When the coastal path is closed, there’s only one thing to be done – make like superman and go up, up and away.
The next town up the coast from us is Corniglio. It sits on the next headland around a gently curved bay and is probably about two kilometres away as the seagull flies, perhaps three kilometres on foot following the curve of the bay. But there’s no way to walk around the bay at the moment with the Sentiero Azzurro or Blue Path closed. Nothing daunted, we decided to try the inland red path instead. We did a bit of research and found some good descriptions from other bloggers to give us some idea what to expect. So, in spite of the fact that the map provided by the Cinqe Terre National Parks Service is almost worse than useless, we set out with the view that we couldn’t go too far wrong on a mild Spring day.
The Blue path hugs the coats just above the Sea. The Red Path in stark contrast follows a ridge-line at the top of the surrounding hills. That explains why in the first hour we travelled about a kilometre horizontally but about 500m vertically. We moved steadily up through terraces of vines through to terraces full of olive trees with rolled nets waiting to be spread to catch the harvest later in the year. Even on a hazy day the views over the Mediterranean were expansive and we were soon marvelling at how small Manerola looked from up above.
In theory the trail is marked with blazes of red and white. And they do exist. However in somewhat Italian fashion they seem to exist more often on straight paths where you have no choice about where to go than at the junctions. Luckily someone had taken pity on the walking public and whitewashed in a few arrows to keep you moving. My guess is that the local farmers were getting sick of people wandering into their yards and so decided to keep trekkers on track.
The track starts out with a sort of rough cobblestone running between the walls of the hillside terraces. That upward bash is by far the hardest part of the entire walk. Once you reach the contour-line about 500m up you actually have a relatively flat walk along a thin path which follows the fields. There are a couple of points where it feels mildly precarious, but nothing like the warnings about safety with kids that some websites seemed to indicate.
About three-quarters of the way into the walk you round a corner and enter an entirely different world. You’re suddenly in deep trees with moss growing on the rock-faces and water dripping. There are birds everywhere and what farming terraces there are generally seemed to have been long abandoned and well on the way to being reclaimed by nature. The exception is one sunlit terrace of fruit trees beside a rushing stream at the low point of the valley.
Once out of the valley you regain the little height you’ve lost and continue on towards Corniglio. After a while it sits tantalising beneath you and you can hear it’s church bells ring out. You realise there’s going to be no gentle descent to the town – rather there’s a steep path forcing you to quickly give up all the elevation you gained a couple of hours earlier.
Corniglio itself is a pleasant little place. It doesn’t have a beach or harbour so the shops are clustered in the streets around a square on to top of the cliff. There are a few tourist shops, several gelateria and quite a few bars and restaurants. The boys had a restorative gelato and then we sat in the square and had lunch.
Had the Blue Path been open we could then have walked back to Manarola. Instead it was the train. We were amused to find that catching the train did involve walking almost a quarter of the way back to Manarola anyway. First we descended 365 steps from the town down to almost sea-level and then walked along beside the track to the tiny train station. The train trip took about two minutes and then we were home.
Unfortunately, in spite of having managed to dress themselves like twins this morning, the boys were having one of those days where they really needed to be in separate countries to avoid constant irritation. The video is pretty much on par for the day. Regardless, they attracted admiring glances from the walkers we passed – who were a veritable united nations of nationalities. Our boys may not be the sportiest on earth, but they certainly know how to handle a long walk with a smile.