We got up early to deal with some laundry, and then headed to breakfast on the terrace. Breakfast (free) was a nice surprise, and got even better when we discovered that it was served on the terrace overlooking “old town” Monterosso. At Manuel’s Guesthouse Giovanni serves the breakfast in the morning and runs the bar in the afternoon. His English is minimal, but he makes a really good cappuccino. After breakfast we walked down to the train station to get our Cinque Terre card – the pass for the hiking trails.
There is a seaside hiking trail that connects the five towns Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Unfortunately we discovered that the portion of the trail connecting Corniglia and Manarola was closed, but a detour was made (more on this later). We started our hike in Monterosso, and the trail went up, and up, and up. The beginning was basically a neverending staircase, with very irregular steps. The climbing was the downside, the upside was some amazing views of the coastline. We also got to walk through some of the local farms/vineyards that are perched on the cliffsides. After much climbing and about an hour and thirty five minutes we arrived in Vernazza, surveyed the town – and continued on our way.
From Vernazza to Corniglia was again, lots of climbing. Melissa loved the uphills and steps, especially when we would descend just to climb again. The second leg was a little shorter than the first, about an hour and ten minutes. When we arrived in Corniglia we again gave a quick survey of the town, and found an excellent spot for our picnic. Santa Maria Belvedere is a panoramic viewpoint where a church used to overlook the water. We were able to find a stone bench and had our picnic of bread, prosciutto, mozzerella, tomatoes, grapes, and plums. By far the best lunch we’ve had thus far – and much cheaper buying the supplies from the market than buying lunch from one of the bars or vendors.
After lunch we checked out the detour from Corniglia to Manarola, and decided against it. While the normal trail runs right along the coast, the detour basically went straight up the side of the cliff. When we were making our decision we observed two hikers with boots and trekking poles turning back – and decided that the train ride would be better. Once in Manarola we did the mandatory quick screen of the town, then proceeded along the trail en route to Riomaggiore.
The portion of the trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore is known as the “Via dell Amore”. This part of the hike is actually paved with stone, flat, and with railing, etc. Two traditions of the area are attaching locks to the fencing, and writing names on the rock wall. The “Via dell Amore” was much ballyhooed in the travel books for it’s picturesque views and for the traditions of the area, but it basically came off trashy. The rest of the hike was so beautiful, and such a good experience that ending with the graffiti covered walls kind of cheapened it.
By the end of the hike we were pretty beat, and retreated back to Manuel’s. We decided to hit the terrace for a few drinks, and to enjoy the view. It turns out that in addition to making a good cappuccino, Giovanni also gives the healthiest pour of wine that we had ever seen. We also met some other travelers that were really nice, that we talked with on the terrace. After this we hit the town for a dinner of pasta (Melissa – trofie with pesto, Jason – spaghetti al mare), and then called it a night.