During my previous day’s hike and exploration of the five towns that comprise the most well-known part of Cinque Terre I had firmed up my plan for this second day in the region: hike from Riomaggiore to Porto Venere, a picturesque town at the southern tip of a small peninsula just down the coast from Riomaggiore. I was learning that, in many places in Europe, hike distances are actually expressed in hours rather than distance (kilometers or miles). The hike to Porto Venere was rated a 5-hour hike, so it was certainly within range for a day hike, as long as I could get transportation back to my home base and therefore do a point-to-point hike. A key piece of information was that there is a ferry that runs a few times daily between Porto Venere, Riomaggiore, and the rest of the Cinque Terre towns.
For orientation purposes, this map shows the area. Cinque Terre National Park is denoted by the brown area, and the five towns I had visited (see here and here and here) are denoted by red stars. Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five towns, and Porto Venere is located at the green star. Part of my hike was in the Cinque Terre National Park and part was in the Porto Venere Regional Natural Park (Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere). The town of Campiglia is not in either park.
I basically started my hike on Via Colombo, the main street of Riomaggiore, near my hotel/accommodation room. As mentioned previously there were a lot of steps from the street to my room. Here I show the third of four staircases leading up from the street. Each staircase section got progressively narrower and steeper. The building entrance I used was several more stairs up the narrow passageway at the back of the view – and there were more stairs once I got inside. Getting my luggage in or out required two trips to or from street level.
When I reached Via Colombo I walked uphill to the upper end of town, where I had gone the previous day to find the trailhead I would use today. I would first be following the trail signed as #3 to Telegraph Hill (Colle de Telegrafo) by way of Santuario della Madonna di Montenero. After Telegraph Hill I would follow sentiero (trail) #1 to Porto Venere via Campiglia.
Not including some sightseeing in Porto Venere and a couple of detours, my hike was about 8.3 miles with nearly 2500 feet of climbing. The highest point was at about 1800 feet elevation.
From the trailhead at the upper end of Riomaggiore the trail climbs steadily, in places climbing a trail version of a staircase and passing small family vineyards. About 0.5 mile past the trailhead a sign announces “Via Grande: ancient connection road from the town to the shrine of the Madonna of Montenero with the route interspersed with votive shrines” (this is my translation). There were several small shrines built into the stone retaining wall along the trail on the way to the church. About 1.3 miles from the trailhead I arrived at the shrine, dramatically perched on the top of a promontory at nearly 1100 feet elevation. Around the church, which dates from the 14th century, I noticed chicory and a few other flowers, as well as a butterfly. Views of the Cinque Terre coast were simply stunning, stretching all the way to Punta Mesco north of Monterosso al Mare.
After a brief pause to enjoy the views and catch my breath I looked for the continuation of trail #3. Another visitor suggested that I should be looking for signage including “Ex 3” or “Ex 3a;” the meaning of “ex” is essentially “formerly,” as the footpaths in the area are being re-numbered with 3-digit designations. In any case, I set out on a narrow trail signed Ex 3a that tumbled downhill quite steeply (25% grade). I soon decided that the trail couldn’t be the one I was looking for and returned to the church, where I walked around the building until I found the correct trail. The trail I had mistakenly taken was a social trail from a road part way down the hillside, and the correct trail had very clear signage pointing the way to Telegrafo, Telegraph Hill. This signage was also my first exposure to trail signage indicating hiking time in hours: 0.40. (Some signage elsewhere was marked in hours and minutes, e.g. this sign would have said 25m.
The trail continues to climb and, 2.7 miles from the trailhead, arrives at a small café at the Colle de Telegrafo, or Telegraph Hill, trail junction at 1650 feet elevation. Here there was signage for trail AV5T (Ex 1) and for Porto Venere. Trails are sometimes signed for the next significant destination – which actually would have been Campiglia – and sometimes signed for the ending destination – Porto Venere. For way-finding it helps to know both destinations.
The trail passes through a forested area where I was somewhat amused to find stations for a par course. There were also a few colorful wildflowers. The trail tops out around 1830 feet elevation and then begins a descent into Campiglia. Not far from Campiglia there is a wonderful view to the northeast toward La Spezia, an important commercial, transportation, and naval center. The city is located at the north end of the Gulf of La Spezia. In the picture the Apuan Alps, part of the Apennine Mountains, are in the background.
In someone’s garden I noticed a shrub festooned with pretty white blossoms. I think it is a variety of clematis.
Somewhat earlier in the hike I had encountered a couple hiking with their dog, and we’d chatted briefly about where I was headed and signage. They had advised me to, in Campiglia, “find the church and look carefully for more signage there; after that the signage should be straightforward to get to Porto Venere.” After pausing for a short break in the shady plaza near the church, with views both of the Ligurian Sea to the west and the Gulf of La Spezia to the east, I located the trail signage to Porto Venere and then continued my hike.
About 1 mile southeast of Campiglia the trail had gotten quite a bit closer to the west (Ligurian Sea) coast’s cliffs and there were spectacular views along the peninsula toward the Porto Venere area. What looks like a promontory at the far end of the peninsula is actually an island just off the tip of the peninsula: Palmaria. My first thought upon seeing this view was to wonder where the trail could possibly go to get to the tip of the peninsula along such sheer cliff faces. Of course, the answer is that it doesn’t go there, but rather around to the left (east) of the ridge, named Muzzerone.
