5Terre Series: Manarola & Corniglia

cinque terre, italy

I woke up the next morning feeling rested and ready to take on Cinque Terre! I had bought the Cinque Terre card the evening prior and found out that I could only take the coastal trail as far as Corniglia… it was closed to the next two towns due to a mudslide. From Riomaggiore to Manarola, you hike on the path known as Via Dell’Amore. It is one of the most famous places where you will see love padlocks. People place locks all over Italy and write their names on them as a symbol of their love. I saw quite a few in Florence and Rome as well. On this path, however, there is a lovely piece of art near Bar Dell’Amore with a giant lock on it- I guess that’s one love that will never die!

Cinqe Terre Italy

The coastal trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is just a short 20 minute walk, and I arrived in Manarola just as the village was coming to life. Little 3-wheeled trucks were making their morning deliveries, shops were opening up, and I didn’t see but maybe two tourists while I was there. As the smallest town in Cinque Terre, you get that feeling that I don’t think I can really describe. As I said in an earlier post this village speaks their own dialect. You get the sense that they are continuing life as they’ve done for hundreds of years (except with a few upgrades along the way). It has a wholly village feel, which is rare these days. I walked down to it’s little harbor, took in the morning sunlit view of Manarola and continued on. Along the path to the third village Corniglia, there is a staircase that takes you down to the water for a great view. It’s about an hour’s walk to Corniglia’s train station, and from there, you walk up 382 steps to the town. While I was walking up the stairs, I was extremely hot since I had on leggings under my pants. Since there was no one around, I did a strip show on these steps and felt much better once the leggings were gone! I had read in my Lonely Planet that the town has a great overlook called La Torre (meaning the tower) which was a medieval lookout. Based on the brief description, I was certain I found path that would lead to it.

Cinque Terre Coastal Trail

As I walked up this dirt path, climbing the occasional stairs, I saw farmers working on the hillside. I continued to climb and thought to myself, ‘Lonely Planet should’ve mentioned that this is not a quick trip.’ About 30 minutes in, I passed two other hikers. Again, with assumed certainty that I knew where I was headed, I asked, out of breath, “Is it near?” And the man replied, “Yes, it is near. Very near.” Great. I keep walking another 10 minutes and realize that we must have very different views on what the words ‘very near’ means. I take a few pictures, and keep thinking that La Torre must be just around the corner. It’s been such a steep hike so far that I already have great views back of Corniglia. Another 15 minutes or so, and the trail dumps out onto a road. Where am I? I saw a trailhead symbol just up the road, so I decide to walk down the road. Not 5 minutes later, the trail continues across the street. It is only at this point that I put two and two together and think, ‘What ever gave me the idea that this trail would lead to La Torre?’ I feel a bit stupid at this point, but I’m over an hour in and want to see where this leads. 20 minutes later, the trail splits. Hmm.  I pull out my map from the park office and think I’m on trail 7. I veer to the left and make the definitive decision that I’ll continue on. If I turn around, it’ll take at least 30-40 minutes to get back to Corniglia, and I didn’t want to feel like I wasted time. I’m really high up above the villages and with the direction that I’m headed, I feel like I have to reach the next village of Vernazza at some point. Right?

Cinque Terre Italy
A glimpse back at Corniglia

I walk along for a bit, nearly twist my ankle when I decide to jog downhill, and then the trail ends at a church. I’m in a really small town called San Bernardino. I take pictures because, again, I’ve stumbled upon more amazing views. I follow this winding road down the mountain. And then, it splits. Oh dear. I wait for a few minutes when a little truck starts to come up the road. I flag it down, and it’s two old men. I ask them which way to Vernazza. They look at me momentarily (clearly not English speakers) and the driver goes, “Ah, Vernazza!” in an excited voice. He speaks in Italian but points to the left. “Grazie,” I yell as he drives off, and not two minutes later, I see a handpainted sign for Vernazza leading me off the road.  The trail does this multiple times, taking me back to the winding road and cutting through woods. Over the next hour, I come across another little village, walk through farmland, and finally, the parking lot for Vernazza. What a relief!!

So when the park office told me I couldn’t hike past Corniglia, they were wrong. I just had to take a road less traveled to get there!

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