Hiking the Cinque Terre

Last month I fulfilled a long-cherished plan to re-visit Italy and study some of the church history sites that interest me. Joshua Rowe, my son-in-law, joined me and we spent the first days relaxing and hiking the Cinque Terre.

The term “Cinque Terre” means the “Five Lands,” and it’s really made up of five pastel fishing villages that dot the Italian coastline just south of Portofino. We rented a room from a man simply known as Manuel the Artist who lives atop the hill overlooking Monterosso. It was a steep climb of 125-steps up to his place, but that was nothing compared to the hiking we did the next day.

The five little towns of the Cinque Terre are connected by trails. We started early in the morning in Monterosso and hiked to the next town, Vernazza, in time for breakfast. It was a very rigorous two-hour trek. We made the next town, Corniglia, by lunch. This trail, too, was full of huffing and puffing. After lunch, we went on to Manarola. The final segment from Manarola to Riomaggiore, was much easier. From there we hopped on the train back to our starting place in Monterosso, arriving in late afternoon.

The trails were well-marked, but often little more than steep goat-paths winding through olive groves, vineyards, along Mediterranean cliffs, beside ancient stone walls, along the stunningly blue sea, and through tiny fishing towns that haven’t changed much in five hundred years.

By traveling on frequent flyer miles, staying in little more than hostels, eating off the street, and riding second-class on the trains, we were able to enjoy a very economical trip—one that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys hiking.

If you want to upgrade just a bit, you might buy first class tickets on the train. Several times we found ourselves in stuffy little compartments full of odd characters who belonged in an old black-and-white Agatha Christie movie.

But travel doesn’t be first-class to be first-rate. I like to travel cheap. Sometimes it makes for a much more intereting trip.

If you’re interested in visiting the Cinque Terre, the best travel information we found came from Rick Steves, at www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/italy/cinqueterre.htm.