August 13, 2017

Trek the terre - Cinque Terre

We explored the architectural extravaganza that is Rome and Vatican and then had headed to the beautiful countryside of Tuscany and Umbria. Our last destination would be La Spezia to explore the coastal villages of Cinque Terre. We briefly stopped by Pisa to catch a glimpse of one among the many wonders of the world ( just because I think that there are more than 7 wonders) - The Leaning Tower of Pisa. We took the train to Pisa and had our luggage checked into the baggage area before an approximately 2.5 km walk to the Leaning Tower. We loved the fact that the trains in Italy were well maintained, be it regional, intercity, or the high speed Freccia trains. It was lunch time and we stopped by a restaurant where we fed ourselves on ravioli (yum!!), pasta and finished it off with a panacotta.

If you have visited the Leaning tower, you sure should have a souvenir to substantiate it - you have endless souvenir shopping choices along the road. Magnets, showpieces, caps, key chains, mugs - it is all there. Walking along the winding ways we made it to the tower and it really is LEANING!

Lanes leading to the leaning tower

During the construction of the tower, it is believed to have tilted because of the instability of the soil and flaws in laying out the foundation. The construction took place over 200 years accommodating the tilt into the architecture. You will be lucky if you can get one decent click of the tower because all around you have people posing for cameras trying to either support the tilt or pushing it to tilt further. (google up for images of the tower with people and you will know what I mean). It was fun watching the people in different poses with various expressions, imagining what the final pic would look like!

We spent a good two and half hours here before taking the train to La Spezia. Our host was kind enough to receive us at the station and drove us all the way to our stay which was on top of a hill. The accommodation and the view from the balcony was simply WOW! It was around 7 pm by the time we stepped out to explore the town of La Spezia - almost all shops were closed by then with the exception of few restaurants. After having a walk around the town, we made it to one of the heavily crowded restaurants - coz where there is a crowd, the food ought to be good! And boy, it was! Gnocchi, Pasta and the cutlets were simply good and the portions huge.

Exploring the town of La Spezia

We were done by 10 pm, and it was all the more colder. We alternated between running and walking back to the hill top house to keep ourselves warm. Looking forward to an exhilarating day at Cinque Terre the next day we made it to the hill top and to the cosy apartment.

As the sunset - view from the balcony

Night view from the Balcony
We began our next morning over a cup of tea enjoying the view from the balcony. Then we set out to the station to get the Cinque Terre pass. This pass covers the access to Cinque Terre national park, hiking trails, trains, bus shuttle. The hiking trails are in the national park, so it is mandatory to have the pass. There are check points on the trails where you’ll have to show the passes. I think you can buy the passes from the check points too. ( all the way more safer to but it at the station itself!)

Cinque means five and Terre means Land. Cinque Terre simply is the land of five ancient fishing villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. These coastlines and the surrounding village now form the Cinque Terre National Park and is also an UNESCO heritage site. We took a train along with hundreds of other tourists to Monterosso hoping to catch a good view of the coast line as the train sped by. We had to be disappointed on that since the tracks have been laid through the tunnels and we were mostly engulfed in darkness with occasional view of the sea.

Cinque Terre is a place you need to spend a whole day - start early to cover all the five villages and trekking is the ideal way to do it or you also have buses and trains connecting the villages. Monterosso is a village with a long beautiful coastline and a very colourful market area. This is the place you will get to taste the best focaccia of your life (never mind the copious amount of olive oil that goes into the baking).

Lots of bread to choose from!

We savoured a basil pesto focaccia.
The coastal line of Monterosso

The market area of Monterosso

Thirty minutes along the beach and after exploring the market, it was time to head to our next destination on foot under taking a relatively easy trek (that is what the internet said) to the next village, Vernazza. The trek took us nearly two hours and drained us off our energy! We began our trek by climbing up the mountain often faced by narrow trails which allowed only one person to navigate at a time and if there was anyone coming in the opposite direction we had to wait for them to cross or vice versa. Sometimes it was steep climb or sometimes steps cut out on rocks or even areas where part of the trails were washed off. Lemon trees bordered the trails at some points and at some points we had a beautiful view of the sea. Each turn and bend had breath-taking views. Please make sure you do at least one hike in Cinque Terre, else you miss out on these beautiful views. Our ascent took us about an hour and the next one hour of descent seemed a cakewalk. ( Whoever said the trail was easy must be a pro at this). There are actually different trails that you can take depending on the level of hardship. There are even trails for the extreme hiking enthusiasts.  Vernazza is probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen - I could hardly keep my eyes off the place. As you descent the mountain, there lies ahead of you a rocky cove with the gurgling tides hitting the rocks and then slowly making its way back into the sea. We could not ask for a better place to relax and enjoy our lunch. Friggitoria is a must try if you love seafood. Gather your food packets and head over to the dork, sit by the seaside and enjoy your food. I could sit there all day but we had an agenda to complete.

