Having visited three of the northernmost villages of the Cinque Terre, I hiked to the southern ones on my final full day in Italy in 2016. I would be checking out the villages of Manarola and Riomaggiore, which I believe are the iconic ones that appear on Google Images. Any case, it would be the most-challenging hike compared with the previous one from Vernazza to Monterosso, but all the more rewarding.
I’d previously hiked with a fellow assistante, but due to differing travel plans, she left a day earlier than me. I ended up meeting a Malaysian girl, called “N,” while dining in a restaurant back in Corniglia, and we made plans to hike the Manarola-Riomaggiore trail together. It was great that we happened to meet each other, as we really bonded over our love for travel, good food, and of course, the Cinque Terre.
That said, we took the train to Riomaggiore in the late morning, spending some time in the village before we did the hike to Manarola. I found the beauty of Riomaggiore on-par with that of Corniglia, although the former is situated right at sea level and with taller, colorful houses that seem to swallow up the narrow streets. With the houses directly built on craggy rocks (and most likely with the tides that continue to erode them), it’s incredible how the architecture manages to stand, let alone be safe! One might call it “rustic,” whereas others might say it’s dangerous, but to each their own…
N and I wandered Riomaggiore, which was packed with tourists (nothing out of the ordinary). We got lunch in town, stopping by a focaccia shop that exclusively made the local flatbread. The assistante whom I’d hiked with had recommended that I tried focaccia, so it was my opportunity to do so…and it didn’t disappoint! I ordered one with olives, which was absolutely delicious– aside from the sharp, acidic punch from the olives, the bread itself had the perfect consistency of a crispy, oily thin exterior and a soft, fluffy interior. Also got a zucchini one, which was heavenly, too. While the portions didn’t look like a lot, the sheer amount of oil dedicated to making the focaccia certainly kept me full for a while, as well as gave me energy to tackle our soon-to-be two, three-hour hike.
After lunch and checking out a few souvenir shops that sold lemon-based products (also local to the region), N and I finally headed over to the entrance of the hike, where we decided just to pay for the blue trail– it would be more straightforward, as we weren’t professional hikers and just wanted to experience the hike without too much strain. Plus, it was boiling at mid-day, so we didn’t want to risk getting a heat stroke or anything.
Even if we’d chosen the blue trail, it wasn’t to say that it was easy, either. Compared with the Vernazza-Monterosso route I’d taken a couple of days prior, the Riomaggiore-Manarola trek had much more incline, more changes in elevation. Looking back, the Vernazza-Monterosso hike was flatter, albeit with rockier terrain.
While I’m by no means an excellent hiker, I do consider myself fairly fit, as well as motivated: if I’m determined to get somewhere sooner than later, then I will push myself to tackle any terrains along the way. However, N had a different pace, so at times we took breaks in between, whether for her to catch up or for water.
At one point, the route got so steep that we were literally climbing the face of the mountain. There were plenty of terraces and vineyards alongside the route, several points being at our eye levels. It was pretty surreal, not to forget rather challenging– you can bet that we rewarded ourselves with a 15-minute break at the top, not just for the views, but also water and rest.
After about two hours, we started getting closer to Manarola, as we began to see its outline in the distance– the last hour of the hike seemed to go faster, as we were excited to be close to our destination (plus, no more climbing mountains!).
We reached Manarola in the mid-afternoon, which by then was full of people– if anything, I found it more crowded than in Riomaggiore, and it was no wonder with its cluster of vibrant houses perched on the cliff, with a thin strip of land (also filled with houses) jutting out right into the sea. N and I passed through the town center (no easy feat with hordes of tourists) before arriving at the vantage point for the iconic views of Manarola. We snapped photo after photo, with and without ourselves in them. There was also a tiny terrace just above the vantage point, where there were a couple of benches to sit and relax. Especially after a long hike, it was much-needed!
N also proposed that we get some gelato, as it was a quintessential thing to do while in Italy, no matter which cities you visit. We got a few scoops at a shop next to the harbor, where waves crashed against the dark rocks already slicked with previous tides. However, the tides weren’t that dangerous-looking, and if anything, it was rather hypnotic to watch– some tourists even climbed on the rocks for photos, all the while getting hit with a refreshing spray of Mediterranean water.
Just below the gelateria was the very base of the harbor, where people sunbathed on the large, smooth rocks stained by the sea. The waves were actually tranquil, and the most turquoise I’d ever seen. Granted, it was a bit slippery when N and I descended, but the brilliant-blue of the sea was so worth it.
We got our gelato and returned to the terrace vantage point to enjoy the cold, sweet scoops, all the while enjoying the warm weather and laid-back atmosphere. If anything, it was in that moment that I really felt that I was on vacation, and I wanted to stay there for as long as I could.
Eventually, I decided to leave to return to Corniglia– N chose to stay a bit longer in Manarola to admire the views more, and we agreed to meet up in the evening in Corniglia (as we were both staying there) for dinner. I took the train back, where I enjoyed an apéritif at a charming cafe right alongside the cliff, with direct views of the colorful, Lego-like houses.
I would be leaving the Cinque Terre the following morning to make my journey back to France, but I would be really happy that I had the chance to visit the iconic Italian villages for four nights. It’d been on my bucket list for some time, and despite them being touristy, they lived up to their gorgeous reputation. Hiking and eating incredible Ligurian food were some of the highlights, and the Cinque Terre is definitely worth going to in one’s lifetime.
Besides the Cinque Terre, I’d also visited other nearby Italian cities during that time, and I’ll recap them in later posts– until then!