Living in cities, without the use of a car, I realized how long it had been since I was out in actual nature, not a city park, with fresh air and dirt in the soles of my shoes and no traffic light for miles. This was how I became sort of fixated on the idea of visiting Cinque Terre, about a year ago, although it took me this long to actually make it there. The promise of hiking in the hills, gorgeous scenic village to village, was tempting me every time those frustrations of city life popped up.
And a few weeks ago I finally did make it there, putting together a few days in Florence and then a train ride up to the Ligurian coast. The trip is not very long – maybe 2 1/2 hours, including a switch in Pisa – but because of a late night the day before, I unfortunately arrived quite tired and with half a mind to just relax in my tiny hotel room with some ridiculous Italian tv. But instead I got out my map (available for free along with all the information you could possibly need at the information desks at each train station) and pulled together enough energy to visit the smallest of the villages, available only by train (or foot), Corniglia.
Even through the oddly tinted glass of the train window, the first glimpse of the sparkling Mediterranean never disappoints.
While I was hoping the train would pass along the rocky coast, it goes mostly through tunnels and only gives you these stunning views when you emerge at each station. Which is actually much better, when you realize that it keeps the nature much more pristine for the hikers.
From the train station to the village was already a walk up through winding green roads already, snaking to the crest of the hill where all the colorful houses are perched. In one direction, wide panoramas of the sea, and in the other where my first looks at the vineyards terraced into the hills, cacti, bright flowers — filling the air with a lush scent particular to these Mediterranean landscapes.
The coastline is serrated like a bread knife, so each peak of the land gives you these beautiful views of the hills fading into the distance, and the other villages’ light yellow, pink, blue, red houses.
I walked the windy, narrow streets of the village, which are filled with cafes, restaurants, pensiones and bed & breakfasts — as well as, of course, the actual residents, their laundry hanging out from the second and third storey windows. More than used to the influx of visitors, there was even a bit of cheeky Italian humor here and there along the streets.
Finally I settled into a nice little restaurant, where I ordered what you must order when in Liguria: pasta with pesto. While it seems like a simple dish, it is their regional specialty and I guarantee doesn’t taste like any pesto you’ve had before. My charming waiter wouldn’t take away my plate until I had “fatto la scarpetta” — scooping up the leftover sauce with pieces of bread — and it was all clean.
Then before I knew it, the sun was setting and it was time to snap a few quick pictures in the dimming light, heading back down the hills to catch a train before darkness fell.