Hiking The Cinque Terre

Despite centuries of changing landscape, this string of towns remains ideal for adventure (and a little relaxation, too).

Hike through vineyards and lemon trees in Italy’s Cinque Terre

This article, written by PAM LEBLANC, appears on The Olympian.

This place doesn’t look real.

From the top of a steep hillside covered in lemon trees and grapevines, the village of Manarola tumbles out below, like a handful of pink, orange and yellow blocks that have been shaken, then poured from a toy bag.

Manarola is one of five hamlets strewn a few miles apart along the Mediterranean coast in Northern Italy. Each comes with its own personality, and the best way to see the lot is to pick one as a home base (we’ve chosen Manarola because it’s smaller and quieter than the others), then spend a few days hiking between them, pausing to sip wine, eat grilled octopus and cool off with a swim in the sea.

We left our cliffside apartment this morning, hiked up through steep terraces covered with vineyards, paused to admire a chapel and sip lemonade in the pint-size village of Volastra, then descended into Corniglia, where we revived ourselves with gelato before striking out for the next town up the coast, Vernazza.

It’s easy to imagine the days when pirates sailed up and down this coast. The people who once lived here used stone watchtowers to defend their homes, which are perched on cliffs and tucked into nooks and crannies molded by Mother Nature. It’s long been a wine-producing region, and farmers planted crops on terraces they cut into the hills.

But things have changed in recent years. In 1951, about 3,500 acres of land here were cultivated. After the Cinque Terre was discovered by tourists in the 1970s, the economy began a gradual shift from agriculture to tourism. Today only about 275 acres are cultivated. The crop abandonment has caused soil erosion and land degradation, and the trails here periodically wash out.

Read on to get hiking tips and view itinerary suggestions at The Olympian.

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