I first heard about the Cinque Terra hiking trail when we were in Florence, after a fellow Aussie traveller raved about how stunning this challenging yet beautiful (Italian) coastal beach trek was. I was fascinated to say the least, but at the time we were close to leaving Italy and really had no time for it. Ante promised we'd do it the next time, but I figured instead of beginning the trail from the top of Italy, I'd just go back to Italy from Nice France and do the trail back to front. After much researching I realised I could get to Italy and back to France in the same night via train.
Obviosuly Ante was not thrilled that I managed to work it out, but since he didnt want to go he stayed in Nice and visited Cannes, Antibes, Villefranche, Monaco and Eze Village while I was gone.
So up I was at 530 am to walk the 1km into the nearby square to get a bus for a 6 hour train ride over the border to Italy. Cinque Terra (5 towns) is a set of stunning paths that have been used for over a thousand years by locals and farmers as a way of connecting the 5 towns that all sit on rocky outcrops above the stunning sea. The main walk is 9km long and takes 5 hours, and I was on a tight schedule to do the entire track (plus breaks) in 5 hours, then get back to my starting spot to train it back to France and make it back by 1.00am.
Beginning in Monterosso, the trek is physically demanding to say the least. The track is on average 40/50cm wide, has no rails, is made of stone and mud, and is very steep at the Monterosso end. So up and up and up I climbed, cursing my cargo pants for being just that bit too long, and the glorious sun for being just that bit too hot today. Oh but the view.... stunning blue waters hitting against large grey rocks,. tiny tiny sandy beaches in some spots, and the very steep but much loved and maincuired farms on the hillsides which I weaved our my through. The path takes you over little creek beds, through people's gardens and vineyards and in between 5 very picturesque and tiny towns.
My second town, Vernazza, was my favourite... after the first long hot walk of 3km up some very steep steps this colourful villages pops out from the peninsula and dozens of little coloured boats line its protected bay under a large church.
Here's my Cinque Terra stats:
Monterosso - Vernazza: 3km; est. time 2hrs; my time 1hr
Vernazza - Corniglia: 4km; est. time 1.5hrs; my time 1.05hrs
Corniglia - Manarola: 1.1km; est. time 1hr; my time 45mins
Manarola - Riomaggiore: 1km; est. time 20mins; my time 20 mins.
Killed a 9km track estimated at 5 hours in less than 3.30hrs. Nice one! Except the fun didnt end their. After getting back to my original town of Monterossa, I struggled to find information on my scheduled train. I went to another station that I needed to move to, and the train station staff member couldnt speak English (of course) so he pointed to another train that was 20mins after the one I found on the Internet, but still should get me to the Italian/French border to catch my last train home in time. Hmmmm, no. The train was 10 mins late, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50. By the time it arrived, there was almost no one else on the platforms (around 9.00pm). One gentlement tried to explain that this train was not collecting passengers, but I told him so long as it's going to the border, I'm on it.
I did board the train when it eventually arrived. Even found a whole sleeper cabin to myself. Locked the doors, closed the curtains and got all comfy. From back in France, Ante messaged me for an update, and told me to find out when the train got to the border. So I figured it was worth putting the shoes back on for as I could then sleep for a few hours. I noticed by cabin had some names on it, and the doors were all marked with a certain logo, but I brushed that aside and went to find a staff member.
The conductor told me "You're on the wrong train" when I asked what time we would arrive at the border. Horrified, I asked if it was going to the border town. Apparently it was, but unfortunately for me, this was a privately chartered train and was completely booked. I was told to get off at the next station. Ummm... no. I went to speak with the main conductor who confirmed my worst fears. Arguing why I was sold a ticket, I was still told I needed to get off. Oh I held back tears. Not sad ones, but angry ones. I explained I was a girl travelling on my own and this train was already late and I needed to get back to France tonight. Nope. No love, no sympathy, no pity. And certainly no help. I had to sit in the conductor's room. If only I knew how to really swear in Italian. I mean really swear. I would have given him a mouthful and stormed off. I was considering hiding in the toilets. After all, the train was going to my destination. But I didnt. I got off, had to transfer stations, avoid crazies, then get back to the border town. Needless to say when I arrived at the border town, I had missed my connection. And a certain train from Italy sat at the nearby platform. Oh if looks could kill. I certainly sent some flying their way.
I spent the next 4 hours (from 1.00am to 5.00am) talking to a lovely German backpacker Katarina sitting on the train station floor (thankfully I'd met her as we got off the previous train and got my train back to France. Of course, Nice being a tourist city, at 5.50am when I needed a cab to drive me 3km to the hostel, they wanted to rip me off and charge me 22€. Short of yelling at the cabby to GET FKD (again didnt know how to say it in French for full effect), I walked home along streets using my map and crawled into bed. I could laugh as I relayed the story to Ante, obviosuly he was not impressed. But I did what I wanted to... set a possibility and found a way to fulfill it in true Kaj style. Mmmmm sleep.