Falling in Love in the Cinque Terre

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I have fallen in love. The Cinque Terre and Manarola have stolen my heart. After the bustle and heat of Rome and Florence, arriving at this quaint seaside village was a most welcome change.

The Cinque Terre (translates to five lands) is a beautiful region of coastland in the north west of Itay. There are five coastal towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. They are all rich in history. Over the years farmers have transformed unusable costal terrain into terraces using dry stone walls – allowing the region to grow fresh produce, olive oil and the wine which the region is known for.

The villages are connected by a series of stunning coastal trails ( sentieri) that allow you to trek between towns, taking in the amazing views. The towns are full of colourful terraced houses that seem to pop out of the natural landscape. Local legend has it they were painted this way so fisherman out at sea could see their houses. Their wives were supposed to hang out their bedding, so that the fishermen would know the bed was not being ‘used’ when their wives became lonesome in their absence.

Manarola is a stunning little village with one main street and a population of 250 locals. There must be several thousand visitors each day during the summer with day trippers arriving to visit the towns and walk the trails. We did manage to still enjoy quiet moments in the morning and evening though.

Again we stayed in a lovely Air BnB, run by a local family who also own one of the town’s restaurants – Aristide. We were lucky to have a beautiful little terrace looking out over the main street. It was fantastic for people watching and we spent quite a bit of time up there drinking Cinque Terre wine and watching the world go by.

One day we walked one of the famous ‘Sentieri’ from Vernazza to Monterosso. It was a bit of a struggle in the heat of the day, as there were what felt like thousands of steep steps to climb. It was well worth it for the spectacular views though. Quite often the trail was only wide enough for one person to pass, so we had to stop and wait for those coming the other way. At the end of the walk, we decided to spend some of the day chilling on the Monterosso beach (the biggest of the five towns). We paid the exorbitant rate for a sun bed and umbrella and worked on doing something about our pasty, white Melbourne skin.

Unfortunately all of the other trails between the five towns have been closed following landslides. You can see parts of the trail completely wiped up with dirt and rock. One day we decided to walk one of the high paths (which were still open) up into the hills to get to the village above Manarola (Volastra). Each of the five towns was originally up in the hills and not by the sea in order to avoid pirates. It was not until the townships grew stronger that they were able to come down and live by the water. Volastra is one of these original towns. Despite being shorter, it made the Vernazza-Moterossa trek look like a walk in the park. By the time we got to the top, my Fitbit told us we had climbed 125 flights of stairs!

One night we headed out for a sunset cruise to see the Cinque Terre from the water – which we had heard was quite a different experience. We had a hilarious tour guide and skipper – a local from Manarola called Daniele. He was very informative about the local history and it was great hearing his perspective as someone who had grown up there. It really was stunning seeing each of the towns from the water and getting an overall perspective of how they were connected across the landscape. If you’re ever there, make sure you take a tour with Daniele via Enjoy Cinque Terre.

The rest of our time in Manarola was spent swimming in the lovely rock pools in the little harbour (there’s no beach in Manarola), eating local seafood (the honourable mention goes hands down to Aristide), drinking local wine and just enjoying some well needed down time. It’s amazing how sometimes you need a holiday from your holiday.

I think one day I would like to come back to Manarola and just stay for a few months – really get to know the locals and write a book or something. It just feels like that kind of place.