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Hiking and Dining the Italian Riviera

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Hiking and eating are two of my favorite things and this
summer I discovered a magical place to indulge in both: Cinque Terre,

Cinque Terre is comprised of five pastel-colored villages— Riomaggiore,
Manarola (featured in picture above), Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare—on the coast of the
Ligurian Sea in northwest Italy. Connected by a series of footpaths, including
the Sentiero Azzurro ("Azure Trail"), as well as by train, the
villages and surrounding areas are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and have
been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Think colorful, picturesque villages connected by cliff-hugging trails
that wind through vineyards and olive groves, with jaw dropping views of the
sea at every turn.

Good Eats

Cinque Terre is, notably, the birthplace of both pesto and
focaccia. You’ll find plenty of little bakeshops (Paneterrie and Focacceria) in
each the villages where you can buy fresh focaccia and pizza for lunch or a
mid-hike snack. They are sandwiched between the numerous gelateria, with their
colorful array of frozen treats in fanciful flavors. One of my favorites was gelato
made with local honey (“miele di Corniglia”).

Seafood lovers will do fine in all five villages, but a
particular treat is a fried mixed seafood cup (“fritto misto”) from Il Pescato
Cucinato, a small shop run by a
in Riomaggiore
. Anchovies are a
local specialty, and they are nothing like the salty, oily ones that we are
used to in the States. They tend to show up completely intact (eyes and all) in
the local dishes including the fritto misto.

359?x=d4WeEiCac#asset:2854:mediumLunch –
Bruschetta with Pesto – on the trail high above Vernazza.

The trail (Sentiero Azzurro) connecting the village is about
7.5 miles, in theory making it possible to hike all five villages in one day.
This is not recommended – or even possible at the moment -- for a few reasons. Two
sections of the trail—those connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola, and Manarola to
Corniglia—washed away in an epic mudslide in 2011, and remain closed for now.

But also this is scenery (and food) you just don’t want to
rush! You’ll want at least two full days to explore Cinque Terre … and more if
you can fit it in. Some of these trails have
a lot of steps … you can
easily climb several thousand feet of vertical while traversing between the
villages. For my visit, I took two days to visit the villages, using
Riomaggiore as my base, although any of the other villages would have worked
just as well.

between Monterosso and Vernazza.

Hiking, Day 1

On the first day, I took the train (about $2) from
Riomaggiore to Monterosso, and then hiked the Sentiero Azzurro back towards
Vernazzo and Corniglia. This gave me plenty of time to explore all three of
these villages, do some shopping, have a leisurely lunch, and still get back to
Riomaggiore (by train from Corniglia) for relaxation and a fancy dinner.

Strolling through Vernazza.

As you hike the trail, look for strings of “locks of love”
on the trail—these are mementos left by couples seeking to declare their
everlasting affection for one another. These sections of trail, from Monterosso
to Vernazza, and Vernazza to Corniglia, require a park permit you can purchase from
the national park shops located at any of the train stations, and also on the
trail itself.

362?x=d4WeEiCac#asset:2863:mediumLocks of

Hiking, Day 2

On the second day, I took the train to Manarola, and then
hiked the “high trail” from Manarola to Corniglia (no park permit required),
stopping in beautiful and immaculate Volastra for refreshments halfway into
this rigorous 2.5-hour hike. This trail is a little less crowded than the
Sentiero Azzuro—you can actually count the time between trekkers in minutes
rather than seconds—and winds deep into the hillside vineyards.

through vineyards between Manarola and Corniglia.

Following the second day’s hike, I took the train from
Corniglia to Monterosso for a tasty beach-side lunch and a couple of hours of
lounging under a rented beach umbrella by the sparkling blue-green waters of
the Ligurian Sea.

364?x=d4WeEiCac#asset:2869:mediumMonterosso’s shoreline.

The trails are well-defined but steep and rocky in places. I
opted for a low hiker,
. Their grippy sole was very
welcome on the rougher parts of the trail, while I was glad to avoid the heat
of a boot while sweating under the Ligurian sun.

At the heart of everything we do are the folks who make the magic happen. A group of likeminded footwear-industry vets who left our big-brand jobs back in 2007 intent on doing business a better way. 

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