Cinque Terre, Tuscany ... Rob and Jo, Harvey and Lyn’s Adventure Tour

The colour of The Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore

How people sit down and make five year life plans for themselves I will never know. Jo and I, along with our friends Lyn and Harvey from the good old Sunny Coast in Oz, couldn’t even plan a four day weekend that would stick to a schedule. Well Harvey and I did most of the planning so that could explain some of the difficulties and we didn’t really have a check plan process set up to make sure all the boxes were ticked. But we did get the weekend off to a good start by getting away from home fifteen minutes early. However, that advantage was quickly counter-challenged because in the excitement of four people all talking at once about going to Cinque Terre we missed the turn off to the motorway that would give us a quick exit to from Lausanne to the Grand St Bernard Tunnel and into Italy.
So enough said about the trip from Lausanne to Cinque Terre except to say that we had lots of laughs, I ate lots of Marguerita Pizza and we went through about 1000 tunnels (and that is an under-exaggeration). And to top it we just thought that Switzerland had the four day weekend but it turns out all of Europe did. So the six hour drive turned into an eight hour drive which meant Jo and I got to do an extra couple of hours of back seat driving. And besides getting to stop at two Italian roadside diners (think coffee, pizza and focaccia) with thousands of others we also got a by-pass view of Torino (Turin) and Genoa (Genova) and lots of in-between tunnel views of the Mediterranean.
The Cinque Terre (Five lands)
I had often seen this particular area of the Italian Riviera on the one of many travel shows that grace Australian television, including Global Village. Those five, lego building block coloured, amazing villages clinging to the jutting hillsides, surrounded by the the translucent blue of the Mediterranean, a colour best described by Louis de Bernieres in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. A memory once taken in through television pixels but never forgotten. Of the beaches and harbours, lined and littered with blue and red and white timbered fishing boats, coiled nets hanging with orange marker buoys to dry like anchovies in the sun, and bodies the colour of the purest Tuscan olive oil, sun-draped on every available boulder that lines the twenty kilometres of foreshore  between Monterosso in the north to Riomaggiore in the south.
As much as I admired the natural and man made additions that make Cinque Terre what it uniquely is, (that I might add look natural in real life), never did I think I would be here soaking up the ambience and ready to do the UNESCO World heritage site walk. 
Jo and Lyn @ Riomaggiore

Lyn and Harvey In Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore(1) - I’ll say here that it was by good management that Harvey booked us a room at the southern most town of The Cinque Terre called Riomaggiore. AS good management would have it, it was one of the last rooms available, again our not knowing that it was a national extra long weekend for Italy also came into play here. 
One feature our ‘quadruple’ room was that it was on the top floor on the building furthest up the hillside above the railway station. The benefit to us staying there was that it had a balcony with amazing views of the ocean. One downside of the room was that the advertised car parking was a kilometres walk away and you had to pay extra for that by the hour. Also with the bathroom that was advertised they forgot to say that it was shared with two other rooms full of sweaty female backpackers. Now please don’t take this as a derogatory remark, but one bathroom divided by seven women who need a bit of work after a long day on the road or trail and two patient men, and you can see the obvious challenges. The advertisement for the room also failed to mention that there was only a cold water shower. But hey the photos for the room were awesome.

The view from our room

The view from her room

After we settled in, we wandered down through the town, checked out the starting point for the Via dell’ Amore (Path of Love) for an early morning kickoff then looked for the right restaurant for dinner. The Dau Cila Ristorante, specialising in local seafood and pasta was a winner and we were back up the many steps to the room by ten pm. By wearing my Cavan Gaelic Football jersey I made a friend of a woman from Ireland who thought I was surely from the motherland. She enjoyed the story of how I came about the jumper and my Fermanagh County ancestry almost as much as me being Irish myself.

After tag-teaming the shower when we got back to our room, (and Harvey accidentally turning the lights on in our neighbours bedrooms which sent us off into raptures of laughter)we set the alarm and went to sleep to the sound of the Mediterranean gently rolling into the headland below and the occasional screech of a train coming to rest at the station.
Now there was one more room bonus not included in the price of the room. About two am I was awakened by what I thought was the blinking light of the smoke alarm. But what alarmed me was that the blinking light was moving around the ceiling. It was so awesome I woke up my beautiful, resting wife and she was so blown away that our talking in turn woke up Harvey. Harvey couldn’t help but wake up Lyn and then there we all were watching what Harvey had nick-named ‘Tinkerbell’ leaving a trail like a drunken channel marker washed around the ceiling and walls of our room.
The morning saw us all up and ready to go before the alarm went off, cold showered (at least faces and armpits), bags delivered to the car and at the trail ticket office and ready to go at seven am. Eager and unsure of when the office would open we headed off along the ocean path to Manarola. This was the easy part of the walk, about one kilometre and besides the time spent taking photos at the Seat of Love and attaching our suitcase locks as the tradition goes, it was just a beautiful way to start a day in the balmy warmth of a purple colour with a reassuring, light sea breeze.

We arrived in Manarola (2) around 7.30 am and the trail notices confirmed that the ocean trail to Corniglia was out and if we wanted to walk we would need to do the inland trail which takes around two and a half hours. Over coffee, tea and bonox, we opted to catch the train to Corniglia so that we could complete the longer parts of the walk before mid-day. While getting our tickets for the train we were alerted to the fact that Italian Rail had decided to go on strike between 9 am and 5 pm that day and we would need to catch the ferry back from Monterosso to Riomaggiore.


