Woke to bucketing down rain in Lucca which did not bode well for our seaside stay in Vernazza. Had some interesting platform shuffling with no signs or announcements for last minute changes (got to love Trentitalia!). They have such a special way of doing things in Italy.
Found our way to the Cinque Terre (5 lands) on the north west coast of Italy – the Northern Riviera. Our rainy day made for some spectacular showcasing by the Mediterranean with rather large waves crashing every which way over the breakwater and onto areas normally used as seating for outdoor restaurants. There were some very brave German hikers doing the Cinque Terre walk between the five towns, but hiking on slippery and narrow marble tracks high above the sea clinging to the sides of cliffs in the rain did not appeal to us pale, wimpy Aussie types.
Once a leisurely indoor lunch was consumed and the rain had stopped, we explored our tiny town ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the magnificent display put on by nature in Vernazza harbour and beyond. What was quite amazing about the whole thing was the lack of wind at all on land, even up at the look out point on top of the castle was very still and calm – it was just the sea that was throwing its weight and power around to show off for the many spectators gathered to watch the display.
The next day was still overcast, but no rain, so we decided to do the five-town hike. It turned out to be the perfect weather for it, the cloud cover kept the temperature down and the discomfort to a minimum (well the discomfort of the hot sun, there was still the ouching muscles and heart pumping climbs). We set off from Vernzza towards Monterosso (the fifth of the 5 towns going from east to west – Vernazza is the fourth). That leg of the hike is probably the most difficult so we wanted to get it out of the way first thing. It took about 2 hours going at a leisurely pace, stopping every now and then for photos or to let other hikers pass going the other way or to respond to text messages from home (hi Chris and David!).
At one point we noticed a lot of cats in the scrub beside the track, and we rounded a bend and there was a picnic bench with several cats snacking on some food served from sealed buckets by tourists. Each had a message taped to it asking for donations to help feed the homeless and unloved kitties. Basically you drop your change in the locked tin and dish up some tucker for the mangy things. Of course, Nic succumbed and spent some time patting the love-starved waifs till they purred.
Once at Monterosso we hopped on a train and went back to town number one – Riomaggiore. Walked the shortest distance of about 1km and easiest route (all paved footpath and fairly flat) to town two, Manorola, where we stopped for lunch. Filled up on some delicious seafood pasta and were ready to tackle the remaining two legs of the hike (all carbed up and raring to go!). The next town, Corniglia (number three), was only about 40min walk, also not too taxing. The final leg from Corniglia to Vernazza was a bit of a strenuous one at the end of the day, but probably the most beautiful. It had the most varied landscape of all of them. We went through well-manicured, shady ancient olive groves to lush, green, rainforest watercourse valleys to rocky cliff-hanging scrubby trails, all within an hour. What a full day. Were completely knackered by the end of it and just supped on wine and cheese in our room (unfortunately with no view!) before crashing.
Our last full day in Vernazza was a very laid back one. Wandered down to the piazza after a healthy breaky of yoghurt and fruit for a table on a shore front outdoor café and the most phenomenal hot chocolate ever tasted. Now this is no exaggeration. Forget all those drinks made with hot milk or water that are masquerading as hot chocolates – this was literally warm, runny liquid chocolate! It needed a spoon to be consumed. Divine!
Waddled across to the sun covered breakwater (finally walkable after the diminished displays of the day before) for John to take photos and ran into an Australian woman we had met in Assisi (hello Irene!). What a delightful serendipitous moment that was. We immediately fell into animated and full-blown conversation – as one does when travelling in a non-English speaking country and meeting someone from ‘home’ – and shared a bottle of local white wine and a pizza for lunch, picking up where we left off after our first meeting in St Francis’ home ground. It was a perfect way to spend the early afternoon on a day where the only agenda was to do absolutely nothing!
Afterwards rested (of course!) before an evening stroll and a shop for some fresh supplies and a supper on the breakwater waiting for the sun to set. During our picnic dinner we, and everyone else on the breakwater, were delighted with being witness to a marriage proposal with the waves crashing behind them over the rocks. The young couple were completely unaware of their audience until we all (about 20 people) burst into applause when he rose from bended knee and they embraced. It must’ve really enhanced their moment. After our bottle of wine, Nic indulged in some people watching and John took off up the hill for some magical photos of Vernazza at twilight. A wonderful day was had by all.