Discovering a ... different kind of Beach
Loc. Manarola Riomaggiore, Italy
After waking from a horrible night sleep - the previous day my hostel owner had screamed at me in Italian for bringing bed bugs into the hostel - whereas I claimed they were already there - I needed a good pick-me-up. It was a hot day... even now, I can remember the blinding brightness of the walk through Cinque Terra, near La Spezia in the Italian Riviera. I was on a Busabout Tour (Great Tours!!! I can't recommend them enough!) and a few of my travel buddies and I decided to do 'The Walk' from start to finish. The 12.5km walk from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare.
The temperature was about 36 degrees, and somewhat stupidly, only Abby (a New Zealand Busabout-er) and I decided that this was the perfect day to walk. We had heard it was about a 5/6 hour hike, some easy, some hard... As our hostel was in Riomaggiore, that is where we started.
Between Riomaggiore and Manarola, the 1.6km walk known as the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk") is all carved tunnels in the side of the hills, providing uninterrupted views over the water and surrounding area. I remember the thing I found most amusing was that most of the graffiti etched or drawn into the internal concrete wall was in German... apparently the Germans loved this region, and they were the most common tourists there.
Between Manarola and Corniglia, the 3.2km track becomes more undulating, gone is the concrete to be replaced by well trampled sand and dirt. This is where the sun started to get to us. Most of the area was not covered, except for a few trees every so often that crossed the path. About half way through this section, the sun got too much and we started looking for shade... until we saw... The Beach! Way below us there was a speck of sand too inviting to ignore, and as luck had it a path down about 15m later...
Turned out, not so lucky! The path was not a path! It was some dirt, some spiky bushes, lots of trees and lots of rock, some of which was very steep... we trampled, crawled, slipped, slid and rolled our way down for about 25 minutes and emerged with cuts and scratches everywhere... to a beautiful, quiet, write home about Beach... A Nudist Beach! At the age of 19, this was not something that I was comfortable with... especially coming from Australia, which can be rather a prudish country with communal/social nudity. However, Abby and I didn't want to seem rude and didn't want to draw too much attention to ourselves, well any more so than two young girls falling out of the bushes down the hill. So we slowly took our towels to a safe-ish area and laid them out, only to be rewarded with the site of a very, very large Italian man emerging from the water... all hanging out... and heading straight for us! Luckily he diverted just before and walked down a little path to where his wife was sitting.
Needless to say, it was a fairly 'eye-opening' experience. We went so far as deciding to go topless, but that was the limit... absolutely! And even then we only lasted 30 minutes - given the sun was so hot!!! Now, a way to get out? Hmm, that was an issue! Finally we found a tunnel at the far end of the beach, apparently that was the way in and out... but it was dark, went straight through the mountain (it was an old train tunnel, and went straight back to Manarola. Though, it was hellishly lucky we had some money with us - the entrance cost us about €5 and was as unsafe as walking in pitch black, with only the occasional slit of light out to the sea. Once back in Manarola, we took the walking trail back to Riomaggiore.
The next day, we were lucky with the weather - a nice high 20s, so a larger group of us made the whole 13-ishkm trek to Monterosso al Mare. The walk from Manarola (past the path down to our favourite little speck of sand) through Corniglia to Vernazza was lovely! While Vernazza was a cute town, we were surrounded by annoying Australian tourists, disturbing the peace with shouts of Aussi, Aussi, Aussi, Oi, Oi, Oi... needless to say, we didn't stay long. But the real walk and the stunning views were between Vernazza and Monterosso. The trek was hard and very steep in some areas, but the views over the hills and the small towns were so worth it.
Finally, after 2 days, about 9 hours of walking and some good stories, we completed the trail, known as Sentiero Azzurro, connecting the 5 lands of Cinque Terra, with a very lazy afternoon swimming in the lovely waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The train ride home was fun, relaxing and a nice reward to the hard work of the past two days.
Cinque Terra is a beautiful area, but be prepared for the walk, the food, the locals and the absolutely stunning views out across the sea!