Sometimes all it takes is a photo of a gorgeous view to make you say: “I must go there.”
Cinque Terre had been my ‘must go there’ place for years. The colourful coastal cities had been imprinted in my mind as a view I had to witness with my own eyes and deep down I knew that I had to make it a small mission to make this little wanderlust dream come true.
So after starting my new job in the Netherlands and being asked – “Hey Kat – why don’t you take next Friday off?” – I knew it was time to fulfil my ‘must go there’ mission.
In a matter of hours I had found flights to Pisa (the nearest airport to the towns). Direct flights from Amsterdam to Pisa were a real thing. And this was really going to happen.
A week later I was cycling home from work on Thursday afternoon destined to be in Italy within hours.
After some intense airport security which left me with a bad feeling (which later I discovered to be bad news when I discovered the Nice Bastille day tragedy that evening) I safety made it to Pisa.
The night was dark but the air was so so warm. I left the airport and walked and chatted with some local Italian families into town (to avoid the seediness of late night strolls in a new city).
I found my hostel and almost passed out in my top bunk… Until I heard the loudest snoring on planet earth. In many years of sleeping in crowded hostel dorms I had never heard such loud noises come from another human being. There was no chance of easy sleep and too be perfectly honest I couldn’t help but laugh.
My beauty sleep may have been compromised but hey I was on holiday and the next three days were mine to sleep in on.
Eventually my exhaustion won and not even my foghorn fellow traveller could defeat my need to sleep.
The next morning I awoke to an almost empty dorm. The foghorn was gone and it was just me and a lovely German girl – Christina.
Before putting on my small backpack and leaving the hostel I asked the owner for a recommendation of which city to start my hiking in.
Monterosso was the clear winner.
After booking my train ticket I had two hours to
kill enjoy and I spent the morning exploring Pisa with Christina – who in a very German fashion lead us through the highlights of the city.
We made it to the notorious leaning tower and I realised I must have matured since my last visit as I had absolutely zero desire to get a photo pretending to be the super-human powerful figure holding it up. I hadn’t matured quite enough to not laugh at my fellow tourists who had the stupid photo desire…
I quickly said farewell to Christina and weaved my way back to the station.
There is something romantic about train journeys – especially in Italy – and I sat back and let my mind wander as I watched the breathtaking passing landscapes.
Soon I heard the sexy Italian train voice announce ‘Monterosso’ (How can even a train station announcement voice sound so sexy!?)
I followed the crowd of tourists disembarking and was greeted with a stunning sight.
It was as if I forgot what every other beach I had ever admired even looked like. The water was so unbelievably blue, the sand so wonderfully white and the people so undeniably happy. It was perfect. My expectations had of course been high but from my first glance at just one of the five famous cities I could tell that I was in for an absolute treat of a weekend.
I strolled aimlessly along the beach. I decided to skip the tourist information offices for the weekend and just make it up as I go along.
I started to head uphill – I was determined to spend the weekend hiking to find the best views. I headed up the the peak between the two sides of the city up to what I later discovered to be the San Cristoforo promontory. I walked through the beautiful Catholic graveyard and headed down to the other side of the city.
I was so caught up in the ‘Italian-ness’ of it all. The gorgeous colourful buildings, the fresh produce and wine, the smell of pizza, pasta and coffee, the excessive gelato available. I realised how much I already loved Italy and wanted to kick myself for letting almost three years pass without making a visit.
Soon I was desperate to escape the city and start hiking. I had five towns to discover and could have easily spent my entire first day in Monterosso. Cinque Terre’s famous hikes awaited my and I began to skim the coast and make my way south to my next destination – Vernazza.
I passed the little ticket box and bought a 3 day pass (unlimited Cinque Terre train journeys and access to the Cinque Terre ‘blue trail’ hikes for 3 days). In hindsight it probably wasn’t worth the pass as I didn’t use the train as much as expected and some of the hikes I explored did not even require the pass (as two of the ‘blue trail’ hikes were closed) but I wasn’t in the mood to calculate the euro value and liked the convenience of the unlimited pass.
Soon I was on my way. The hike was said to take about two hours which seems pretty accurate if you take a steady pace and stop to take photos and take in the view. It is not an easy walk – it began with stairs. Those big old rocky stairs that seem to have existed before humanity itself. And many of them.
Trust me – a weekend in Cinque Terre was also a weekend of flashbacks to why I used to despise the ‘stair master’ machine at the gym…
After overcoming my fear of stairs I eventually became oblivious to my aching legs and bum. The views were outstanding, the sun was so hot yet so energising and I managed to lose myself in the steady uphill trail.
Time meant nothing. I didn’t check the time, I didn’t check anything – I just enjoyed the gorgeous coastal hike.
At one point I passed a small old man selling freshly squeezed orange juice on the trail… And I mean freshly hand squeezed. Orange juice had never tasted so good.
Monterosso became smaller and smaller until eventually it disappeared from sight completely. But I didn’t miss the view for too long because soon enough I was greeted with one of the most awe-inspiring sights I had ever stumbled upon (literally).
