The Cinque Terre and Milan seemed so close to where we had been petsitting in the south of France, we thought, “why not?” and planned an extra few days in Italy before flying back to Spain for our next assignment. Vernazza in the Cinque Terre was our base 15 years ago (for our family trip) so we looked to stay here again and do the walks and train rides from here.
To get here from Opio was somewhat tricky trying to coordinate travel options, so we ended up with a bus ride (for only €8 each) from Nice to Genoa, a train to Las Spezia and then a local train to Vernazza. It was a long day often spent waiting for our transport to arrive, but at least we could enjoy the views of the coast as we whizzed past.
Once in Vernazza, we strolled down the familiar main street, our host pointing out the information boards about the great flood of 2011 which almost destroyed this picturesque town. (Click here to see pictures…) Now, there are few physical signs of the devastation, but it sounds like most houses had to rebuild at least their first floors. Our apartment was up 4 flights of very steep stairs; not for the faint hearted or those with heavy bags…oops! We then wandered out into the town to explore and take in the views, and treat ourselves to an amazing location that offered wine tastings and snacks while overlooking the cliffs and sea below. This was definitely a splash-out, at €15 each for 3 wines and some bread and olives, but deemed worth it for the views, and the wine of course!
We had decided we would walk the track from Corniglia to Manarola as that part of the track was not accessible on our past visit so we started the day with a train ride to Corniglia and, not finding the track straight away, climbed up the multitude of steps to the very pretty village above. There was little information about the track and where it started so we asked at an information booth to discover that it is still closed! Sigh… back down all those hundreds of steps to the train station again to await the next train to Manarola and walk the easiest section of track known as the Via del Amore. By now the trains were filling with more tourists and the day getting warmer; disembarking at Manarola we headed off following the signs to the track, getting a view back across the sea to Corniglia and then rounded a corner to discover… this track is closed too! By now we were getting a little frustrated at the lack of information about closed tracks – we raced back to the train station to get a ride through to Riomaggiore, the final stop so we could at least look around the town and get a cold drink. I asked Ms Google where we should go and she led us up the hill and around a few corners to … a closed bar! This was getting to be the story of our day. Luckily a few shops further on was an open option where we sat for a few minutes to refresh ourselves with a cold drink and prepare for the next leg, back to Corniglia for lunch (ah, up all those steps again!) and then the walk that was open to Vernazza.
After a simple lunch and a walk around this pretty village of Corniglia, we set off at last on a track. The temperature by now was in the high 20’s and the start of the track involves a lot of climbing. It was going to be a very hot afternoon, but we took many stops to soak in the views (and drink our water). The track was busy with hikers of all ages and stages heading in the opposite direction, we were surprised by those wearing jandals (flip-flops) and those with tiny dogs (some being carried, poor things!). This was a lovely walk as we climbed through forested areas and along rocky trails, but hard work in the heat. It was nice to be greeted by a cafe owner, told that it was the halfway point and encouraged on our way. From there, although there was still some climbing, we knew we were going to be going down more than up. And rounding the point to see the village of Vernazza below us was magical.
After a reward of gelato and a rest in our air-conditioned room, we put our walking shoes back on and headed onwards to Monterosso where we planned to have dinner. Again the start of the track was brutal with climbing, climbing, climbing, but a stunning view back to Vernazza rewarded us from a number vista points. This track was rockier and had some very narrow pathways along the steep mountainside. By the time we reached our destination in Monterosso al Mare, we were certainly ready for dinner and our restaurant of choice didn’t disappoint. We had lovely views of the cathedral bell tower as well as along the pedestrian street and were served very good food that helped to refuel us for our journey home… on the train!
The next morning we arrived at the train station again, this time with our bags ready for a train, first to La Spezia and then to Milan where we were returning to a B&B we had stayed in 3 years ago on our last Italian adventure. Familiar with this city, we used the public transport and recommendations from our hosts to head into the area known as Navigli, a surprisingly busy area with sightseeing boats plying the picturesque canal, as well as numerous cafes and bars alongside the river. We headed to a side street where we enjoyed an interesting cocktail accompanied by a selection of snacks – the Italians do aperitivo so well and this was no exception. Then another bus to dinner and home after a busy day.
Our next day we decided to wander and explore areas we hadn’t seen before. First on the list was to find a decent coffee, and once again we managed to find a good one. Off the main streets some of these coffee bars are worth the effort to try and find. Desperate coffee drinkers, we often Google “best coffee in…” and sometimes we hit the jackpot. Our B&B hosts had recommended a visit to Villa Necchi-Campiglio, which has a fascinating history since it was built in the 1930’s. It was worth a look at something quite different and very well maintained, and we found another interesting sight over the road as well.
Of course we wandered into town and saw once again the magnificent Duomo and the beautiful (but totally out of our league) Galeria Vittorio Emanuelle II. Our day was spent wandering and enjoying the ambience of Milan and just as well, as later that evening the dark storm clouds rolled in and the rain came down as the thunder rolled during the night.
Luckily by the time our (delayed) flight departed, the weather had cleared and we were clear to return to Spain… the adventure continues.