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Hiking in the 5 Terre



An excerpt from an article :


A walk in the Cinque Terre, an area encompassing five towns of medieval origin

on Italy's rugged Ligurian coastline, offers three magic travel ingredients:

splendid scenery, varied landscape and a sense of discovery. The combination is


On this part of Italy's Riviera di Levante between Genoa and La Spezia, the

Apuane Alps drop in high-arched ridges abruptly to the sea. In the Middle Ages

five fishing villages sprang up at points where the watersheds formed natural

harbors. These five towns, or Cinque Terre, were cut off for centuries from

access by land.

A 12-mile footpath, once the only link between the towns, can be walked in a

single day on a well-marked trail. This footpath, which seems to move halfway

between sky and sea, merits unequivocal priority, but if you run short of energy

or time en route, you can always resort to the trains that tunnel through the

coastline cliffs.


The path to Vernazza

ascends to a middle level between the sea and the topmost ridges of the slopes,

and remains at this height except for minor dips into valleys.

The walk cuts through terraced vineyards that extend through much of the length

of the Cinque Terre coastline. Each cultivated strip is protected by retaining

walls of tightly fitted rocks. The white wine of the Cinque Terre - the

sciacchetra from these precariously perched vineyards - is dry and crisp.

Because the sheer rock slopes fall directly to the sea, the path rarely touches

the shoreline. Far below at water's edge a white line traces the breaking surf.

As the morning develops, the mists begin to disappear and the sea takes on the

intensity of Mediterranean blue. Every once in a while you catch a tantalizing

glimpse of nearby Vernazza on the coastline (four minutes through tunnels by

train from Monterosso, some two hours on this trail).

One meets fellow walkers from many countries; some are clearly serious hikers,

others are simply adventurous. Most seem to be in good physical condition,

looking as if they had spent months training for the Cinque Terre walk. Hikers from northern

Europe, especially from Germany and Switzerland, wear boots and Alpine gear; the

rest of us are in jeans and sneakers. The use of a backpack indicates how

seriously you regard the venture.


Soon, rounding a turn in the path, through a break in the trees, looking far

down to the water's edge, you get your first clear view of the town of Vernazza.

It extends out on a rocky promontory, the arms of which form a small natural

harbor, looking like a Renaissance fresco.

Fishing boats are pulled up on the plaza facing the harbor enclosure; the

houses, packed closely together, are maroon and ochre and sometimes mustard

yellow, most with dark green shutters. Lines of multicolored laundry from window

to window, and from balconies facing one another across passageways, swing in

the breeze.


You enter Vernazza by way of a passage descending between buildings so close

together that your elbows touch the walls; buttresses become arches. The

passageway emerges directly into the chiaroscuro of the harbor-front plaza.

Vernazza lost its innocence some time ago, and the cafes and restaurants are

geared to serving the many visitors who arrive by footpath and train, as well as

those who come into the little port in sailboats and small yachts. The town

still lacks the sophistication of nearby Portofino - some 35 miles up the

seacoast - and as yet there are no fashionable boutiques or artists' ateliers.

The day's catch is slapped out for bidding on the tables of vendors; a fisherman

carrying a bloody giant octopus attracts much attention - dismay from tourists,

envy from the townspeople. To set out on the second leg of the Cinque Terre

walk, you must climb Vernazza's labyrinthian steps within the ancient town.

Flowers in pots on window sills and balconies catch the sunlight that filters

down into these alleys. From the highest point in the town, you look back upon

the harbor as if from a fortress tower. From this perspective you can trace

Vernazza's single street, once the bed of a valley stream, as it curves down to

the seafront. The campanile, with its octagonal balustrade, lends a touch of

Renaissance elegance. As in all the Cinque Terre towns, flat stones secure the

roof tiles of Vernazza's buildings against the winds of storms from sea.

Colorful umbrellas shade the cafe tables at harbor's edge. The sea is sparkling, almost purple,

the mist dispersed by the morning sun.


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