I hope you are ready for a picture-heavy post. I absolutely could not help myself this time!
Our ninth day of vacation in Europe was certainly our most adventurous! Actually it was one of the most adventurous days not only of our trip, but also of my life! I took so many amazing pictures (well, in my opinion), that it was really difficult to narrow them down to the best. So get ready!
After meeting up with with our tour group for the day, we departed by bus from the Florence train station. We left bright and early, at 8:00 AM. Yes, that’s right – we did back-to-back full day tours! The day before, we did The Best of Tuscany Tour (see Part I and Part II), which was also run by Walkabout Tours. Today, we would partake in the Cinque Terre Trek!
It was actually about a 2.5 hour drive from Florence to the Cinque Terre. In Italian, Cinque Terre means “five lands.” The area is a national park consisting of five historic villages, built on the rugged mountainside of the Italian Riviera, beside the Mediterrean Sea. The site has also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our bus dropped us off adjacent to the Cinque Terre village of Manarola, where we entered the National Park. Our guide led us through Manarola, where we enjoyed our first spectacular views of the village.
From Manarola, we boarded a train which was headed to our next Cinque Terre destination.
The train ride was under five minutes, but the huz and I accidentally boarded an earlier train than the rest of our tour group and were temporarily separated. It was a little scary! Luckily, we were able to locate our group on the platform in Corniglia.
After getting off the train, we had a short walk, and a climb up a giant flight of stairs, to get into Corniglia. See that tall hill in the picture below? That was the climb!
Up, Up, Up! Here we are about 2/3 of the way up, looking down:
We then hiked into the village to Ristorante Cecio for lunch.
We were seated on a large outdoor terrace for lunch. Our dining companions were a nice lady from Australia and a friendly guy from Indiana, with whom we chatted.
Our first course consisted of a beautiful, fresh Mediterranean seafood platter, with anchovies, octopus, squid, shrimp, and more. Here was my chance to dine adventurously. Everything was great! The little oysters were the only thing I didn’t feast upon – just something about them puts me off. Otherwise, I polished off this plate! Anchovies are a local specialty in the Cinque Terre, and this was were I learned how awesome they are!
This area of Italy is also known for its pesto, so it was most appropriate that our next course consisted of a Pesto Pasta with potatoes and green beans. On the side we enjoyed focaccia, which was useful for a little scarpetta action – that is, lapping up every last drop of delicious pesto sauce with our bread.
Me, post-lunch. I did not dress appropriately for this hot, action-packed day! Luckily I DID wear the perfect shoes for hiking, and really, shoes were the most vital part of our day, in terms of comfort and safety.
During our visit, we saw locals picking grapes on the terraced mountainside. We were literally hiking through vineyards, at times. Here’s a stash of grapes:
After lunch, we set out on our longest hiking leg of the day – a 90 minute hike from Corniglia to Vernazza. We were set free at one end of the trail and given a meeting spot, 2.5 hours later, in the next village, giving us at least an hour to spare if we wanted to walk at a slower pace, or have free time in the next village. The hike was definitely not a stroll in the park!
We walked up and down the steep and narrow stretches of the ancient trails. While the trails were strenuous and rough, I never once felt unsafe on them. I was impressed with how well kept they were.
It got pretty toasty in our jeans! I was surprised by the hot weather on the day we visited, in mid-September. I thought it might be a bit cooler, considering that we were hiking along the sea, expecting a sea breeze. But such an adventure!
Many consider Vernazza to be the gem of the Cinque Terre and I might have to agree. Our first stop in the village was to purchase an obnoxiously large bottle of water that we proceeded to chug in exactly 45 seconds flat. Then, my legs were literally shaking from exertion, so we found a place to perch our booties, by the harbor.
Then, we had another brilliant idea – gelato! It just seemed like the right thing to do.
When does gelato NOT seem like the right thing to do?
We both went for a refreshing local flavor – Limone de Vernazza – also known as Lemon of Vernazza. More gelato with a view!
After about an hour in Vernazza, we boarded the train with our tour group, and headed to Monterosso. Here, we decided to take it easy, and enjoy some snacks and beverages outdoors at a local restaurant. The huz and I shared a lemony tea drink with lots of water. Wine would have been lovely, but we didn’t want to get dehydrated!
To snack on, we enjoyed a dish of tomato bruschetta with capers, and, you guessed it – more anchovies!
Monterosso had a big public beach that some of our fellow tourists enjoyed.
Our last leg of travel within the Cinque Terre was via Water Taxi! We lucked out with the weather, because some days the waters are too choppy for the boats to run.
We rode from Monterosso, which lies at one end of the Cinque Terre, all the way down to the other end of the Cinque Terre coast, to Riomaggiore. During the 40 minute boat ride, we again had the most incredible views of the coast and the Cinque Terre villages.
We’re ON A BOAT! We’re on a boat! Take a good hard look at the mf-ing boat!
From Riomaggiore, we walked along the Via dell’Amore – ‘Lover’s Lane’ – back to Manarola. Unfortunately we were on a very tight schedule and didn’t have much time to linger.
And by “didn’t have much time to linger,” I mean we had to literally run from one end to the other, to make it to our train on time.
This was a bit irritating to me (especially when I was told that I had three minutes to use the bathroom [which had a line], and that would be my last chance for the next few hours) – but hey, we were walking along Lover’s Lane in Italy, so whatchu gon’ do? Certainly can’t let it spoil the day.
I mean, just look. It’s the freaking sea and the sun is setting. And we’re in Italy.
And yes, it was close, but we made it. Our whole group made it. By the skin of our teeth. Like I said before, it was nothing short of an adventure.
On the ride back to Florence, we had views of the mountains. These mountains house some of the most valuable marble in the world.
We arrived back in Florence at about 8:30 PM that evening. Phew – what a day! Such a memorable, unique, exciting experience and I will never forget it!
Oh, I also forgot to mention – when we got up around 6:30 AM this day, I woke up with a minor sore throat. This would be the first day of my cold that would haunt me for the rest of our trip! Yeah kids, I was a trooper and did this entire trek with a (mild) cold. Booyah!
Once we were back in Florence, I was a little sad that it was our fifth – and last – night there. Luckily we had a great dinner to round out our time in Florence. After a strenuous day of hiking, I just wanted a big bowl of Comfort Carbs, also known as pasta.
Spaghetti Carbonara to be exact. And it was really, seriously delicious. Also I had wine. At last.
What’s that you say? Why did I spend so much money on gelato?
Well, my friends, after having eaten so much gelato in Florence, I had generally learned that the medium-to-large size bowls were around $4-6 each. So when I pointed to this size cup in the gelato shop (with no price listed), I expected it to be around the same price. After the cashier rang up two of these, I was beyond shocked that I owed 20 Euros! Also know as about $26! Uhhhh….!?
So we just paid it and promptly peaced out. What were we were going to say – “no, dump it out” ? Of course not. Plus I really wanted gelato. Yes, it was my second serving of the day.
And if you were wondering, it was quite spectacular gelato, in fact. Probably not “crazy” better than any other Florence gelato we had (all of which was amazing), but definitely most excellent; probably in the top three best gelatos I’ve ever had. The best was the caramello flavor with little caramel bites!
We carried our gelatos back to our room and crashed, hence the lick marks all around my gelato bowl! Don’t mind me.
And there you have it! Our fifth and final night in Florence. We were up fairly early to catch a train to our next European city, which I’ll tell you about in my next post.