Cinque Terre National Park, a stretch of coastal Liguria made up of five coastal towns jutting out into the sea; hidden almost entirely from the mainland by mountains and forests. I was to travel three hours from Florence in order to make the hike through three of those towns, so we were up at 5.30am to catch the train to our first stop, the furthest north point of the park, Monterosso al Mare.
The walking route between the towns, although famous for tourists of all ages, is about as well organised as you would expect from an Italian national park. The path is steep, thin and uneven and there is no safety rail to separate you from the edge of the mountain (unless you count the odd water pipe hung between vineyards). This is not a trip to make in bad weather! For a start you would not be able to enjoy the beautiful beaches with their incredible blue seas and caverns and the hike itself would prove impossible if not extremely dangerous. As you would expect, it does not have clear signs to show you the way, however it does provide wooden planks and laminated or paper signs (normally handwritten) to give some direction on this treacherous hike. In total it’s around two hours of walking between each town so, ideally, you need to leave plenty of time in order to allow this and explore the beautiful towns.
Second stop, Vernazza, the closest to the sea and therefore the best for lunch! Seafood is served in every restaurant, but if you get the chance go to one of the street food vendors where you can buy fresh calamari in newspaper, the Italian equivalent to our national British favourite, fish & chips! Finally we arrived in Corniglia six hours after we started. It is possible to do all five towns in a day, but you would have to catch various trains and you would miss some of the breath taking views from the mountainside that should not be missed! It really is like nowhere else on earth.
If you are planning on taking the trip through Italy my advice would be this: start early; bring good shoes; bring lots of money; and prepare to eat everything! Allow plenty of time to walk slowly, stop for breaks, and to explore each town as you pass through. Although these are tourist towns in the summer months, they still remain traditional, pokey little hilltop villages, painted in beautiful reds, oranges and pinks. Their position on the mountainside gives the impression that you are on the edge of the world. Every time I took a picture I was sure this was the best view I had seen yet, then I would turn another corner and the view would get even better!
Gabriella is on a year abroad in Italy, learn more about her experience on her blog: