Tales of Blue Aweigh travel blog

View from our studio apartment in Monterossa. Living with the locals.

Corniglia, Manorola on distant cliff

Old gun turret in Monterossa. While we were there a young man...

Looking North from Riomaggiore

Looking South

Local fisherman enjoying the morning

Walkway leaving the train station in Riomaggiore

Lovers locks. People place locks all over in hopes of returning some...

Next to the lovers locks

More hanging locks. Saw something similar in Paris.


On a hilltop trail

Trail view

Hiking trail

From high above

Hillside grape vineyards

One of the coastal towns

Anita and Wilhelm from Norway

Cemetary in Monterrosa on Day of the Dead

Monterossa's beach from the train station

Another scenic view

Nets below the olive trees in fall for harvesting

Hillside sculpture

Close up of the sculpture next to a hillside house

Fishing boats at the local marina in Monterossa

Enjoying the beach


Just a couple of hours East from Nice lies the Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy, frequently called the Italian Riviera. This spot is incredibly sparsely populated, unspoiled and picturesque. The Cinque Terre, or five towns that make up this region draw tourists that enjoy light hiking. The tiny towns from North to South are; Monterossa al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

We chose to take the train to Monterossa al Mare to stay for 5 nights. This was another stop that we took a train with no reservations for lodging and decided to see what we could find. By this time, I was beginning to get a little less anxious about doing this since Nice worked out so well. As it turns out, a lovely young woman named Claudia observed us at the train station and approached to ask if we had reservations . She promised that she would give us a great rate for one of her two newly remodeled 2nd floor units. We read about this approach in the guide book and the stated outcome was normally good so we agreed to take a look. How lucky we were! We got to choose one of two studio units with a kitchenette. I chose the one overlooking a little alley/street lined with restaurants and shops below and living spaces above. It was perfect. We were living amongst the locals in a tiny Italian town where everyone knows each other. Bakers walk down the cobblestone walkway from their shop to the café, fishermen deliver their seafood to the restaurants and many of the customers at the establishments were locals, not tourists.

The five towns are tied along the coast by a series of hiking trails. From end to end the trails wind for about 7 miles of fairly well laid out trails which are well traveled. These trails are so well traveled in off season that I couldn’t imagine trying to make this trek during high season. In some spots the trails are so narrow and steep it is necessary to step off the trail to let others pass. We spent our first day, purchasing a Cinque Terre card from the Italian National Park Service office which allowed us to hike the local trails for a nominal fee. So we set off southward and passed a hundred or so hikers going both directions. After a couple of hours we stopped in the next town, Vernazza and enjoyed our picnic lunch on the sea wall. We brought a seasoned half chicken and tangerines from the farmer’s market that was taking place just a block from our studio unit that morning. As it turned out there were several local eateries there and we vowed to visit one on our next hike. After resting up we ventured to the next town of Manarola for a scrumptious pistachio gelato (local favorite) and to hop the train back to our room. A great feature of this area is the train running just outside each of these towns and quick access back and forth. So hiking from one end to the other doesn’t have to be repeated to get back to the starting point. There are also boats that can be taken between most of the towns though we never tried one.

We had a bit of rain the next day which ended up washing out a part of the trail route in Manarola. So our next hiking day was spent heading to the town furthest south, Riomaggiore. The view along the coast was spectacular. We had to navigate our way past the washed out trail via a higher trail. As it turns out, we were looking for the trail when we happened upon another couple trying to do the same. We asked a couple of locals for directions. After a few false starts we eventually found it. The trails wind along the coast, yes every step of the way we wandered along terraced hills with olive groves and grape vineyards, local homes and various local gardens. The air was clear and the company was great. We became fast friends with our hiking buddies, Anita and Wilhelm from Norway. We spent the day getting to know each other and chatting for hours while hiking. Mike even had extra beers to share with Wilhelm along the way. When we arrived in Corniglia we all shared some wine on a garden terrace. As the day came to an end we realized that the train service doesn’t run late there and had to catch it or hike back for miles in fading light. So off we went. When we arrived at the station, the train was approaching. We realized we were on the wrong side of the tracks. There are signs strictly prohibiting crossing the tracks….but the possibility of missing it was too great so we all ran across and jumped on the train and off we went. Whew! After our return, we agreed to meet for dinner the following evening with our new friends at a lovely seafood restaurant a short walk from where we were staying. We had just met a lovely Canadian artist, Bryna Cohen and her husband the night before(who inspired us to see Florence). We met Wilhelm and Anita the following evening and once again, we were not disappointed with the food. It is our hope we didn’t ruin our buddy Wilhelm’s ambition in running his businesses, one of which is Giertsen Tunnel in Norway. See when people ask us why we don’t work we tell them that the book, Your Money or Your Life, ruined our working life. For me it was the statement about you can only eat one steak a day! So here we are wandering Italy.

We spent some time enjoying pastries and cappuccinos, seafood and Italian beers, hiking along the olive lined roads, through the cathedral and cemetery on Day of the Dead (Nov. 1),and hanging hand washed clothes on the line outside our upstairs windows before deciding it was time to leave. Typically after 5 days we start to feel a bit antsy and ready to move on. This was one of my favorite stops.

On a rainy day we took a long train ride South to Siena, Italy in the Tuscany region.

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