Signage in this area advised that I was now in the Porto Venere Regional Natural Park (Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere). Partly because of the trail renumbering mentioned previously, and possibly multiple trail designations (more than one designation for a particular trail segment), the signage started to get confusing. About 1.8 miles past Campiglia the trail unexpectedly reached, and followed, a paved road. About ¼ mile later there was what – in retrospect – was probably intended as a so-called confidence sign, actually a red and white blaze painted on a rock with an arrow indicating the direction of the trail. There was also a lightly-used single-track trail that left the road right near the blaze. I initially interpreted the blaze to indicate that I should take the single-track trail, even though it turned out to be quite tough to hike, almost bushwhacking down a very steep hillside; my GPS data suggests a slope of 30%! A family with two tweens was hiking on the same trail. After we got to the bottom of a gully I spoke with them and determined that they thought they were hiking north up the peninsula, not southbound as I thought I was. Ouch! I immediately turned around and went back up the hill to the road, where I continued in my original direction. Sure enough, within ½ mile I found more signage that convinced me that I was, indeed, on the AVG trail #1 heading for Porto Venere. Before I found the signage there was a beautiful view of the Gulf of La Spezia (Golfo della Spezia), with a town, I think Le Grazie, in a small harbor of the gulf.
Even though I was back on the trail I wanted to be on, it turns out that there are several red-and-white marked trails in the area, and the trail numbers on the signs were different from my map. While I was trying to figure this out I found a sign indicating that there was a rifugio 10 minutes away along one of the trails. Although I had not yet been to a rifugio, I knew I would be hiking between them in the Dolomites, and I was sure that someone would be able to help me trail-find the rest of the way to Porto Venere. As soon as I arrived I got the needed directions: at least two options, with one more straightforward; that’s the way I went, even though it seemed to be on a trail not marked on my map.
I also had an idea that rifugios are often established in locations with spectacular views. This was certainly no exception. I’m pretty sure it is Il Rifugio del Muzzerone, and it attracts hikers as well as rock climbers who want to explore some of the 430 climbing routes on the nearby cliff area called Muzzerone, which I had viewed earlier from the north end. I started down the indicated trail and soon had an unobstructed view of the island of Palmaria on the other side of a narrow channel from Porto Venere. The elevation was about 650 feet.
Within less than ½ mile I had descended 600 feet to the edge of town, taking my time with the 24% grade and to enjoy the views. Once in town I mentally switched from hiking mode to sightseeing mode and headed right for the waterfront to get my bearings and purchase a ferry ticket back to Riomaggiore. Once I had my ticket I could budget my time for exploring. Along the waterfront is a row of pastel-colored buildings that seem to be typical of the Cinque Terre region. This row of buildings is the Palazzata, actually fortress-houses originally built as defense structures.
As I walked along the waterfront I noticed some kayakers, along with boaters (both motorboats and sailboats) and sunbathers. The waterfront separates Porto Venere from the island of Palmaria (Isola Palmaria).
I had noticed a striking church on a rocky promontory ahead of me as I walked along the waterfront. Suddenly church bells started playing “Here Comes the Bride” and, as I got a little closer, I thought I could see a bride get out of a vehicle and go inside the church. Apparently a wedding was about to take place! The church is Church of St Peter (Chiesa di San Pietro) and it was built in the 13th century on the site of an earlier shrine, possibly dedicated to Venus Erycina.
I had noticed another church, Church of St Lawrence (Chiesa di San Lorenzo), up the hill behind the Palazzata, so I decided to go there and then come back later to visit the Church of St Peter. You may imagine my surprise to arrive at the Church of St Lawrence just in time to see another bride enter the church door! Apparently both of these historic churches were hosting weddings scheduled no more than 15 minutes apart. The Church of St Lawrence dates from the 12th century.
Although it felt a bit awkward to be a tourist practically crashing two weddings within 15 minutes, I was certainly not the only non-wedding visitor around these beautiful churches. I decided to just take my time and explore elsewhere. I went back near the Church of St Peter to see the Arpaia Grotto (Grotta Byron), which was visited by Lord Byron. According to legend he swam all the way across the Gulf of La Spezia to the town of Lerici. I had a wonderful view across Porto Venere Bay and the Gulf with the Apuan Alps behind. I think the town on the waterfront in the center of the picture is Lerici.
After returning to the Church of St Peter (after the wedding) I was able to enjoy the spectacular views from the surrounding balcony. I returned to the ferry dock area, stopping for gelato on the way, in time for my ferry ride back to Riomaggiore. As the ferry motored out of the harbor and around the promontory there was a dramatic view of the church.
Of course, as we proceeded up the coast there were wonderful views of the coastline. This might be part of the Muzzerone cliff.
As the ferry approached Riomaggiore we had a pretty view of the coastline to the north, including Manarola and Corniglia.
The Santuario della Madonna di Montenero, the first stop on my hike, was visible as a stark white building high on the top of a hill just south of Riomaggiore.
As the ferry turned to approach Riomaggiore there was a great view of the town, putting it into perspective against the hills behind. What a treat it had been to view the beautiful Cinque Terre region from the ferry!
Upon leaving the ferry dock, the route back to Via Colombo passed right by the place I had viewed the sunset on the previous day. From that balcony area there was a nice view of the area where the fishing boats are launched, as well as the on-street boat storage.
After two wonderful days in Cinque Terre it was time to travel onward. The next day I would take the train to Florence, stopping in Pisa for sightseeing.