The smell of trofie pasta, topped with basil pesto kisses the Mediterranean air. Delizioso! The fast chit-chat of the local Italians tickles your ear. Ciao, Ciao! The brightly colored, pastel houses cling to the cliffs, overlooking the deep, blue sparkling sea. Bellissima!
This is the land of the Cinque Terre. No doubt your taste buds will be spoiled by the Ligurian cuisine and wine in this rugged stretch of coast; however, it is the rich landscape that will spoil your eyes and steal a piece of your heart, begging you to return.
High above the villages, steep trails run along the coast and connect the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Trekking into the hills, you meander through vineyards and olive groves. Stop at the highest point and admire the glistening Mediterranean Sea down below, as well as the terraced vineyards lining the hills, dry walls setting the land in place, charming stone houses dotting the countryside, and delicious lemon trees.
Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy, is an incredible experience; however, one can make the scenic hike even more memorable by adding an unusual twist.
Trekking In Your Bathing Suit
At my Cinque Terre hostel I make some new friends. While they have just arrived, I’ve been there a few days and have gained a decent sense of the area. So when they tell me they’re interested in hiking, I offer to be their guide, although I plan to add an unknown surprise to the experience. I instruct them to wear bathing suits and bring a photo ID and some Euros.
We hike from Levanto to Monterosso, a steep path weaving in and out of vineyards and olive trees while overlooking the sparkling blue sea. Approaching the beach town of Monterosso, the signature orange umbrellas zig-zaging across the crowded beaches come into view, and our feet speed up as if they have a mind of their own. We can’t get to the beach fast enough, as the blue sea calls our names. Once there, we grab a locker, stash our hiking clothes and head down to rent paddleboards.
It’s the perfect way to relax after our rigorous hike. Hopping on our boards, we get our balance and paddle out past the other swimmers. It’s just us and the ocean, and it feels exhilarating. We stop to lay down on our boards, basking in the warm Riviera sunshine. With some energy still left in us, we paddle out further toward the next town, Vernazza. On the way, we come to a cascade spilling fresh water from the mountains above. We dock our boards on an enormous rock and jump in, swimming through the small lagoon. Life couldn’t any better than in this place, at this moment.
Sunset at Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of luca:sehnsucht.
Trekking With Locals
Italians talk with their hands (and thank goodness they do!), which I learn well during a solo hike from Manarola to Corniglia. Somewhere along the trail, I lose my way and end up on a busy road, where I stop to grab a drink. Suddenly, loneliness sinks in, as I realize I’m utterly lost and alone.
My guardian angel must have heard my plea, as back on the trail I spot an older gentleman carrying trekking poles and a backpack. I decide to follow him. As he leads me back to the correct trail I smile, realizing my instincts were correct. Suddenly, he turns and begins talking to me — very rapidly in Italian. Although I try in both English and (very basic) Italian to tell him I don’t understand, he continues, adding in gestures to help me comprehend.
And it works. As I combine my rudimentary knowledge of Italian with the charades, I’m able to weave together his beautiful story. I learn about his father, although now deceased, who was a famous artist in Italy. He stops and pulls out his iPhone to show me photos of his father’s collection. I see pictures of large men and animals in the countryside, reflective of Italian peasantry. The eyes of these unrealistic figures stand out with an intense expressive nature. I see anger and loneliness, but also gentleness. Proudly, he tells me he runs a foundation in his father’s name. Exhibitions showcasing several of his father’s collections are held around the world.
As the conversation turns to me, I tell him I am a teacher. He smiles and throws his arm around my shoulders. “My husband is also a teacher!” he beams, before continuing, “Patrizia teaches second grade.” I let out a little laugh and tell him he should say “wife” instead of “husband.” He looks at me for a moment and then begins laughing, realizing the humor in what he just said.
Arriving to a panoramic viewpoint, I see the village of Corniglia jetting out into the sea. The man pulls out his camera and asks someone to snap our picture. He then takes me to the edge, pointing to Corniglia on our right and Manarola on our left, telling stories of how he enjoys swimming from one to the other. I look at the distance between the two, my admiration for this man growing tremendously. Mind you, this is done all in Italian, and I’ve never enjoyed myself more. It’s refreshing and enlightening how we’re able to communicate despite the language barrier.
The man invites me to dinner at his house that evening. I smile and politely tell him I have dinner plans with a special someone. His eyes light up. At the end of your meal, you must order the Sciacchetra, he instructs me. “This is a special wine of the Cinque Terre and it should be shared with someone just as special. Buona fortuna,” he emphasizes. Good luck.
With a softness in his voice, he tells me he is a lucky man. For over fifty years, he has been in love with his wife, Patrizia. He stops and looks me directly in the eye. “Love is the most powerful thing you can give and receive in this world and — if you are lucky enough to find it — grab it and hold on to it.” As we part ways, he tells me again. Sciacchetra. Buona fortuna.
Wine in Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of Jessica Yeagar.
Add Aperitivo And A Sunset To Your Trek
Food, wine and a sunset. It’s possible to enjoy all three in combination with a trek in Cinque Terre. This trek was not my original idea, so I must give credit to my hostelmates and new friends. Wanting to do something special on our last night in town, we set out on a hike to watch the sunset while enjoying wine and an aperitivo.
For me, this was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a beautiful journey in the Cinque Terre. We take the train to Manarola just before sunset. Making our way up the main street, we stop at a local Enoteca and COOP for wine, cheese and crackers before continuing up the road to the trail entrance. With our bottle of wine in one hand — sans glasses (don’t forget to have them open the bottle for you) –and our cheese and crackers in the other, we walk until there’s a clear view of the vast Mediterranean Sea. Finding a spot to sit surrounded by vineyards, we talk, drink, eat and enjoy a vibrant sunset on the Italian Riviera.
Five days ago, we were strangers, but spending every day together since has made us feel like old college roommates. With each sip of wine, we reminisce about the nights spent flirting with locals and sleeping at the train station because we stayed out too late. We remember the party we unintentionally crashed that was like the wedding scene from The Godfather. We laugh as we think about the Italian men swinging us around to the rhythm of an accordion.
Tomorrow, we all agree is going to be bittersweet, as we go our separate ways. Everything happens for a reason and our paths were meant to cross. As the sun sinks into the sea, we smile in delight over the new friendships and experiences we gained while visiting the Cinque Terre.
Whether you are visiting Cinque Terre for a day or a week, trekking is something that must make it on your to do list. To make your experience even more memorable, try trekking with a twist.
Contributed by Guest Author Jessica Yeager. Top photo credit: Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of Laurent Castellani.