The churning sea waters!

That is me making my way across the narrow trekking path

View of the beautiful Vernazza from the trekking trail
The lemon trees that grow along the trail
A closer shot of Vernazza

More closer to Vernazza

The colorful village that is Vernazza

This time we took the train to Corniglia.

Corniglia unlike the other villages is not situated by the sea rather on top of a mountain by the sea. You have a sea view but not access to a beach. If you want to avoid the very long climb to the village from the station, there are buses shuttling at regular intervals. This place has more of gelato, slushy and granita available. Choose your flavor before you head out to the next place.

We chose lemon and had it not been for this refreshing cold granita, I would have never reached the next village. 
We debated a lot on whether to take the next trek or not! After all, we were here for a good trekking experience and this was the easiest trek as per google and hence we decided to go ahead. We were expecting an hour's trek that eventually ran into 3 hours .The trail runs through Volastra enroute Manrola. We climbed up, was out of breath, sat down, climbed again. Into an hour we met a couple coming in the opposite direction and asked them how much more longer and they said one hour. We walked along through dense tree areas, by vineyards, by the seaside. We trekked one mountain after other distraught that the next village was not yet in sight. It took 3 long hours and we finally made it. The last bit had about a thousand steps to descend. Our legs were wobbly by the time we reached Manarola. We did have a strong feeling that we missed our way but we do not remember seeing any signboards to direct us. Thank God for the refreshing granita that kept our spirits alive. The first trail we undertook in the morning was buzzing with tourists whereas this one had only few people we came across once a while making it difficult to ask for directions and GPS is not an option in these areas. We walked across the village - Manarola, rested our weary legs, snacking on Farinata (pancakes made of chickpea flour).

The sea never fails to impress

The long trek to Manarola - we were not even half way through!

The view of sunset taken from Manarola station

Munching on a slice of Farinata

Stroll through Manarola
It was getting darker and we decided, we had no time for the last village, Rio Maggiore. We had to make it back to La Spezia which was just 5 minutes by train but the harder task of making our way to the hilltop apartment also had to be accomplished. We were tired, yet we had with us an entirely exhilarating experience to take back with us.  A word of caution to everyone who wants to visit Cinque Terre - not all the trekking paths are open to public. Sometimes the trails are washed out due to rains and hence always inquire before you set out on your trek.

We were up very early the next day to catch the 6 am train to Milan. This was one morning where I would have loved to stay in bed and sleep more into the cold morning. Milan was from where we had our return flight. Our legs were stiff and the knees refused to budge but we made it to the station on time. We mostly slept through the train journey.  Reaching Milan, we checked our luggage into the luggage deposit area and decided to take a stroll through Milan. Being a Sunday, almost everything was closed. On contrary to Rome, Milan seemed a more planned city with wider roads and better traffic rules. There are no words to explain the churches in Italy, the architecture keeps getting prettier and fashion capital Milan was no less. We reached Piazza del Duomo nearby hoping to eat from the famous – Luini’s. Alas! being a sunday it was closed. That was so disappointing! and then we had to settle in for a Pizza Fritta - which is basically deep fried pizza or calzone. We almost burned our tongues when we bit into the hot Fritta, fresh from the deep fryer, but it was so good with all the meat and the gooey cheese inside. We sat by the piazza, although it was mid afternoon the weather was beautiful and enjoyed a parade of people decked in various costumes pass by, accompanied by a band.  The Milan Cathedral is a must visit. Unfortunately we were running short of time and the queue was way too long for us. We had to be satisfied with an external glimpse.

Inside view of a beautiful cathedral in Milan

The Milan Cathedral

We headed back to Milan Centrale station and took our final train to the Milan Malpense airport. There we had reached the end of our vacation! If all the good times could be a wee bit longer!

When you travel somewhere your vacation begins right at the time when you board the flight but after the vacation when you head back there is always an ache that you carry. With a sad heart and memories of days well spent we headed back to Dubai and here in this blog we relived our vacation again!!

Check out the complete Italy Travelogue on our site -

Roaming Rome and Walking the Vatican
A countryside Escapade - Tuscany and Umbria