It was the postcard shot. It was the view you see on travel ads for Italy, it was the real-life version of the photo of a gorgeous view that made me say: “I must go there.”
I was there.
And it was perfect.
Sweaty and stunned I tried to regain my breath and composure. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had spontaneously ended up in one of the most famous view points in the world and combined with the physical challenge I had just conquered I honestly felt on top of the world.
And what a beautiful world it was.
I descended the mountain into the view by the sound of an accordion. No I was not hallucinating – there was really an old Italian guy playing an accordion… I had made it to the gorgeous town of Vernazza. I celebrated with wine and seafood. I deserved a romantic dinner for one after my physically and emotionally exhilarating afternoon.
That evening I managed to make my way to Deiva Marina – a town North of the Cinque Terre Towns where I was staying in Camping La Sfinge.
The lady at the reception was lovely and her kindness ended my day as wonderfully as it had started (excluding the late night foghorn snoring trauma).
I slept like a baby on valium.
The next day I awoke very well rested and ready for another hot summers day hiking in Italy. It was warmer than the day before and I decided to spend the hotter part of the days exploring the towns that were currently inaccessible via hiking (due to the 2011 flash floods along the Ligurian coast). I decided it was far too warm to wear my sports pants again and decided to chose comfort over fashion and put on the boys boxer shorts I had been wearing as Pyjama pants. I picked up some gorgeous fresh fruit from the small supermarket next to my campsite and set off.
I started by catching a train to the southernmost town of Riomaggiore – the largest of the five Cinque Terre villages. I strolled past the peeling pastel buildings and made my way uphill (once again determined to find the best views). I found myself exploring the top of the city where there were no other tourists. I sat and enjoyed the view and eventually marched down the steep ravine to the tiny harbour – which id definitely one of the region’s favourite postcard views. I spent a lot of time watching a group of Chinese tourists (dressed in far too many layers considering the temperature) partake in what seemed like personal modelling shoots – admiring their very professional selfie techniques.
I then got my own touristy snap taken in my very groovy borrowed boxers…
Next I took the train to Manarola – the places that seemed to be bequeathed with more grapevines than any other Cinque Terre village. Once again the view was breathtaking and I spent an hour just reading my book on top of the hill overlooking the town – constantly interrupted by the gorgeous sight in front of me.
I eventually dragged myself away from the gorgeous city and headed once again to the train station – this time towards Corniglia. The ‘quiet’ middle village of Cinque Terre sits atop a 100m-high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards. It is the only Cinque Terre settlement with no direct sea access, but close to 400 steps from the train station take you up to the quaint town. Corniglia felt more ‘local’ than the other five villages and I sat back and enjoyed a couple of fresh orange juices as I prepared myself for my afternoon hike.
The afternoon led me back to Vernazza. The hike was much quieter than the day before and the trail as much greener. As the sun lowered I reached the town and made my way home for a local picnic dinner at my campsite and an early nights sleep.
The next day I awake to the sound Spanish arguments… And Spanish kissing… And more Spanish arguments.
My next door neighbours were having a very passionate morning and I almost felt intrusive as I read my book and ate my fruit to the sound of their arguments (or love… I’m really not quite sure).
I decided to spend my morning in a non-cirque Terre village. I headed to Levanto – a town just beyond Monterosso (accessible to the towns by hiking, of course).
I spent my morning drinking coffee… And more coffee… And a bit more coffee. It was my last day in Italy and I never wanted to forget how good the coffee tasted.
High on caffeine I wandered through the town that seemed to be filled with more Italians than any of the Cinque Terre towns. I asked locals for directions towards Monterosso and began the longest hike yet.
The next two and a half hours I was completely alone. This was’t a ‘blue trail’ hike so apparently the tourists weren’t interested which seemed like a real shame because it was absolutely wonderful. I walked from beach, through forest, through rocky mountaintops and with aching legs (and bum) I eventually made it to the peak.
Unfortunately getting down from the highest points always seemed to be more challenging than the physical strain of going up.
Eventually I made it to Monterosso where I celebrated with my favourite post-hike Italian beverage –
coffee wine orange juice.
Sweaty and feeling very unattractive I headed into a local market store to stock up on some picnic ingredients for a very well-deserved lunch.
My Mum had warned me to ‘watch out for Italian men’ and suddenly I remembered why. The young man behind the counter quickly decided he was in love with me. I felt genuinely flattered for the compliment in my disheveled state but was very relieved to be able to honestly inform him that I had a train to catch.
I apparently broke his heart but he still made my groceries complimentary…
I ate my picnic and admired the sea one last time.
My body was in agony from my sudden fit weekend plans but I felt so very alive. (Apparently exercise has a way of making you feel like a living breathing being – especially exercising in extremely scenic destinations).
A simple photo of a gorgeous view had brought me to Cinque Terre and I left with that same view imprinted on my mind. A view that was accompanied by feelings, memories and small stories. A view had become an experience and an experience had become a very very wonderful weekend.