JohnnySnelgrove's Travel Journals


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  • 28 years old
  • From Washington, United States
  • Currently in Washington, United States

Firenze, Italy 2012

Living the life of an Italian journalist.

Cinque Terre

Italy Cinque Terre, Italy  |  Oct 18, 2012
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 You never know who you’ll run into once you close your eyes and step into the unknown 

        Apparently, Rick Steves covers everything one needs to know about Cinque Terre. I have never read any books by Rick Steves, but I am confident that many of his most loyal followers hail from my neck of the woods. Out of all the people I met during my short trip, I’d say about 75% were from the Pacific Northwest. Considering the outdoorsy nature of Nor’westerners, it doesn’t surprise me that so many of us were drawn to the rugged cliffs, steep trails, and rustic villages of the Ligurian coast. Even before leaving for Italy, I had three people independently recommend—with unbridled enthusiasm—that I visit Cinque Terre. Lucky for me, it was only about a two and a half hour train ride from Florence. In four days, I had plenty of time to visit each of the villages, hike plenty of trails, and dive of a few rocks. Here’s my rundown on each village; hopefully this post will inspire more visitors, and prompt the Italians to repair the seaside trails, which have been closed for about a year now due to several landslides.


If you can successfully navigate the La Spezia train station, this will be your first stop. The trains along the coastline here cut straight through the mountains, which makes it that much more startling when you catch that first glimpse of the shimmering Mediterranean. I didn’t find the town itself too interesting: most the trails to Riomaggiore are closed, and the town’s a bit up in the hills, with jagged cliffs for a beach. Not an ideal swimming spot. The town is quaint (like the other four), but nothing seemed to stand out to me. It might have the steepest streets of the bunch.



Keep an eye out for Sauron.

I spent a good deal of my time jumping off rocks into Manarola’s natural harbor. The town got a bit windy at times, but that could have just been coincidence, and not representative of its usual weather. I visited Manarola twice: once by ferry, once by foot. The ferry dock looks like something out of Mordor, but the town’s colorful and inviting. My last day, I hiked through the hills and and vineyards from Corniglia to Manarola with an Australian couple who were starting the hike the same time as me. Steep inclines bring people together (sometimes gravitationally), and we soon became comrades in that sadomasochistic pastime we willingly subject ourselves to called hiking. Humans are weird. We survived and arrived in Manarola, my knees didn’t buckle, and the couple was kind enough to buy me lunch. If ever we meet again, I’ll be sure to give them a free concert and a CD, as there isn’t much else I have to offer. It’s the least I could do.

On my way back to Florence, I took the ferry from Manarola to the town of Porto Venere, which lies on the Gulfo dei Poeti. The region was a favorite source of inspiration for artists and poets, with Lord Byron being one of the most notable frequenters of its shores.



The smallest of the bunch, Corniglia teeters 100 meters above the sea, forcing adventurers to climb 382 steps before reaching the town center (there’s also a shuttle for the faint of heart). Those who make it to the top usually have a beard, are tanned from a lifetime of outdoor activity, or prefer the convenience of dreadlocks. I stayed in Corniglia for two of my three nights because they had the cheapest hostel (the first night, I stayed in a hotel’s converted attic in Levanto and paid more than I would have liked).

Corniglia’s town center didn’t have much to offer, but the hikes to Vernazza and up into the hills were spectacular. I also found the hostel to be one of the friendliest and welcoming hostels yet. Even the other travelers staying there were outgoing and inviting. One of the travelers had only planned on staying in Corniglia for a night, but was going on his fourth day when I arrived. The hostel had one of those auras I mentioned not too long ago.

Okay, the last picture was a joke. The bench was actually level.


Vernazza may have been the most striking of the villages, with brightly clustered Italian buildings curling up the point to the bay’s breakwater. Some of the postcards at the tourist stalls have a photograph of Vernazza getting blasted by a massive surge during a storm. I visited the town on my second day, and reached it via a “closed” trail from Corniglia. The trail was perfectly intact, which led me to suspect the Italians were deliberately ignoring maintaining the trails so people would keep paying for the train and ferries. This is just my conspiracy theory, though. Aside from its looks, I didn’t find Vernazza too exciting. The alleyways had an odd smell to them that I couldn’t begin to describe. Let’s just say I wasn’t too bothered by it, but I wouldn’t want to smell it again. Go there, take a picture, then go swimming in Monterosso.




Monterosso and Manarola vie for my favorite town. The best thing about Monterosso had to be the beaches. It was the only town with warm sandy beaches. Unfortunately, in Europe, warm sandy beaches attracts heavyset Germans in speedos. Nevertheless, I spent an entire day swimming, lying in the sun, and playing guitar. This was me in my natural environment. I moved down the beach chasing sunbeams until the sun finally eclipsed behind the nearby hills. Then I took the train back to Corniglia and fell asleep, eventually waking to the sound of church bells right outside my window at midnight, then at 7:00am, then at 7:30am, then at….

That about sums it up...

          Cinque Terre really gave me something to write about—almost too much to write about. My train ride to La Spezia alone could have constituted an entire article, but I’m already feeling overwhelmed. There are so many people in the world—and trust me, the world definitely isn’t small—but our lives seem to wind and cross and intertwine in accordance to some metaphysical trajectory. How, exactly, did I end up sitting next to a couple from Bellingham who’d lived in Port Townsend since the 70’s? Mind you, there are 7 billion people living on this planet and only about 9,000 of those people live in Port Townsend. The chances are slim, but that’s what happened. You never know who you’ll run into once you close your eyes and step into the unknown (warning: figurative language. Please don’t hold me accountable for any resulting unsighted collisions), but sometimes, and more often than not, they’ll change your life forever.

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