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Five Lands


June 14, 2013 by Dan

“Where are you guys from?” asked the woman. She was sitting at the table behind us, dressed in nice-post-hike chic.
“San Francisco,” I said.
“I knew it,” she said. “I could tell from the way you were talking that you were Americans.”
I smiled.

Were I a terrible person I would have answered “That’s an easy guess even without us talking,” or “Just like half the people here,” or something like that. I’m not a terrible person, so I made cheerful conversation; she and her husband were versions of the kind of person I hope to be when I retire.

See, the Five Lands are crawling with Americans. It’s like a horror movie where a Rick Steves guidebook gets ripped open and spews out mother-daughter hiking pals from Newport. Don’t get me wrong – it’s quite a pretty area. But somewhere along the line it became a Place to Go, and a bewildering number of people are there during the spring and summer seasons. At least during the day, it’s kind of a mess.

I’m not trying to seem petulant here. We stayed in Vernazza and it looks like this:

Vernazza harbor

That’s some serious prettiness. The chic woman at the restaurant had warned us to start hiking the trail to Monterosso as soon as we could in order to avoid the crowds. Because we are not notably early risers while on vacation, that meant that we got going at 9:45. Luckily we were going in the opposite direction from most of the tour groups, and didn’t really see many people until an hour and a half in.

So, we were able to climb up, up, above Vernazza.

Vernazza, higher up

The trail winds along an old trading path, and passes by quite a few private homes. This one felt the need to protect itself from the bladders of the hiking public.

Interesting sign

After that aforementioned hour and a half, things got a bit ugly. We had to stop several times for many minutes as we waited for groups of twenty-plus people to claw their way up narrow staircases and along cliffsides, coming the other way. It was frustrating, but not as frustrating as it would have been to be going in the other direction. I chuckled when I recognized a mother-daughter team from breakfast who had taken the train to Monterosso and were hiking home. Wrong call. Stuck in staircase lines makes for miserable walking.

We reached Monterosso before lunchtime, and decided to hike up to Sant Antonio, an old church on a thousand-foot hill that overlooks the whole coastline. We planned to stop there, then continue on to Levanto for a late lunch. Unfortunately, we didn’t count on two things.

1) The trail is pretty much a stairclimber:

2) It was well above 80 degrees.

By the time we got to the church we were out of water, so made the sensible decision to nip back down to Monterosso for lunch and hydration. But the view was worth it.


Oh, you’d like to see us, as well? Done.

Dan, Julie

See how I’m holding my arm out a little bit? It’s because I was drenched with sweat, and having my arm touching me felt gross.

Lunch – a salad, a panini, and this.

Monterosso beach

A quick train ride back to Vernazza (the boat was going to be a while), and we were seated outside at a bayfront restaurant, snacking with vino de la cassa, playing Yahtzee. The place was packed with American tourists, with a smattering of Brits, Aussies, and Germans. The best of them was the couple I snapped below, who had gotten married in town that day. They were happy and in love, stopping for pictures, kisses, and views. We watched them walk the length of the waterfront, then back on the path to wherever they were staying. They made me happy.

Happy wedded couple, Vernazza

So, yeah, the Cinque Terre. Happy I went, probably wouldn’t go back again. If you’re going to go, stay at least a night so that you can see the villages at sunset after the day-trippers go home. At that time, in the spring, there’s a little bit of magic.


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