Traversing France, Italy and Switzerland, the Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB, for short) is an iconic hike, and one which had sat on my wish list for nigh-on six years. The TMB is 170km (or thereabouts, depending on any variants taken) of snow-capped cols, alpine pastures (minus the cast of The Sound of Music) and lush valleys; an adventure like no other. / Traversant la France, l’Italie et la Suisse, le Tour du Mont Blanc (ou TMB, en abrégé) est une randonnée iconique, qui est sur ma liste de merveilles depuis presque six ans. Le TMB, c’est 170km (à peu près, dépendant des variantes) de cols toujours enneigés, d’alpages (sans la distribution de La Mélodie du Bonheur) et des vallées verdoyante; une aventure sans pareil.
Once a maritime powerhouse, Pisa now owes its spot on the well-trodden tourist trail of Italy to something else entirely: an unnervingly wonky tower, which cheerfully photobombs every photo you’ll attempt to snap in the Piazza dei Miracoli. The Leaning Tower of Pisa may draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, but there’s arguably more to this city than its famous tilting tower.
If Oxford is the City of Spires, then Lucca is the City of Towers. (Towers which, in my humble opinion, outshine the iconic Leaning Tower in neighbouring Pisa.) Having spent three days exploring the nooks and crannies of each of the Cinque Terre’s picturesque villages, we were keen to make the most of our time in Italy and, at Laurence’s colleague’s suggestion, decided to spend our final full day in Lucca. It was a hop, skip and a train ride away from Manarola, and we felt it was a day well spent.
If push came to shove, I’d say that the highlight of my trip to the Cinque Terre was the full day that we spent hiking from Manarola to Vernazza, via Volastra and Corniglia. The Cinque Terre is one of those places that looks spellbindingly beautiful whatever the weather, but when the sea glitters and the colourful façades glow in the sunshine, it’s truly other-worldly. Without further ado, let’s pick up where we left off: tracking down the starting point of the trail to Vernazza.
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.
According to the well-known proverb, the early bird catches the worm. Or, in our case, the pastries. (I know which one I’d rather.) With everyone else having a lie-in – it was a Sunday, after all – we had pick of the pastries at Pasticceria Corbani. After much umming and ahing, I went for the pear and chocolate pastry, while Laurence opted (surprise, surprise) for the Nutella swirl. (If there’s a way of getting Nutella into a meal, he’ll find it.) Pastries in hand, we made our way down to the small harbour, set on enjoying our breakfast with a view of Manarola.
Unsurprisingly, the Cinque Terre is firmly on the radar of many a travel enthusiast these days. Clinging to the cliffs, these pastel-coloured villages and their harbours filled with fishing boats are the epitome of picturesque. Truth be told, I simply don’t have the words to describe the beauty of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre and its five lands – but I’ll give it my best shot.