I RAN away to explore the world at the tender age of 18, and even though I’ve yet to come across a country that owns my heart like Ireland does, I always feel at home when I’m in Italy.
Italy is a country that I adore. She has it all: coast, mountains, skiing, sunbathing, great food, art, history, culture, show-stopping architecture and the Italians know how to party!
So, at just a two-hour flight away from Dublin, I’m never one to refuse the opportunity to get my backside to Italy.
Lately, I’ve become a fan of the walking holiday; after my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago earlier this year I researched other famous walking routes across Europe and came across Cinque Terre – a UNESCO world heritage site on the north-east coast of Italy, between Genoa and Pisa.
Cinque Terre literally translates to ‘five lands’ and that’s exactly what it is. The rugged coastline draws a u-shape with five darling towns dotted along the edge, looking as though one little shake and they’d topple over in to the Ligurian Sea.
Arriving in Monterosso, I got my first view of the sea and took a few moments to deeply inhale the fresh sea air and absorb the views.
The streets were cobblestoned, buildings painted bright pastel colours with smiling locals, and even in November the sun was glorious.
Enjoying a coffee while sitting at a boardwalk out on the seaside, I felt a million miles away from the stress of work. Life moves at a different pace in Italy – and even a step slower in Cinque Terre.
Taking the local train from Monterosso – which is the most northerly of the five towns to Riomaggiore – I arrived to walk through a tunnel along the Via dell’Amore (The Way of Love).
You have to give it to the Italians – they love an aul’ bit of romance. It’s one of the most beautiful coastal walks in the world, so they named it aptly, don’t you think?
After a long day travelling, I was a little disheartened to realise that Riomaggiore is embedded into the hills and my hotel was – yes, you’ve guessed it – up at the very top.
Anyway, soldiering on up, I got myself to the top. The climb – awful as it was – was so worth it. The views from my hotel balcony were so perfect it was like staring at a postcard.
Up and out early the next morning, I had plans of walking the full boardwalk from Riomaggiore through Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and finish off having lunch in Monterosso before getting the local train back to my hotel in Riomaggiore.
It didn’t quite go according to plan … the stretch of the Via dell’Amore boardwalk between Riomaggiore and Manarola is closed off for repair work, so it was up and over the hills with me.
The hills are steep enough and the climb is physically challenging, but every time you look over your shoulder, the views get better and better and the sense of achievement gets stronger and stronger.
The climb down from the peak into Manarola is steep. Although all five towns look alike, they each have their own distinct character. Manarola has tiny winding streets – if you stretch out your arms, you can reach the houses on both sides!
Although there is a small beach in Monterosso, Cinque Terre isn’t a beach holiday. It’s purely all about the walking routes and views and wine – definitely about the wine.
All the locals grow grapes in their gardens, so every shop, restaurant and hotel sell wines produced with their very own hands. There’s something very beautiful about that.
There’s a lot to be said for the walking holiday versus a beach or partying holiday (or maybe it’s just that I’m getting old).
The thing about a walking holiday is when you get home you feel completely fresh and revitalised.
It’s almost like being out in the fresh air all day scrubs out the brain of clutter and stress and every step you take is a step further from your troubles. Something that gives you that result is certainly worth trying.
My holiday was a week long, booked through OneFootABroad.com who supplied me with all maps and walking notes and advice on which walk to choose on certain days.
They also gave me an emergency helpline number. I flew in to Milan with Ryanair.