Taking on the Cinque Terre (Five Lands)

Over the course of a decade, the Cinque Terre has certainly become a trendy Italian hotspot and major tourist destination. Lying on the coastal outskirts of La Spezia, in Northern Italy, it’s a place where aqua waters and rainbow-coloured fishing villages come together to create a dreamy display of Italian finesse.

The Five Lands is comprised of the small villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, all of which are part of Italy’s Liguria region. While all villages were once sleepy and rather inaccessible, in today’s day and age they have evolved into bustling tourist stops which largely cater for enthusiastic hikers – like us!

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Corniglia, one of the five fishing villages making up the Cinque Terre, Italy.

We visited the Cinque Terre in early August, a.k.a. peak season. Yet, surprisingly, our experience of this wonderful Italian treasure was anything but overcrowded. By ensuring an early-morning, six o’clock wake-up, we not only managed to beat the heat but also the floods of hikers who hit the tracks later in the day.

By twenty to seven, we were on the train from our base in La Spezia to Monterosso, the most northern village of the Five Lands. Sitting opposite our Kiwi mates who had joined us on the adventure, there was a building excitement; we were about to see a part of Italy now firmly built into the travel photography canon – a place of fairytale outlooks and dreamy summer scenes. Yet, it was more than the iconic views that we were amped for, it was also the chance to hike, explore and swim. Us four Kiwis needed our nature fix!

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Seven o’clock in the morning at Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Arriving in Monterosso, it was not long before we were struck with the beauty of the Cinque Terre. Leaving the station behind us, we headed across the boardwalk for the marked out trail, the idyllic morning awash with cotton candy hues. Pink streaks still lingered in the horizon and a handful of boats bobbed on the rippling, textured-glass waters. On the ocean shore, rows of umbrellas and sunbeds hinted at the hustle and bustle to come.

Once we were on the track, we began a sharp ascent up one of the Cinque Terre’s many cliffs. The temperature was mild at the time, but, before long, we were slick with sweat.

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Looking back toward the village of Monterosso from the Cinque Terre hiking trail, Italy.

After hiking up and down several cliffs, past small, hill-top vineyards and a number of remote, rustic abodes, we reached the village of Vernazza. Taking the steep steps downward, we passed through the village’s narrow streets and arrived in a small square which led to an enclosed bay, boats nestled together at its centre. At least a dozen people had already found various spots on the bay’s rocks and were now leisurely paddling in the village’s refreshing waters. We needed no convincing to be the next group to dive in.

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Vernazza, probably the most iconic of the Cinque Terre villages, Italy.

When we left Vernazza, it was still only about 10am! Nonetheless, the temperature had started to heat up and, heading for Corniglia, we were hot and bothered once more. Again, we made several ascents and descents over the shapely land, making many a stop to admire the endless beauty of the Cinque Terre; Opuntia cacti clung to the cliffside and, far below, large boulders hid in plain sight beneath their ocean blanket. When we reached Corniglia, we had completed another forty-five minutes of hiking.

Our arrival in the next village marked the end of our hike, though not the end of our day in the Cinque Terre. There, we journeyed down several sharp flights of stairs to a rocky bay speckled with sunbathers. The tourmaline waters lightly grazed the rocks and, beyond the bay, the odd motorboat or yacht cruised past. Sneakers and outer layers were left discarded once more as we made awkward entries into the water. There, several hours slipped by.

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Taking the plunge from a rocky outcrop at Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Presently, the hiking trail beyond Corniglia and onward to Manarola and Riomaggiore is closed. Unfortunately, heavy flooding in 2011 caused significant damage to the tracks and this damage is yet to be repaired. The fact that the track was so badly affected all these years ago and that it remains affected still, does make you appreciate how vulnerable the area is, and, hence, the importance of paying the small hiking fee of €7.50 which goes toward maintaining the beautiful tracks of the Cinque Terre.

All four of us Kiwis came away from the Cinque Terre feeling utterly blessed to have had the opportunity to see and experience one of Italy’s most recognisable landscapes. We all agreed that The Five Lands was certainly a memorable Italian adventure. We have absolutely no doubt that you’ll love the Cinque Terre too… but we dare you to find out for yourself!

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A peek of the ocean from Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy.

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