I’ve written before on hiking the Cinqua Terra trail along the Mediterranean coast in northern Italy, an adventure I’ve done twice – once with Patrick and again with my friends Ken and Jane. This time, on a trip to Italy with our most frequent visitors Cliff and Ellen, we had the opportunity to explore a new stretch of the Italian Mediterranean coastline, the Portofino peninsula.
The town of Portofino is probably most known as a getaway for the rich and famous, a reputation validated by the size of the yachts moored in its harbor. The town was settled by the ancient Romans as a fishing village, strategically located between the ports of Genoa to the north and La Spezia to the south. Today, that coastline is known as the “Italian Riviera”, and for good reason. Yes, it may be a popular destination for the rich and famous, and a nice place to moor your yacht, but for those of us with more pedestrian interests, it’s also a terrific place to start a rigorous 4 hour hike.
After taking a ferry to Portofino from our B&B near Comiglia, and stocking up for supplies out on the trail, I bid adieu to Cliff and Ellen who would return by ferry, stopping in the town of San Fruttuoso (the halfway point of my hike) along the way. I found the trail head, and as is the case with the hikes along Cinqua Terra, the trails out of town all begin with steep climbs up to the mountain ridge. In this case, I was looking at a 400 meter vertical ascent consisting of steep switchbacks. It took me about 30 minutes, and then the trail mercifully levels off a bit.
A couple of kind of neat things occurred on this hike. First, as I mentioned, the halfway point of my hike also happened to be a port for the ferry where Cliff and Ellen would be switching boats on the way back. We hadn’t really discussed the possibility that we could rendez-vous in San Fruttuoso, but as I was descending back down the mountain (that’s how these hikes go… steep up to leave town, over to get to the next town, and then steep down to enter the next town) I looked out and saw a ferry approaching the dock, and asked myself, “Gee, I wonder if they might be on that ferry?” and after a moment or two, I spotted Cliff in his distinctive white cap and striped shirt preparing to disembark from the boat! So I greeted them getting off the boat,and we found a nice little bar/restaurant right there on the beach and enjoyed a glass of wine together before parting ways again.
The next neat thing that happened totally blew my mind! After once again regaining the altitude necessary to get to the next town, I heard some loud “rustling” up ahead on the trail. There are small lizards that scurry along the trail every few steps, or so it seems, but this rustling was too loud to have come from a small lizard. I figured it had to be other hikers, but they were making more noise than a hiker typically makes, and there was no speaking, just the rustling. I said to myself, “Gee, I wonder what could be making that loud noise?”. I turned a corner, and saw this!
There were actually three of them, and I did manage to whip out the phone for a video, but it’s not the highest quality video (and my standards are high, as regular followers of this blog will attest!) and I also misidentified them as “some sort of wild sheep or some damn thing!” which in retrospect was a little embarrassing, so I decided to just go with the photos.
A few minutes up the trail, I found a great spot to sit and enjoy my lunch. I scurried up a rock slope, off the trail a little bit and out of site of any hikers that might wander along. After a few minutes, a couple hikers came along, and I heard one of them comment to his companion the following one-word description of the view. “Paradiso!”
Another thing that I enjoy about hiking in Europe are the ancient structures that you see along the way. Here is a photo of a watchtower that I was told was built in the 15th Century.
The last thing that made this hike so much fun is that there are certain segments where you are defying death. There are sections where the “trail” has a chain hand-hold secured to the rock. The idea is that you grab hold of the chain, and then if you happen to lose your footing, you won’t plummet hundreds a feet to the rocks below. Here’s a video I shot of the best section of chain-assisted hiking.
This hike had it all: lizards, wild goats, 500-year old watch-towers, death defying-trail sections, and the mountain and sea views! Paradiso!!