Five villages in Liguria

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Which is a less evocative name than Cinqueterre, but it’s essentially the same. Back in March this year I went down there with an old friend to walk between the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Access to these villages is best done by train. Parking availability is limited in the villages, even if you’re driving a Fiat 500, and the train brings you right there. We fussed around initially with trying to find a good parking spot in La Spezia and ended up finally parking in the underground parking at the station. The cost wasn’t too bad and it was nicely undercover and in a convenient location. We had booked our accommodation in Monterosso al Mare, which we made our base for two nights. Hotel Margherita was a nice mid-range choice with plenty of good restaurant options around it.

Pre-trip research had already revealed that a number of paths were closed off due to landslides and repairs, but we did not expect to hear that all the paths between the villages to be officially closed. So the next morning we bought our one-day Cinqueterre pass (highly recommended) and decided to train it to Corniglia and see if we could walk back via the higher paths to our home base in Monterosso al Mare.

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After arriving in Corniglia, we decided to walk up to the village, rather than waiting for the bus to arrive and piling in with too many other people. The first set of steps were easy enough and afforded a nice view towards Manarola and Riomaggiore. From there we tried to find the high path to Vernazza, but what we thought was the high path (no signs of course) later turned out to be the normal path which was “officially” closed. That of course didn’t stop anyone merrily walking the path and pretending it was open (nor us for that matter). Only when we came across an Australian couple did we find out the truth, that it was closed further on and required some creative clambering over earth moving equipment. So we did and made our way down to Vernazza, while an extremely unfit individual was panting his way up from there. He wasn’t even 300 meters into the walk and looked like he was going to expire that very moment. We both looked at his progress with concern; a look we would have on our faces a few more times that afternoon, as we watched the parade of walkers in flip-flops, walkers in heels with pretty handbags, walkers perched on precarious outcrops aiming for that perfect instagram shot, even if it was their last. We really are an odd species.

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The walk so far had been delightful with beautiful views and meandering paths along the sides of the cliffs that occasionally became steep staircases that for the most part we could descend. After we arrived in Vernazza, we first treated ourselves to a gelato and then proceeded to have a look around the village and the harbour area. It is a very photogenic place and it was full of tourists (like ourselves). If it is this busy in March, it’s unimaginable what it looks like in July and August…

And don’t believe the heavily photoshopped images you see of Vernazza. It is really a beautiful and colourful place, but they’re pastels, not the heavy-handed hues that are being painted on to images of the place.

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After our break we headed up the hill again to follow the path out of Vernazza. We asked a local policeman for directions and to make sure the path was really open. He responded that it was and indicated which way to follow. Five minutes out of the village the path was cordoned off, but emboldened by the policeman’s statement that the path was open (and in the context of everyone else’s blatant ignoring of signs), we climbed over it and continued on our way.

In this section the path was quite narrow in places and difficult to pass for walkers crossing from the opposite direction. Most of the time both sides carefully negotiated passing each other, finding the best spot or stopping to wait until the other party had passed. But at times people just bulldozered through with no regard for anyone in their path.

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We soldiered on calmly, stopping for photos on the way or to let people pass. The final descent was an endless series of steps that hammered our knees. Eventually we ended up in Monterosso again, delighted to have been able to actually do a substantial part of the path between the villages. As we still had time and an unlimited train pass, we walked back to the station and jumped on the next train to go to Manarola, to visit the fourth village, where we settled in with an afternoon drink and a snack and sat people watching as the sun set lower.

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Duly fed and watered, it was time to make our way to the final village, Riomaggiore, by train. By then it was getting close to sunset and we enjoyed walking around in the the late afternoon light, colours melting away in the sea, before returning to the train station to travel back to Monterosso al Mare for dinner and some well-earned rest.

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