Leaving one sole in Corniglia, the other in Vernazza
7 May 2022
The Azure Trail is mostly an easy upper trail connecting Corniglia to Vernazza. It is an easier climb because I start out at around 330 feet above sea level from Corniglia. The upper, or high trails, tend to be older, more in tune with nature, and closer to the farmers who originally built and continue to tend the rock walls and paths. It evidently gave them a constructive use for all the rocks that were removed from their terraces in order to grow their grapes.
The path continues with a succession of not difficult ups and downs, a stretch overlooking Guvano beach, and passes through beautifully cultivated fields, olive groves, vineyards and flowery meadows. Because it is less challenging there are more hikers of all ages, even those packing small children on their backs. In fact, this section of the region’s hiking trails is the most used, most crowded.
Leaving from Corniglia is an advantage as I begin from an elevation of about 330’. With a maximum altitude of 720 feet, the Azure Trail is a gradual climb to superb views from the rocky promontory of Corniglia to the sea level village of Vernazza. A Cinque Terre Card is required.
There are still higher trails that, because of difficulty , eliminates most of the tourist crowds, which would include me. The Azure Trail is more than 2 miles, high enough, challenging enough for me. I could hear the birds and feel the maritime air pushed up from the sea — and I was alone – some of the time.
The trail can be very narrow. On my left is a sharp drop with only rocks and grape vines between me and the sea. And the sea is a long way down! A trail leads off to my right. Another several hundred feet above at about 1100’ is the church and tiny village of San Bernardino. If I so choose, I can hike up for a look. I choose not.
Cinque Terre National Park covers a mountainous and coastal area of which almost all faces the ocean. It’s mountainsides are steep and prone to landslides. It is a natural watershed which, given too much rain in too short of a time, can create the disastrous floods and mud slides of the kind which inundated Vernazza and other villages in October of 2011. The floods amounted to millions in damages, killed 13 people, and required two years of rebuilding the cities and infrastructure. Many walking trails became inaccessible; rains in 2020 closed several of the trails once again. It is as common here as we on the West Coast of California experience with rock slides closing scenic Highway One.
Vegetation reflects both a cooler mountain environment and that of a warmer mediterranean natural environment. What is not planted in grapes, olive and citrus, is covered with low, sparse scrub. There are spots of evergreen oaks and maritime pines, some vining berries, splashes of color from purple iris, red poppies, rockroses and wildflowers. Rock walls sprout their own green in the form of lichen and moss, flowers and ferns. Spattered about are generous displays of huge prickly pear cactus. I keep looking for Lord Byron’s graffiti among the dozens of scum bags who have carved their names on their cactus paddles. I haven’t seen sign of any animal life other than the occasional cat or a leashed dog on a forced march over the mountain.
Hiking seems to be preferable south to north. Even the awful trek Riomaggorie-Manarola was easier traveling from south to north. Plotting on Google Maps, I can determine the amount and severity of climb. The descent, though harder on the back as it absorbs the shocks of stepping down, is still easier than climbing up which taxes knees and strength when stairs are uneven and vary in height. Don’t plan on any of the usual stair heights of 7” here; any step less than 10” is a blessing.
My pedometer continues to measure my steps. However, I have learned to judge my trek by floors. Forty floors, 56 floors, 53, 39 – it becomes a blur after the millennium mark in stairs.
There is a pleasant musical interlude consisting of a man, dog and an accordion. The man squeezes Italian melodies from the box, the dog watches the hikers.
Along the trail, near the summit, are a couple ristorante and bars if you are inclined to stop, rest, eat or drink. The temptation is great but the thought of additional climbing on a full stomach or fortified with a Prosecco is something I wish to leave to the end of my journey.
As I reach the summit and begin to descend, the trail becomes noisier. I decided the trails could benefit from some signage to “Rispetta il silenzio dell’ambiente.” Really, cease your lengthy conversations and enjoy the ambience. I pause to allow especially chatty walkers to get out of hearing range.
I also must pause for costume repair. My hiking boots are at the end of their usefulness, thus my plan to discard them after my hikes in Cinque Terre. The tread split and separated from the right foot while trekking to Corniglia. Today, just short of Vernazza, the left sole became dearly departed. I will complete my final treks sole-less.
I arrive into Vernazza after 2 hours and hungry for lunch. Town is crowded but restaurants are numerous. The Main street of Via Roma looks very different from the 2011 flood damaged street when several feet of water, mud and debris rushed down the street. Now Via Roma is flooded with tourists. After an excellent lunch of pasta, caprese and Prosecco, I face the trip beck to Corniglia.
The biggest drawback to this wonderful trek is that upon my return by train to Corniglia, I am faced with scaling the 33 flights of the Lardiarina. I decide to take my time, enjoy the experience and view, and reward myself with a cold beer at the top. I deserve it