Cornuglia beach

All we took in of Corniglia (3) was the 387 steps that elevated us up from the railway line up to the village and the trail exit sign on the northern side of the village. The next section of the walk was high and spectacular, although a little overgrown and basic in places. We did pass one guy working away with a whipper-snipper but by the time he would have reached Vernazza in a months time he would need to walk back to Cornuglia and start again.

Vernazza (4) is a place that my mate Pete raves about. For him it is an inspiring village of food, coffee and scenery of ‘artasm’ proportions. Approaching the village from the elevated southern trail it is immediately memorable, from the Castella reaching out above the clustered houses to the sheltered harbour and the coloured wooden boats. Harvey and Jodie could wait no longer when we reached the end of the concrete jetty and they plunged unfettered into the crystal clear depths outside the harbour and swam back into the beach, ecstatic at the feeling of the salty streaked water that refreshed them with memories and new life. 
With a quick raid on a fruit shop (drinks and fruit) and a patisserie (my donuts) we were soon back on the trail for the last leg of The Cinque Terre. Things slowed down a bit on this leg. It was a high stepped climb up the forested hillside and some of the pilgrims in front of us were finding the going a bit tough. Add to this the thirty degree temperature and the sudden influx of people coming in the opposite direction from Monterosso (Harvey counted a continual line of 127 people at one narrow section) and the brisk morning walk became an obstacle course with consequences for a misplaced foot.

Harvey @ Vernazza

Jo at Vernazza
That's an ocean swim smile
Now it was on the final part of this leg where the brilliance of Harvey as a planner for this expedition really kicked in. Starting at the Riomaggiore end turned out to be a bonus and a perfect walk strategy. The beginning of the leg from Monterosso to Vernazza is almost vertical, with thousands of narrow steps. It was such a blessing to be going downhill at the end of the five hours rather than straight up at the beginning. With the noon-day sun beating down, many of the walkers coming towards us were forced into taking sitting down breaks which I must admit made the pathway even a bit more tricky to navigate. 

But by the time we reached this section the sand and beach umbrellas of Monterosso were waving us welcome in the distance and we had to put stones in Harvey’s backpack to reel in his eagerness for another soothing swim in the sea. 
The paved streets of Monterosso (5) were under our feet right on twelve noon and they were a welcome support to leg muscles that we now knew were still where they had always been. Cold drinks were the order of the day followed by the irreplaceable sensation of sea water surrounding and consuming a sweaty body. Over lunch we relived the mornings happenings with things of personal interest and other items that might come under the heading of political incorrectness and we generally had a good laugh. We all agreed that Vernazza was the shining jewel and might even warrant a separate stay sometime. After Jo and I bought some artwork for our home back in Witta we were all on the boat for an ocean visit to three of the villages we had walked through that morning which gave The Cinque Terre a holistic dimension to it. It was a definitive way to recap the day’s journey and to see the villages as some foreign sailor may have in days gone by, and to fall in love with the wonder of this amazing piece of coastline all over again.

Mediterranean patterns

Love on the rocks @ Vernazza

By four pm we were in the SAAB and headed for our next night’s stay at Castellnuovo Di Garfagnana which sits in between the Appenine Mountains and Tuscany. But the day wasn’t quite over yet and the plan still had some of it’s own variations to add to the adventure for the Pully four. First thing was that the one hour journey from La Spezia to Castellnuove Di Garfagnana took two hours in lieu of our estimated one hour and that was because the mountain range road (that we weren’t aware of) had more twists and turns in it than our coastal drive had tunnels the day before.

Our final unplanned component of the planned getaway was the SAAB stalling as I was pulling into the driveway of our hotel after dinner that evening. We had no luck getting it started (after Harvey and I eventually worked out how to open the bonnet) and Harvey and Lyn were luckily covered by a European roadside assist membership which took over the modus operandi of our travels from that point. This basically involved a tow truck arriving the next morning who would not have anyone to look at the car until Monday morning and then roadside assist people organizing for a taxi to take the four of us 120 kilometres to Pisa airport to pick up a Hertz hire car to take us home to Switzerland.
The taxi ride to Pisa was a hoot. As Lyn had the best Italian accent (but no language knowledge) we made her sit in the front as our communicator. There was not much communicating to do. At speeds of up to 150 kph our Mercedes taxi overtaking other cars on sweeping bends we just found it much more effective to hold on and pray, taking in what might have been our last glimpses  of the recognisable Tuscany landscape.
Tuscan hills

By 12.30 pm we were safely packed into our four wheel drive Renault Scenic and with a few fleeting distant glimpses of the Leaning Tower of Pisa we were back on the A5 motorway heading towards Aoste via Genoa and the thousands of tunnels that lay in wait for us on the way.
So if you are ever planning a trip down through the the Italian Riviera or Tuscany and are a bit short of time or ideas just drop Harvey or me an email and we’ll pass on a wealth of knowledge and experience to you that will make your holiday as memorable an experience as ours was. (But there are no guarantees on the ‘Tinkerbell’ factor or that your car will come back at the same time you do.)


  1. Loved the post. Beautiful pictures and great fun reading about your vacation. Sounds like great fun except for the shared bathroom, stalled car and the taxi ride. The pictures are awesome.


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