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Cinque Terre: Five Lands in Two Days, June 22-23, 2013

After a long day Friday driving on snaky roads from the chateau into the Ligurian area of Italy (with Bob doing all the driving), Lady TomTom (the GPS) delivered us right at the doorstep of the hotel that will be our base for exploring Cinque Terre (five lands).

Cinque Terre is both a UNESCO site and an Italian national park.  It consists of five medieval villages perched on steep steep mountainsides overlooking the Ligurian Sea (part of the Mediterranean).  The villages are connected by walking trails, train, boat and road (although most people would get dizzy driving the road).  There are many chapels, ruins and other historical sites worth seeing, both in the towns and many more steps above each town.

Riomaggiore (Friday, Sunday):  Us and hundreds of other tourists here for the weekend (but since we're on vacation, we had no idea it was the weekend.)  Luckily our hotel is at the top (and I mean the very top) of town and therefore quiet.  Like the rest of the Cinque Terre villages, colorful narrow multi-story buildings perched at the edge of the ocean, joined together by very narrow streets and even narrower stairways. 

Monterosso Al Mare (Saturday and Sunday):  We intended to walk the lower trail from Riomaggiore to Monterosso on Saturday, stay overnight in Monterosso, and hike some of the higher trails on the way back.  However, the lower trail (aka Via del Amore at this end) is closed between the first two villages from Riomaggiore for reconstruction, so we decided to take the train to the first village (Manorola).  Since we know absolutely no Italian, we got on a non-local train that took us all the way to the last of the five villages (Monterosso).  Surprise and quick change of plans!

Climbed up to Soviore Sanctuary (about 1500' climb, mostly on flagstone path and stair steps) and ate the stuffed focaccia lunch we had purchased in town.  The Sanctuary, built before 1225, has been restored and has habitable rooms -- either a hostel or a nunnery (we couldn't tell, but did see a nun and many tourists).  Then hiked along the contours of the steep hillsides directly overlooking the ocean (don't look at the scenery while walking!) to the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna, then along another flagstone path steeply down into the village of Vernazza.

Vernazza (Saturday and Sunday):  Took the train back to Monterosso and checked into our hotel.  Sunday, hiked steeply out of Monterosso on flagstone stairs on the "lower" trail to Vernazza -- imagine straight up at least 1,000' then the same thing back down to the next town.  A little sightseeing of the medieval church in Vernazza and back on the trail to Corniglia.

Corniglia (Sunday):  Unlike the previous villages, Corniglia is perched on a little spit extending out into the water.  There was an "easy" 20-minute hike straight down to the beach, which we chose not to take.  Since the "lower" trail is closed from here on in the direction we're going, more climbing straight up out of town, then walking on the paths that link the many vineyards that are terraced up the steep hillside.  Imagine Machu Picchu with grape vines.  A wonderful grilled fish lunch in the hamlet of Volastra, and it's more stone steps down toward the village of Manarola.  To get into the village of Manarola from above, you can either take the road or the panoramic trail.  Our choice is the panoramic trail, which is true to its name, hugging the hillside through grape vines and what we think are olive groves, but it also drops steeper than anything we've seen so far on stone steps down into town.  Would hate to be doing this in the up direction in the afternoon heat.

Manarola (Sunday):  Also perched up above the water with no easily accessible beach.  Over the course of the day, Bob estimates we've done more than 3,000' of climbing (up and down), so we decide that we'll take the train back to Riomaggiore.  That means we are sardined into a train that is running late, but thankfully the train ride is only a few minutes long.

Back in Riomaggiore, our luggage and car are waiting for us at the hotel, although we do have to hike way up to the top of town to find it.  We will sleep well tonight!

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