The day dawned bright and fresh in the Cinque Terre village of Manarola. As a birthday treat (at least for one of us), we were making an early start to hike what, on the map at least, looked like a reasonably short route to the next village north along the coast, Corniglia. The easy ‘Blue Path’ or Sentiero Azzurro, a former mule route low down the cliffs just above the ocean, is still being repaired following landslides. That left the trail straight up the terraced hills behind Manarola towards the village of Volastra.
There are benefits to this route, the views are spectacular and you see first hand the ancient terraced vineyards and gardens that have been carved from the rugged terrain. For centuries, this network of trails was the only means of travel between the villages and to the outside world. Walking them today gives you a glimpse into just how difficult life must have been in these isolated communities. It’s beautiful and rewarding, but not for the faint of heart. The idea of breakfast in Volastra drove us onwards despite the lung busting ascents.
The climb out of Manarola is severe and it was a relief to arrive at a flat ridge. The views back to the village were gorgeous. The flat didn’t last long and we were soon walking steeply up through olive groves to Volastra. It would be fair to say we were looking forward to a coffee and pastry or two. Maybe it was the time of year, or even the time of day, or the fact that the village is home to only 200 people, but we couldn’t find anywhere that was open.
Accepting our error of judgement and rumbling stomachs, we headed past the 12th century sanctuary and hideout from pirates, Nostra Signora della Salute. It has a pretty rose window, a typical feature of churches in this area. Soon we were leaving the village behind and skirting along the side of hillsides that tumble straight down to the ocean. This stretch of the route explains why many people think this is one of Europe’s most picturesque walking routes.
Twenty minutes outside of Volastra, and with Corniglia visible in the distance, we passed an improbable sign that said it was two hours to our destination. To hungry people this was bad news. To make matters worse we could see a weather front approaching off the ocean. The forecast was for full sun all day, but it looked like our decision not to bring rain gear was was about to prove as smart as our decision not to have breakfast before departing.
The views were spectacular, but you can’t eat views. We plodded onwards, Corniglia was frequently visible but never seemed to to get much nearer, and then it started raining. Light rain, at first, but by the time we began descending into Corniglia big, heavy raindrops were soaking us. It was lunchtime and a relief to arrive in the village. We found a lovely restaurant with sea views and ordered local wine and seafood while we dried out.
Corniglia is home to around 300 people. It seems quieter than other villages, maybe because it lacks a harbour for the boats that shuttle people between villages. Perched on top of a rocky outcrop jutting into the blue Mediterranean, it doesn’t lack for drama though. Irritatingly, the weather quickly cleared up and after lunch we were able to explore the village under a hot sun, as were all the other visitors who suddenly emerged into the streets.
I could imagine Corniglia would make a good base from which to explore the region. It sits in middle of the string of five Cinque Terre villages, and although it gets its share of tourism, because it doesn’t have a harbour it feels less touristy. It certainly seemed more traditional than other villages. We took the train back to Manarola, the 2-minute train journey making a mockery of the 3+ hour walk. Regardless, we’d definitely earned an Aperol when we got back.