Torrential rains back in October wreaked havoc on Cinque Terre, a portion of coast on the Italian Riviera famous for its walking trails. Having visited the scenic site and experienced the rugged terrain just one month before, I can only imagine the damage caused by floods and mudslides that ravaged the area.
Il Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre is made up of five medieval towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare; the coastline; and, the surrounding hillsides. The territory is the product of centuries of work by peasant farmers who shaped the mountainsides, transforming them into fertile terraces to cultivate olives, lemons and grapes. The scenery is striking from all angles and, combining both natural and human interventions, it is made even more dramatic with the sea as a backdrop.
A sprinkling of brightly coloured buildings rooted in natural stone typifies each town – here is a fishing village overrun by tourists in the summer while over there another sits, surrounded by vineyards, at the top of a 100-meter high promontory that plunges to the sea. Footpaths connect the villages, as do railway lines and passenger ferries, so should you get weary from walking, you have other options (road network not so good). As a general guideline, it takes 5hrs to do the 20km trek from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, at a good click. Naturally, it’s more of a full day’s outing if you take the time to pop some grapes and fig-like fruit along the way, or stop to visit each unique village. Some hiking trails (once mule paths) slope deeply downwards and upwards, overlooking ravines, while others wind the cliffs in wide, paved pathways, the gentlest being Via dell’ Amore, an accessible route between Riomaggiore and Manarola with a sea-swept panorama.
Refreshingly, there might be a lack of visible corporate development in the area but there is a fee to hike the trails. Cinque Terre was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then a National Park in order to conserve the natural environment and safeguard its cultural heritage. Tourism may be the biggest draw to this corner of the world but the olive oil and wine (and grappa, and limoncello…) production still thrives, a testimony to the strength of centuries-old traditions. Good stuff.