10 May 2022
I would not want to disabuse anyone from hiking the national park trails of the Cinque Terre. However, I will be honest and say the trails can be challenging. I witnessed those clinging to the rock walls on narrow paths, those packing large backpacks and even babies, the elderly, and those with taped knees. There were many huffers and puffers. Some of that describes me.
Following the reconstruction of a collapsed drystone wall on the Vernazza side of the trail, the Verde Azzurro (Blue Green) path became accessible again just this past month. Yeah! Alternative, higher routes are not an alternative for this hiker.
To beat the heat, I departed Vernazza at 7:45 am. The previous day’s storm was on my mind – the last place I wanted to be in an afternoon lightning, thunder induced deluge would be atop a mountain.
The trail begins, of course, with a group of stairs to the right of St. Margaret of Antioch. It is a pretty constant climb for about an hour. Most steps are fairly uniform and lower than many I have experienced, which makes the climb so much easier. I say “most” steps for occasionally 10” sleepers confront the climber.
By leaving early, no one was at the kiosk at trail entrance, I saw one farmer working his grapes, and I met only one person on the trail. It appeared she was in training as she sped past me running the steps to be in Monterosso for a cappuccino. I was dumbstruck when, not long after, she sped past on her return climb to Vernazza. Done with coffee already?
The walk is beautiful and peaceful. I see pools of water and trickles from yesterday’s storm, which had to be over an inch of rain, yet the majority of the trail is surprisingly dry. The mountains are terraced with grapes, olive trees and citrus, mostly lemon. And the climb continues to an altitude of about 730′. Climbing, or descending, it is not particularly a system of left-right, left-right but most often left, left, left, right, right, right, ad infinitum.
There are wonderful placards along the trail which explain the ecology and history of the trail. I’m reading one now explaining the fauna, which includes hedgehog, badger, weasel, and martin, none of which I have seen any trace. My eyes are attracted to the named reptiles “usually harmless, including the green whip snake, Aesculapian snake and the slowworm as well as lizards, green lizard and geckos, usually found on dry-stone walls. The Viper is rather rare.”
Holy crap on a cracker. I believe I can outrun a slowworm. However, these dry-stone walls are being used for my support. I begin to look much closer as to where I will put my hands in future. Vipers, indeed!
I am beyond the half way point, well over an hour, before I begin to meet some small groups of people, some overtaking me from Vernazza and others coming from Monterosso. The views back over Vernazza are spectacular and once over the summit and descending, views of Monterosso are equally as stunning.
The path levels out for a little as it wraps around and comes into view of Monterosso. At times the trail is very narrow allowing only one person at a time – very narrow patches with nothing between you and the Viper-enhanced stone wall on the right and a precipitous drop on the left. Sometimes a farmer has installed wire netting to break my fall. I don’t think it would help. Often, as you meet other hikers, it’s kind of like “no after you know…please after you” knowing basically you both want to catch your breath.
The descent is a series of narrow, twisting stairs. I know I am tired when at the top of a large step I pause in order to decide which foot to use. It appears damper on the Monterosso side but also it’s pretty much out of the sun and cool which is much appreciated. There are rivulets of water and an antique stone-bridge. I do need to get over and cling to the cliff on occasion, allowing people to pass, hoping they haven’t packed on too much pasta. I do think that some of these hikers are a heart attack waiting to happen.
At most I think I may have passed 50 to 60 people; one large group of 12 Americans were chatting away, oblivious to the wonders of nature and silence. Then, about the last 3000 feet it becomes much more crowded. The hikers looked exhausted, perhaps clueless to what they were facing.
Like the lady clinging to the rock wall because she was “afraid of heights.” Bless her heart, unknowing it was going to get worse.
The vertical drop going down into Monterosso, although via good steps, is challenging. No wonder hikers were huff-puffing coming up. I stand by my opinion the south to north trek is preferred; it is a more gradual climb. It may be harder on the knees coming down, but going up is less godawful coming from the south. Hoards of people are lined up at the kiosk entry ready to begin their journey to Vernazza. It is after 10:30. I think they have missed a great opportunity for an early morning trek.
In about 2 hours 30 minutes I am sitting for a well-earned cappuccino. I am mourning the loss of more tread on my old boots. Better them than me.
My return is by ferry. The best views of the Cinque Terre is from the sea. I sail to Manarola, avoiding the awful climb from the Riomaggiore port, and I walk to La Cantina dello Zio Bramante for my usual Prosecco. From Manarola, it is a 7 minute, 5€ train returning to Vernazza.
A hot shower. Beer on my terrace overlooking the fortifications, cliffs and town. Sunset over Castle Doria. A toast and fond farewell to my trusty boots.
Life is indeed good.