One of the things that drew us to the Cinque Terre was the promise of hiking trails and hills. Cambridge, you see, is sorely lacking in that department. After two days of cloudy skies and intermittent sunshine, we were treated to a day of scorching temperatures and cloud-free skies. We picked up some chocolate and jam croissants, washed them down with coffee (well, Laurence did), and hit the trail.
As the coastal path from Manarola to Corniglia was closed due to landslides, we took the higher route via Volastra. Our Airbnb host had said this was one of her favourite hikes, and it certainly lived up to expectations. Manarola is surrounded by terraced vineyards and famed for the Sciacchetrà, a sweet wine, which is made from their grapes. Harvesting season had been and gone, but we spotted the odd grape grower tending to their vines. A John Deere wouldn’t get you very far on these terraced slopes, so these farmers have come up with an ingenious solution: they’ve installed monorails so that they can ride up the hillside to their vines.
Further up, the trail plateaued and we wove our way through the rows of vines, admiring views of the coastline and surrounding hills: the Ligurian Sea sparkled in the sunshine, terraces of vines hugged the hillside and colourful casas dotted the landscape.
Nearing Volastra, we passed olive groves and lots of trees bearing enormous lemons, oranges and limes. (Those in our local Tesco are puny in comparison.) I spied a few hutches inhabited by giant (presumably Flemish) rabbits in a garden which backed onto the trail.
Volastra itself was a pretty little village: a few narrow streets of pastel-coloured houses, cacti and succulents in assorted make-do flowerpots and a café or two for the locals. We pottered around the village, ate a few of our chocolate wafers and carried on our merry way to Corniglia.
Our pre-trip research had given us the impression that Corniglia was a sleepy little village with little going for it. Upon arrival, it became quite clear that this gem was simply overshadowed by its neighbours; we happily spent the best part of an hour wandering through the village soaking up the atmosphere (and some much-needed vitamin D). There were little boutiques brimming with trinkets, viewpoints commanding stellar views up and down the coast and cafés aplenty.
Feeling peckish, we ventured inside Bistro Margherita and came away with slices of pizza and focaccia for lunch. (I fully anticipated coming back larger than I left, but that didn’t happen. I can only conclude that we walked all the pizza off!)
Predictably, top of our post-pizza agenda was finding a gelateria – not a particularly difficult task, as Corniglia has more gelateria per square mile than Cambridge. We found three within strides of each other and promptly set about assessing the options: Gelateria Corniglia and its duplicate on the opposite side of the street or Alberto Gelateria. We decided on the latter, and as we moved to enter the gelateria, an enthusiastic visitor emerged and told us she’d come to Corniglia specifically to try the basil gelato from Alberto’s. She even offered us a lick of her own gelato, which she hadn’t yet eaten! We politely declined – though a generous offer, it would have been a little odd to try a complete stranger’s gelato – and decided to try it for ourselves. As it turned out, the basil gelato (not pictured) was deliciously refreshing, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend trying it.
With the whole afternoon ahead of us, we decided to follow the signs to the cove at the foot of the hillside and relax by the water’s edge for an hour or so. Although it was only late September, the water was decidedly nippy so we sat on the breakwater dangling our toes in, watching the schools of tiny fish dart about beneath the surface.
Tearing ourselves away from this idyllic inlet was tough (and the walk back up the two hundred-odd steps tougher), but we were keen to pick up the trail to Vernazza. Stay tuned for the next instalment on hiking in the Cinque Terre!
- Trails in the Cinque Terre are, for the most part, the pedestrian equivalent of a toll road. However, the trail between Manarola and Corniglia via Volastra is fee-free.
- Head to Alberto Gelateria for some weird and wonderful gelato flavours – and give the basil gelato a try while you’re there. You won’t regret it!