Part Three: From La Madonna di Montenero to Volastra and Corniglia
This is one of the top walks in the Cinque Terre.
Above the village of Manarola the same ancient hiking trail that links Riomaggiore to La Madonna di Montenero changes directions and cuts midway across the slope to reach the villages of Volastra and Corniglia.
The first hamlet you pass through is little more than a cluster of weathered houses called Porciano.
According to local sources, about 2,000 years ago Porciano was a waystation where horses were stabled. Back then, Volastra was named Vicus Oleaster (meaning “village of olive groves”). Some of the region’s best olive oil is still made around here. It is cold-pressed from those tiny Lavagnina and Taggiasca olives, which grow only on the Italian Riviera, and are most often picked before they are fully ripe.
The real reason that this trail is among my favorites is the human factor: along this gorgeous footpath you see farmers tending their olive and orange trees on dry-wall terraces.
Each of the Cinque Terre’s dry-wall terraces is about the width of a beach towel. But farmers and grape-growers nonetheless stubbornly groom them into bouteous kitchen gardens. Among the vegetables typically grown here are zucchini, potatoes, artichokes and basil. Basil is the prime ingredient of the famous Ligurian or Genoese delicacy pesto. Whenever I’m in Liguria I eat about a pint of pesto per day!
The mountains of Liguria may at first look like a wilderness. But look again: they’re a vertical farm, a Mediterranean medley of great things to eat.
Throughout the Cinque Terre you see tier upon tier of these dry-wall terraces with vineyards, orchards and kitchen gardens. There are an estimated 1,250 miles of them. They hug the contours from surf to mountain peak. A local vineyard owner once boasted to me that he’d been to China and was sure that there are more stones piled between Monterosso and Riomaggiore alone than in the entire Great Wall. That is unquestionably overstatement, but the concentration of dry walls in the Cinque Terre is particularly astonishing.
Most of this vertiginous, vertical landscape is planted with grapevines. The temperature is mild here most of the year, but blustery winter and spring winds are the bane of local grape-growers.
Strong winds explain why on any of the dozens of trails that scale these vineyards you come across heather and chestnut tree branches skillfully woven together as windbreaks. Locals have been making these windbreaks for centuries.
More on the Hike
To hike the entire Cinque Terre, we’ve put together a series starting with your arrival in Vernazza and continuing. Just use the navigation bar below: