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24 February 2011
Walking Italy's Cinque Terre Coast
One of Italy's most spectacular hiking routes, this narrow coastal path links five delightful villages.
A few days after warming up in Il Monte, as the locals call the hills behind Hotel Splendido, most keen walkers head off to the Cinque Terre - a string of five exceptionally picturesque villages threaded along a fabulous cliff walk. Lying in a world heritage national park south of Portofino, these clusters of houses teetering on hillsides are also linked by rail and boat, but not by road - adding greatly to their timeless charm. Hotel Splendido can arrange for guests to be dropped at the furthest village, Riomaggiore (pictured left), from where the cliff track leads north to Monterosso, or (for the less energetic) any of the other villages along the way.
The cluster of shops lining Riomaggiore's main street is a good place to stock up on water for the day's hike. The route known as Via dell'Amore (Lover's Way) then leads out along cliffs towards Manarola, a village wedged among rocks where a morning cappuccino or perhaps a homemade ice cream beckon. Set on the water's edge, it is possible to swim from here.
The next village, Corniglia, perches high on a hilltop: it is the only settlement away from the sea. The path soars up and plunges down, past citrus trees and near-vertical vineyards, suspended vertiginously on bluffs. In April and May the way is decked with delicate flowers. Corniglia seems sleepier, more cut off from the world than the other terre. It is a place to pause in the little piazza, perhaps with a glass of the local white wine and a bowl of olives, before continuing on the way.
Vernazza, village number four, is an altogether more lively and worldly place. As well as houses squashed up and over its rocky headland, it boasts a medieval castle and a harbourside church that is wonderfully cool and inviting after a hot day spent scrambling over cliffs. But most alluring are the outdoor tables of tiny restaurants serving the region's speciality, freshly grilled anchovies, with or without a slice of aromatic pesto pizza. There's nothing like a late lunch in the sun with the satisfied feeling that it has been truly earned.
The final - and exceptionally beautiful - stretch of the walk switchbacks towards Monterosso, set beside a wide, sandy beach patterned by colourful sun umbrellas. A dip in the sea or a glass of iced limoncino at one of the cafes brings a full day to a relaxing close, before heading back to Portofino in the setting sun.
* Please note that following severe weather, sections of the Cinque Terre walk may be closed. Check with the concierge before setting out.
What did you discover on your Cinque Terre walk?