COLUMN: A breath of fresh air: Hiking the Italian coast


Columnist Lauren Saxe takes a break from life in Spain to hike the Cinque Terre, which means "Five Lands," in Italy. Here she begins her tour in Manarola, the first of the five towns along the coast. Lauren Saxe and Lauren Saxe

I took a brief hiatus from my life as a wannabe Sevillana last weekend when a few friends and I jet-setted to Italy.

Aside from enjoying what I’ve dubbed the Holy Trinity of Italian food — pasta, pizza and gelato – the main event was an excursion far removed from city life, a day of hiking and wandering through the towns and mountains of the Cinque Terre.

Our tour consisted of the five towns along the coast: Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare and Riomaggiore. The string of towns is remote and refreshingly quaint. Each had similar styles and connecting characteristics, yet they each offered something different.

The multi-colored houses, layered and built on top of one another, were so beautiful against the backdrop of the sea that they appeared almost unreal. Our guide explained the varied colors of the houses are not typically chosen by the residents. They are assigned a specific color depending on the year.

We began in the town of Manarola, which was perhaps the quietest of the five.

According to our guide, olive growing and vineyards are a huge part of the Cinque Terre, and my friend was even brave enough to try an olive straight from the tree. From Manarola we hopped on the local train to the 
second town.

Once we made our way into Corniglia, we stopped for a lunch overlooking the water and the town. Because of the prime location on the Italian coast, the main course included a seafood platter of shrimp, octopus, calamari and anchovies.

However, we were served pesto for the second course because it originated around the area.

Our main portion of the hike was a 2.6-mile stretch from Corniglia to Vernazza.

It was not difficult in terms of distance, but the uneven stone steps had our legs feeling the burn the next day. In the distance we could see the previous two towns, and the water shined a clear blue all day. The sky was consistently cloudy, which fared well for a comfortable, temperate hike. The fall weather was a nice break from the heat of Seville that I’ve grown accustomed to.

Town No. 3 was by far my favorite of the day. Vernazza was bustling with the most life of the five we visited. After we descended from the final staircase of our main trek, my friend and I enjoyed a well-deserved wine and coffee by the water. It was picturesque with kids playing in the small town square, boats docking and friends enjoying gelato amidst the early fall wind.

Monterosso also had a lot of activity in comparison to the other towns, and here we tried pan fritto con formaggio. It was essentially pizza dough filled with gooey cheese, a delicious reward as we neared the end of our day.

To give our legs a rest, we took a boat to our final destination, Riomaggiore. I was one of the four out of the tour group who volunteered for a little extra hike with our guides at the end. It turned out to be well worth it as we watched the sunset from the top of the town.

As a writer, it is both a challenge and an adventure to try and capture the uncapturable. Hiking the Cinque Terre was one of those moments, and I still feel unable to fully put it into words. Always search for the things that leave you speechless, that take your breath away. And, if you are lucky enough to find them, do your best to share them with the rest of the world.

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