The train emerged from the dark tunnel, and we gasped as the enormous pacific ocean came into full view. Getting off the train, signs indicated a 5-minute bus ride or 365-step stairs climb (20 floors) to our village, called Corneglia.
Corneglia was the smallest of all five villages, collectively (and appropriately) called Cinqueterre, a mountainous region off the western coast of Italy, 265 miles north of Rome.
Just one main road connected all the village’s inhabitants along the cliffs of the mountain, with yellow, pink, and orange architecture that contrasted vibrantly with the lush green forests and aqua blue ocean.
Upon entering our host's home, a white-haired Italian couple welcomed us with bear hugs and passionate Italian. Between M’s Spanish and my French, we managed, albeit very slowly, to decipher the basics, such as how to get to the ocean and where and when we were to have breakfast the next morning.
Hiking was the first thing on our agenda. An 8-hr hiking trail in the mountains connected all five villages. Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 trails were closed due to landslides, so we decided to take the train to Vernazza to hike to Monterosso.
After sharing a plate of the local speciality pasta Trofie served in delicious pesto sauce, we followed signs through tiny alleyways and eventually a steep dirt path that wrapped around the mountain. We left at 6:30pm, hoping that we could make it out to Montecarlo just around sunset.
It was a steep climb with narrow pathways on the outer edge of the mountain. The weather was perfect in the low 70s and not too humid. We stopped for pictures here and there, but were amazed that the view only got better.
Slowly, the village of Vernazza faded into the distance, and disappeared as we turned a corner. It was beginning to get darker and cooler, and we found ourselves alone, just the enormous mountains and ocean around us, and no people or civilization in sight. We continued along, now less talkative, focusing on getting across to the other side.
“J, look!” M gasped as she pointed at a small stray tabby with wild eyes, meowing at us for food*. We only had a precious bottle of water on us, and so looked at her sadly and continued on.
After a few more ascends and descents, we finally saw a house here and there in the mountains, hinting at civilization. A soft rustling in the shrubs next to me caught my attention, and a lizard climbed out and disappeared again.
After dark tunnels through forests, a bridge over a small waterfall, and hundreds of steps of descent, we finally arrived at Monterosso, greeted by a posh modern French restaurant overlooking the ocean, the perfect evening reward for our hike.
* Don't worry, we discovered their food later along the path. The villages' inhabitants made sure that these wild cats were well-fed. :)
This post is part of the 12-day, 5-city Eurotrip in July 2014.