One of my favorite adventuresome trails in the Cinque Terre runs uphill at an impressive angle for 45 minutes starting at Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the Cinque Terre villages. It leads to the monastery of the Madonna di Montenero.
On this challenging trail you weave among stepped vineyards planted with Albarolo, Bosco and Vermentino grapes, the varietals that are blended together to make Cinque Terre D.O.C. wine. This dry, light white wine is almost unfindable in America. The reason is simple: 9 in 10 bottles of Cinque Terre D.O.C. are enjoyed in Liguria.
The trail also offers a delighful display of olive groves with Lavagnina and Taggiasca olive trees. These local varieties bear tiny, flavorful, black olives. Forests of leaning pine and chestnut trees grow between and above the olive groves and vineyards.
A local Cinque Terre historian I once met says the great-great-grandparent seedlings of these olive, pine and chestnut trees were planted when the trails between the villages were “improved” – by the ancient Romans, in about 155 B.C.
Subtract the two-lane coast road halfway up the hill and the setting does not seem to have changed substantially since Antiquity.
The ancient Romans had strong legs, it’s fair to guess. So do their descendants, some of whom (many are aged over 80) trotted past us as we marched toward our goal. Liguria has one of the world’s highest percentages of centenarians: a healthy, delicious diet, clean air, and lots of walking are key. In the Cinque Terre you simply have to walk, there is no avoiding it.
The Madonna di Montenero monastery’s vantage point is about 1,000 feet above sea level. From it your eye sweeps over the jagged Mediterranean coastline. From one end to the other, Liguria is sprinkled with lavish villas, stone-built villages and the proverbial castles-in-the-air seemingly lifted from fairy tales. On a clear day, from Montenero you can see across the Gulf of Genoa to the Maritime Alps. They etch the western horizon on the border of Italy and France.
Photo copyright Alison Harris
h3. 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: