I consider myself to be a fairly experienced hiker. My parents took us on regular hikes and camping trips in my youth in California, and then after moving to the east coast, my dad brought us kids along on many backpacking adventures in the Appalachians and other state and national park destinations. I’ve maintained my love of the outdoors as an adult and have tried to pass it on to our own kids, including family hiking outings in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, Yellowstone, and repeats of my favorite childhood hike, Old Rag in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.
Living in the heart of Europe has afforded us many new opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Regular readers might recall an early post on my first real hike in Switzerland last year, up the Rochers de Naye. I recently discovered (along with my niece Laura who was visiting) an awesome short hike on the Le Selève – our local mountain here in Geneva – that offers one of the greatest views of the Swiss and French Alps one will find anywhere. These hikes were awesome, but I think I just topped them all with a hike in Italy’s “Cinque Terre” National Park along the Mediterranean seacoast in northern Italy. And what made this hike truly special was that my hiking companion was my son Patrick!
The Road Trip to Cinque Terra
It just so happens that the city of Pisa is right on the way from Florence, Italy (our point of departure where we had just spent three days on a mini-vacation, and yes, it’s also awesome – more on that in a future post…) and our destination of Cinque Terre. No way were we going to bypass Pisa without getting out to take a look at the city’s iconic tower, so we did just that, and after running the gauntlet of selfie-stick and “Rolex” salesmen, took this photo.
Pretty neat, huh? We’ve all seen photos of the tower, but it really is a pretty cool thing to see in person. We worked up a bit of an appetite after our second breach of the selfie-stick / Rolex gauntlet, so we ventured off to find a place for a quick bite to eat before proceeding to Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) is a string of five centuries-old seaside villages on the mountainous Italian Mediterranean coastline. The final 45 minutes of the drive is along a single lane road carved into and through the the mountains. We stayed in a town called Vernazza, the second village as one hikes from the north to the south. (On our hike, we had to take the train to the northernmost town of Monterosso so that we could complete the entire hike.) Here is a photo of Vernazza from the trail.
The region is part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In each of the five towns, colorful houses and ancient vineyards cling to steep terraces, and its unlike any site I have ever seen before. Here is a photo that shows the topography of the park. The trail links the five cities and ascends and descends over 2000 feet between villages, so it is not a hike for the faint of heart.
The hike involves walking from one village to the next, and it takes from 90 minutes to two hours to get from village to village. Its “only” 3 or 4 kilometers between villages, but that does not accurately describe the extent of the trail, because very much of it is either up or down a very steep hill. I wanted to give readers a sense of what this hike is like, so I shot video of a variety of the terrain as we hiked along. The following video – I hope – will give you a view of how steep much of the trail is. Please forgive the deep breathing. You’d never know it from listening to this video, but I’m actually in pretty good shape. No really.)
Another unique feature of the trail is that virtually its entire length is “paved” with large rocks. An earthen-only trail would wash away in the rain because of the steep terrain. (In fact, much of the town of Vernazza was buried in 4 feet of mud after severe flooding in October of 2011). Here’s a picture I took of Pat standing on an interesting stone bridge. Click on the bridge to enlarge the photo. We were convinced that the bridge must have some sort of reinforcement hidden from view. (Friends of mine who are bridge engineers, feel free to weigh in…)
Another feature of the hike is that much of it meanders directly through active vineyards. We were hiking in the middle of winter (a good time to do it, incidentally, if you’d prefer not to encounter hundreds of other tourists on the trail – we encountered four, all day long) so the grape vines are presently dormant. It is still a very interesting and beautiful scene to walk along these terraced vineyards, as we are doing in this video.
Here’s another good look at the trail. As I filmed this, I reference a couple of villages along the trail, and totally butcher the names of the villages we hiked through…
I rectify the mispronunciation of the villages here, in a video I took after the hike once my oxygen and blood sugar levels had stabilized.
A final truibute to my hiking companion. Thanks Patrick, for a great adventure. I am glad to see that we’ve passed on our love for hiking on to you!