are tiny, but we still managed to get lost in the labyrinth) we found the trail and started our hike.
It took us about 1 hour to hike to Vernazza. Despite our proximity to the sea, it was very hot. I was sweating like a tourist. We found that lots of reconstruction had been completed (rock retaining walls, hand rails, trail work, etc.) and more was underway, but the trail was easily passable.
Vernazza also clings to the cliff along this glorious stretch of coastline.
e ate the Italian salami sandwiches that we’d brought with us on the rocky point by the harbour while children were swimming around us. Others were eating fresh pizza from the village, or sitting at the restaurant in the bay. We continued hiking and soon were treated with a postcard view back on Vernazza.
By mid-afternoon it was really hot and humid.
This last section of the trail was the most rugged and challenging. We could see why most people skip it on the faces of those hiking towards us.
Despite this, It took us only 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Monterosso al Mare.
Hot and tired, we went for a swim here on the small section of beach which is open to the public. It didn’t have the amenities of the private beach areas (umbrellas, change rooms, and lockers) but it did have a small fresh water shower to rinse off afterwards.
I changed on the beach under Diane’s wrap and she changed in the train station bathroom across the street. Unfortunately, we didn’t have another set of clothes, so we had to put our sweaty and smelly ones back on. Afterwards we walked out to the point for yet another amazing view.
We caught a mid-afternoon train back to Manarola (the 2nd village).
We watched the kids swimming and jumping from the rocks near the boat launch and then wandered out to the point for another tourist photo op.
Leaving Manarola, we walked about 15 minutes on perhaps the best ‘trail’ I’ve ever been. Hugging the cliff, it was more like a sidewalk and is wheelchair accessible.
We arrived in Riomaggiore and decided to immediately catch the train back to La Spezia. It had been a long, hot, and very memorable day.