Backpacking through Europe: Cinque Terre

I'm writing this post at 6:40 am in Fribourg, Switzerland as my husband shifts uncomfortably back and forth in the bed behind me. I'm waiting for the stores here to open, so I can try to track him down some gatorade and applesauce. We spent an extra day in Cinque Terre on March 31, because I came down with a stomach flu. We originally thought it was food poisoning, but when Keith woke up around 2 am this morning also sick, we realized we must have both caught a stomach bug in the past few days. Not the best way to wrap up our first week of travel, but thankfully we've still managed to enjoy ourselves in Cinque Terre and Fribourg. 

We arrived in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre on March 29 with the intention of staying two days. Our first AirBNB host of the trip greeted us in the center of town and walked us up a steep flight of stairs to our apartment for the next few days. He gave us a thorough tour of the slim three-story place and lots of tips on "walking" the area and where to eat. The apartment was small but comfortable, with an extra bedroom on the ground floor, our bedroom and a very narrow bathroom on the second, and a kitchen, eating and sitting area and lovely balcony on the third. All the windows and balcony overlooked the ocean and small town, and the balcony was the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, and hang our hand-washed clothes from the provided clothing line at the end of our first hiking day. 

Keith and I enjoy walking and orienting ourselves with a new place by exploring for a few hours, so that's exactly what we did with the rest of our first day in Riomaggiore. We walked the length of the entire town, up many hills and steep flights of steps, through the tiny yet gorgeous church  of San Giovanni, and past all the shop windows. We bought a small jar of pesto (the area's specialty) and piece of focaccia bread to share, then headed up a very steep hill near the back of town for an hour hike to the Santuario del Madonna that sits high above Riomaggiore. It was a good warm-up for our hike the following day through all five coastal towns, and provides gorgeous views of the area. 

On the next day, we woke up early and packed one of our backpacks for a long day of hiking (water, sunscreen, bandanas, change of shirts for dinner). The entirety of the Cinque Terre trail is supposed to take about five hours to hike, but that includes the newest parts of the trails, some of which are still being repaired after the horrible rock slide a few years ago. We stopped in every town along the way, explored a little and enjoyed a snack or meal, so I'm not sure how long hiking straight thru would take. We started on the #6 trail in Riomaggiore around 9 am and ended in Monterosso around 5 pm. Our AirBNB host asked if we liked "walking" before showing us the trail map, and we joked about this numerous times during our hike that day. The #6 trail that is currently open from Riomaggiore to Manarola is not an easy stroll by any means, and certainly not for the faint of heart. But it was actually the section from Manarola to Corniglia that was the most difficult for me - the path itself is much flatter than the rest, but it's also the most narrow and open most of the way on the side with a steep drop to the ocean or ground far below. I am slightly scared of heights (love roller coasters but get vertigo if I look down), so I held tightly to anything on the opposite side (rocks, grape vines, property fencing) and breathed  a huge sigh of relief when we finished that section. 

Every single one of the Cinque Terre towns is lovely and I don't think I could pick a favorite, but they are also each a little different, so I'd recommend reading up on each before deciding where to stay. Riomaggiore is supposedly the largest of the five (though still quite small) and had a good variety of restaurants and accommodations to choose from. Aside from the church bells, it also quieted quickly at night which was helpful after a long day of hiking. We loved walking back to our apartment the first evening to clean up before dinner, and hearing all the sounds of local families preparing their feast for the night - the clang of pans, loud laughter, and lively Italian voices filled the narrow corridors and made us feel more at home. Manarola was tiny and quaint, Corneglia is famous for it's wine and had our favorite gelato from the area (Alberto's Homemade Ice Cream), Vernazza was bustling with small tourist buses and locals sunbathing near the watershore, and Monterosso is probably the best known as it has the closest thing to an actual beach of all five. It was here we ended our hiking trip, found a place to rinse our faces and put on clean tops before enjoying a delicious meal at Restaurant Ciak

After a lovely two days in Cinque Terre, we spent one extra not so lovely day with me mainly sick in bed for most of it, but I still have fond memories of the area and hope to go back some day for further exploring of each town. We arrived in Fribourg halfway through the day yesterday, so I look forward to sharing more on that in my next post. The pharmacy across the street from our hotel is about to open though, so I need to go track down some things to help Keith feel better. Hope to be back soon with a recap of our short time in Switzerland!