Che bello! Bellissimo! Bravo!
Hikers and trekkers, whom we came across during our trek on Blue Trail in Cinque Terre, all spoke these words. Some stopped to admire and encourage little feet on go and others just to adore his dimpled cheeks, dark clear eyes, wavy hairs and beatific smile. For us, there was heaven outside and inside as well. Of all the walks and hikes that we did in last thirteen years of my married life, walking in the Cinque Terre region of Liguria, Italy is closest to my heart and not without reasons. We did this walk twice; once when my elder son was two years old and again when he was four-years old. And both the times he did the entire walk without any fuss.The entire stretch is some eleven km in length and good deal of it requires going up and down and therefore it was by no means a small feat for two small feet.
Put on your hiking shoes and indulge in the vivid contrast of blue of sea, pastel colors of village houses and lovely greens of terraced mountains, vineyards.
‘Cinque Terre’ means the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. All these villages except Corniglia hug the coastal line of Italian Riviera in La Spezia. The coastal line( sea), hills and these five villages together constitute Cinque Terre national Park which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997.
There are many walking trails in Cinque Terre of which the most famous is Trail No 2, popularly known as ‘The Blue path.’ It is made of four individual paths connecting one village to other, running along the coast. The beauty of the trail is that you get to see the various blue hues of sea with changing gradients and you pass through heavily terraced mountainside, vineyards, olive trees and five pretty colourful and lively villages.
The most difficult part of this trail is from Vernazza to Monterosso or vice versa and the easiest is from Riomaggiore to Manarola. All the villages are connected to the train and whenever you feel tired, you can get down to the train station and take a run to the next village which is just five to ten minutes. This was the one factor which made our mind to trek with a young kid. We were relaxed that if he did not walk, we would just do the first section from Riomaggiore to Manarola and then do the rest by hoping on and off the trains which run very frequently between these villages.
Both the times we started our walk from Riomaggiore, going to Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza. We could cover only four villages in a day both the time as my son was very young. The walk was done with a small kids pace, detours, distractions, gelato and Focaccia breaks, tunnel watching breaks, chuk chuk( train) watching breaks, pebble throwing breaks.( Since I lost most of the photographs, I will provide some links to have a look)
Riomaggiore to Manarola: One hour
The train from Genoa brought us to the small station of Riomaggiore. The platform was half outside and half inside the tunnel itself, which amused all of us. A climb of stairs brought us into Riomaggiore. With the necessities of buying tickets completed, all the tourists proceeded towards the first part of the trail, popularly called Via Dell’Amore, that is , Lovers path. This section runs along coast on a path cut in the cliffs, is paved and has very little gradient. Many elderly people also walk on this section of trail because it is easy and it gives long vistas of blue sea.
All the Ahas and Wows for the views of Dell’amore fell silent the moment we got the first glimpse of the village of Manarola. Manarola was impossibly vertical and its pastel colored houses were stacked above each other, ready to tumble over in the blue sea. The village was compact yet beautiful.
Manarola to Corgnilia: One and half hour
This section(three km) was also easy for walk though not as wide as the first one. However instead of reaching to the village, we reached at the Corniglia train station. The village could be reached only by climbing the Lardarina; a flight of some 360+ stairs to reach this village of around three hundred inhabitants. We considered taking a train to Vernazza, the next village. First there were these 300+ stairs and then the trail to Vernazza was rocky and uneven, some four km and we knew that it passed through some really difficult spots. However, both the times, we decided to continue to trek and headed towards Ladarina. Youngest of us kept running up and down and we had a tough time to direct his feet in climbing ‘up’, not ‘down’ mode. It was fun for him and we were a bit tired!
Energy levels dipped low at this height, however the pride level got a new high. We wandered down a narrow alley to taste the famous ice cream of Corniglia’ miele de Corniglia,” gelato, made from local honey. This detour was taken for the honey obsessed Manish. I do not like honey but was delighted by looking at him, who said from now onwards the famous Hindi quote’ sone pe Suhaga’ should be called as “Italian gelato and that too with honey!” Tagliatelle with pesto was a perfect lunch. I forgot to note down the name where we had it, but I remember the unique taste of pesto and the views of coast and Manarola from there.
Corniglia to Vernazza
This part of the trail was of medium difficulty with some really difficult stretches. It was not paved, sometimes the passage was too narrow and ran along just at the cliff without any boundary wall or railings, and there was lot of hiking on loose stones. I still remember climbing loose stones on a so narrow path that only one could walk at a time. The steps( or stones) were too big for the small feet that even his full stride could not take him to the next stone. We positioned ourselves on a stone up and below and lifted him up, one step at a time. We had climbed only a quarter of that stretch and heard a loud clap from hikers coming from other side. They went out of way to give us way and cheered for us till we crossed that stretch.It took us to the highest point of Blue Trail and then dropped down dangerously. We could see almost entire coastline of Cinque terre from this section. This part was also the greenest of all.
Vernazza surprised us by its unique location. It looked as if the mountain has humbled down and gone out of its way to provide a strip of ledge to be called home for people of Vernazza. It was evening and many boys/men were busy massaging their female companion’s legs. Manish and I looked at each other and smiled. We were too happy to feel even some tiredness let alone ache. Most of the tourists were staying there and relaxing. We too wanted to have some coffee and snacks for the kid before returning. By the time coffee arrived, my son fell asleep on Manish’s shoulders. But next time when we did this same stretch, my young one was four and he too sipped on hot chocolate while we had coffee!
Vernazza to Monterosso
It is the most difficult part of this trail. There are steep hikes and descents and both the times we could not do this part as it took almost eleven hours to do the above three sections with a little kid. We took a train from Vernazza to Monterosso. Monterosso is the largest of the five villages and the only one to have a sandy beach. Therefore many tourists choose to stay here and its new part is all hotels and restaurants. There were many lemon trees throughout Monterosso and many more in surrounding areas. So much so that there is a festival called Sagra dei Limoni(The Lemon Festival) when the village is decorated with lemons and one can taste many products made with lemons.
Although there was much more to do in Cinque terre, both the time we kept ourselves on the Blue Trail only. And why I remember it the most is because it was my first day-long trek with my kid and for a mother it was a proud moment. I did not know then if he would continue walking like that or not. I did not know whether he would like traveling or not. But I had an inkling in my heart that we could remain on road with kids as well.
And it has been so!
Notes- Many parts of Trail 2 were closed after the devastating flood of 2011 and are supposed to open in 2014.