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Columbus’ Backyard Beauties: A Guide to Italy’s Cinque Terre

It is just past midnight in the village of Riomaggiore on Italy’s Liguria coast. My inn owner quickly explains to me that there is a shortcut to my rented room for the weekend and a longer route to collapsing for the night. I don’t mind cutting corners so I agree to the shortcut. Little did I know, the shortcut would be straight up the side of a cliff. I conquered the Italian stair-master in the early hours of the morning, just one component to the Cinque Terre.

As Columbus Day kicks off this week, I can’t help but consider the home of Christopher. He was born just up the road in Genoa. Huffing and puffing, I finally make it with suitcase in hand to my rented room. The view at the end of my climb features countless colorful buildings clinging to a cliff and the moon lighting up the sea in a hue of true midnight blue. I can’t fathom why someone would even contemplate leaving this corner of Italy to discover somewhere else, Columbus included. Italy’s Cinque Terre is easily one of the country’s most inspiring places. If you want to be inspired perhaps like old Chris could have been by his backyard, here is a guide to conquering the area.

What is the Cinque Terre?

Meaning “the five lands” in Italian, the Cinque Terre is comprised of five towns carved into the Liguria coast. The towns include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. They remain connected by a series of paths and hiking trails. It is the hike through the five towns that has attracted many to this slice of the Italian Riviera.

Those five towns fall within the Cinque Terre National Park. The park covers 4,300 acres. Italians call it il Parco dell’Uomo, meaning the park of man. It gets this nickname by boasting a highly unusual man-made landscape. As its very creation is due to man interventions creating the terraced architecture, Unesco has named the five-town stretch a World Heritage Site.

Is The Hike Intense or Easy?

Most likely if you come to the Cinque Terre, you are looking to hike through the five cliff carved towns. The trails between each town vary in intensity. The easiest walk remains from Manarola to Riomaggiore. The path is paved and takes on the name Via dell’Amore for the many couples who have left their mark around the stretch. The most difficult hike is often thought to be that from Monterosso to Vernazza. The steep ascents and descents are not for flip-flops and inexperienced hikers. If you just want to hike a few sections, you can do so and take the train to the other towns.

When Should I Go?

The Cinque Terre is a mad house during the summer months. You might just run into that neighbor from back in Chicago on the trail. If you can’t avoid going in the summer, you should consider staying outside of the five towns to save your wallet some damage. Accommodations can be pricey in the high summer season so staying in La Spezia or Genoa are more budget friendly options. If you can go in the off-season, you can appreciate the five villages at their most beautiful, without crowds to ruin the view the camera captures. Hotel, apartment and hostel prices are also far lower in price outside the summer season.

Do I need the Cinque Terre Card?

Many think the Cinque Terre hike is free of charge but it is not. You will want to pick up the Cinque Terre Card. You can buy it at Cinque Terre train stations or along the hiking route. It buys you entrance into a few museums in the area, three hours of bikes for hire, use of the ecological park buses and access to all of the trekking paths for as low as €5 a day. If you also want access to the trains between the villages, you can buy the Cinque Terre Train Card. It includes all of the same perks but also allows you unlimited train travel on the Levanto-Cinque Terre-La Spezia line for as low as €10 a day.

 

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