On my first day in Cinque Terre National Park I first hiked from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza and then continued to Corniglia, hiking along the coastal trail. However, the sections of the coastal trail south of Corniglia to Manarola and onward to Riomaggiore were closed due to damage from a severe 2011 storm. Taking the local train instead of hiking beyond Corniglia and arriving in Manarola about 3:30 pm, I still had some time to explore both Manarola and Riomaggiore in kind of a single-cay extravaganza in the Cinque Terre.
This image of my GPS tracks shows the entire day; this post just covers my explorations in Manarola and Riomaggiore, the two short tracks toward the bottom (Manarola is not labeled).
When you disembark from the train in Manarola, you walk through a pedestrian tunnel to arrive at the main square, Piazza Dario Capellini. I forgot to turn on my GPS until about 0.1 mile after I emerged from the tunnel. My first priority was to see if I could find the end of the coastal trail segment to Corniglia, so I turned left and walked down from the Piazza on Via Birolli toward the harbor, passing small boats on trailers in front of colorful buildings. Once I got a few blocks down the street it was easy to see where there was a trail – and that people were using it! Note Punta Mesco, just northwest of Monterosso al Mare, in the background.
Within and near the town the trail is paved and perches on a small ledge on the hillside. It climbs gently and goes around the small point, or promontory, in the picture. Just around a hairpin bend, a barrier announces that the remainder of the trial is closed. The view up the coastline as it curves around to Corniglia is exceptional. There are several places where it looks like landslides have taken place, both high on the hillside and lower. If all of these areas are damage from the 2011 storm, it is no wonder that the trail is closed indefinitely with no timetable for reopening.
On my way back to town, as I rounded the small point I noticed signage for Via dei Bambini. I started to explore what the Children’s Street in such a spectacular location might contain, figuring that it might be a play area. The small blip on the elevation profile just after 0.2 mile shows this short detour.
As the trail comes back around the point there is a beautiful view of the town of Manarola, with colorful buildings on top of the promontory.
From Via Birolli near the harbor, the town cascades up the hillside.
Near the pedestrian tunnel entrance there is what appears to be a year-round outdoor display of Christmas decorations.
I continued walking up the street, now Via Discovolo, for about another 0.1 mile, with a nice view up the steep hillside toward the bell tower next to the parish church of San Lorenzo. I looked up a side street and saw a steep set of stairs, which even took a detour around a small part of a building.
In order to do justice to this town I might need to come back another time. In any case, I decided to turn around and return to the train station, back through the pedestrian tunnel. From the train station there is kind of a backside view of the town.
After only a brief wait I boarded a train to Riomaggiore, the last of the towns to explore and the town where I was staying, barely a 5-minute train ride away. As soon as I disembarked from the train, I looked for signs to the famous Via dell’ Amore, the section of the coastal path to Manarola which I knew was closed. I wanted to see if there was even a short section that was open to explore. Sadly, but understandably once I got there, the entire trail section is closed. I pointed my camera through the fence to show the many mini-landslides just on the first short stretch of the trail. Of the four sections of the coastal trail in Cinque Terre, this section is the easiest to walk. However, it is still built on the edge of a very steep hillside/cliff, and it is challenging to provide safety with respect to landslides.
After this quick checkout of the coastal trail I walked through the pedestrian tunnel to Via Colombo, the main street in town. My next objective was to walk to the upper end of town, where there is a second Tourist Information Center (in addition to the customary center at the train station) and, I was hoping, the trailhead for the hike I was planning for the next day.
After finding the trailhead at about 225 feet elevation I went part way back down the hill and then took an alternative street, I think Via di Loca, which descended slightly before climbing again. I turned around where I found signage leading out of town, and where I had a nice view of the other side of Riomaggiore across the central ravine where Via Colombo is located.
I decided to go back to my room and go out a bit later for a quick dinner and, hopefully, to watch the sunset. While walking down Via Colombo I noticed a young child having a wonderful time in the pleasant evening, playing with a colorful ribbon.
At the pedestrian tunnel I followed the signs toward the marina. As I’d found in Manarola, local fishermen store their boats right on the street, where they are lined up cascading down the hill. The sunlight lit up some of the buildings with an almost orange glow.
I was headed for a balcony outside a restaurant near a small tree on the little promontory (shown in the picture) above the left side of the street. The previous evening I had discovered a great sunset viewing location, about 15 minutes too late to see the actual sunset. This time there was a small crowd of people with a similar sunset-viewing objective. I knew the sun would be setting into the Ligurian Sea just to the left of Punta Mesco, just past Monterosso al Mare, where I’d begun my day of hiking and town explorations.
The sunset was spectacular, and it was a perfect way to end the first day of my trip. As I reflected on my experiences, I thought it was no wonder that the Cinque Terre area had been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet I was already looking forward to the hike I’d planned for the following day, to the town of Porto Venere further southeast along the coast.