The Italian Job – Day 3

Cinque Terre

With a train strike to beat, the alarm was set for early o’clock and we were out the door of our apartment and on our way to La Spetzia train station before 8 o’clock. The train strike was scheduled from 9am to 1pm so we figured that we could get a train before then, and be where we wanted to be before the trains ground to a halt. We hoped on a train at 8.12 am from La Spetzia, and twenty minutes later we disembarked in the pretty coastal town of Vernazza.

Lets talk trains for a minute

Now I was expecting a little diesel train that would chug its way noisily, slowly and smellingly along the line, but how wrong was I. The train was a modern, clean, fast inter-city train – a double-decker, no less – that whizzed us comfortably and quickly across the track. The only disappointment was that most of the journey was in a tunnel; this was a train to get you from A to B quickly and effectively, it wasn’t a leisurely clickety-clack journey during which you took in the majestic vista as it unfolded in front of you.

… and we’re back

Vernazza is a charming little seaside town, nestled in the hills and stumbling down to the sea. In the calm of the early morning sun it was beautiful and serene and we started our day with coffee and cakes, and then more coffee, in a traditional Italian bar. We spent a pleasant twenty minutes or so exploring and enjoying the harbour, soaking up the the sun and smelling the fresh sea air before beginning our next step to beat the now striking trains, and headed off on the hiking trail to Monterosso. We had always planned to hike some of the trails between the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre, and we headed uphill in anticipation and excitement.

This trail is 3.6 Km long, estimated to take about an hour and a half and the graded difficulty is average. You need to pay to take this trail, but payment is included in the Cinque Terre pass that we had purchased for the two days, giving us unlimited train use between La Spetzia and Levanto (all the 5 towns are between those two bigger towns) and unlimited access to the hiking trails. We had received a top tip to hike from Vernazza to Monterosso as – whilst the total ascent and descent is the same, as you start and finish at sea level – the initial incline from Vernazza is much less steep than from Monterosso. As we descended a very, very step stone stair pathway at the other end, we were grateful to have received this bit of advice. If you do this hike, and only take one thing away from this blog, make it this tip: walk from Vernazza to Monterosso, not the other way round. You’ll be glad you did.

Although graded “average”, the hike was not simple – it was well marked and on a path all the way, you could not get lost, but it had some tough climbs and knee jarring descents. The path was stoney, and slippery in places (although never dangerous), you definitely need trainers or better walking footwear. It took us about two hours (including plenty of stops for Becky to take photos, and also, more frustratingly, to wait on narrow sections of the pass as walkers – sometimes in their hordes – came past.) The views were magnificent, and the sense of achievement when we arrived in Monterosso tangible.

My Happy Place

A year ago, I went for my old man MOT at the doctors surgery and, as part of the battery of tests, I had my blood pressure taken. Whilst the cuff inflated around my arm, the nurse practitioner told me to relax, to imagine myself in my happy place. For me, that was bobbing in the crystal clear blue sea of Croatia’s coast. I love being in the sea in beautiful places. So, somewhat warm and weary after our hike, I had to take the plunge into the sea once we hit the beach at Monterosso.

The air was warm, the sun beating down, but the sea was a bit chilly ( to be expected, it is only mid April) But I enjoyed a ten minute swim in the clear blue water, I know I would have regretted it had I missed the opportunity.

Like an iguana, I baked on a rock to dry off, before we headed into the old town to grab some lunch (pizza and salad) and amble through the streets. A feature of the region seems to be black and white striped churches and I don’t know why, but I find them very aesthetically appealing.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring Monterosso – its bigger than the other four villages, and has the feel of a holiday resort, and before we had finished with the town, 1pm had been and gone – the train strike was over and we got on a (busy!) train heading back to La Spezia, but jumped off after two stops and ten minutes at Manrola, which we explored, (and sat and chilled in the sun for some time) before getting another train to Riomaggiore, which we wandered around in for an hour or so, before heading back to La Spezia, and home, with slightly aching limbs, only to remember we then had to climb 96 steps to our apartment on the top floor!

The Cinque Terre villages are lovely, and I really enjoyed the day. My only “but” would be that as the day wore on, they did get very busy. For this reason, I think Monterosso was my favourite – it had the size to accommodate all the tourists (us included) who were disgorged into the towns by train, boat and trail. And this was April; I wonder what they would be like in July or August – quite possibly too hot and too crowded? I’m glad the train strike forced us to make an early start: Vernazza in the peace and calm of (relatively) early morning was beautiful, and I’m glad I hiked a trail. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny throughout, we both enjoyed a lovely day.

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