Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wednesday hiking - Corniglia, Volastra, Manarola via trail 6

On the most savored and sacred day of the week, Wednesday, we decided to do something different.  This year has given us both new, different and welcome responsibilities that mean that Wednesday has so far been a day we spend usually with our couch.  Watching the Sopranos.  Eating pizza.  Oddly, Italy and New Jersey are strikingly similar in some ways.
Instead, when we got up and saw a big giant sun outside the window and we decided to get hiking.  As I've mentioned before, I am a big chicken, shockingly clumsy, and more or less a danger to myself.  Needless to say, hiking on narrow, rocky trails that lace mountainsides is not necessarily my idea of fun.  But I recently read a silly internet meme or something of the like that said "What would you do if you knew you would never be afraid and you could never fail?", and for some reason it struck a chord in me.  I was ready to go hiking.

Not great with knee problems

Originally, I wanted to hike from the nearby village of Manarola up to it's frazione (or little side town that is still technically part of the town, though farther up the hill) to Volastra via trail 6.  I somehow figured that this was not too petrifying or too far to really scare me, though some advice from more sporty friends turned us towards the longer trail starting at Corniglia, on to Volastra, then picking up the trail back down into Manarola.  
It was one of the best things I've ever done in my life.
Sheer dropoff on the side, but worth it for this view!
I didn't know quite what to expect, which for me can be a huge anxiety trigger, as I didn't have time to previously google image the Corniglia-Volastra trail (if you are laughing, this means that you know I am not kidding at all).  I was petrified of sheer drops, sharp turns and giant death bees.  I have decided that 3 happy hiking hours later I am still petrified of death bees, but can deal with the aforementioned two things provided they have a view this breathtaking.

From Corniglia, my secret favorite of the Cinque Terre, you loop up (and up, and up...) on the mountainside through the lush green and woods until it levels out a bit about halfway to the next stop, Volastra.  The nicest part is that though you are inland for many parts, you always have the great blue sea in the distance, and different viewpoints of the most picturesque town of the Cinque Terre.  Corniglia pops up on the right, on the left, through the trees and vines, a reassuring and colorful speck amidst all the green and blue.
Hi Manarola!
The trail leveled off after about 45 minutes, though certain portions are quite narrow with very steep steps and some sharp and sheer drop-offs underneath.  The more level part is also quite narrow, but breathtaking.  You walk through the green vines, through the wildflowers, squinting at the glare of the sun off of the turquoise Ligurian sea, and just cannot help but stop and smile and say, "wow".  A lot.

When you arrive in little, charming Volastra, you can take a little minibus down to Manarola if you like, but we continued on to some (about 500) unpleasant steps down into Manarola on the next part of trail 6.  The stone stairs are a bit of a pain in the ankle, so to speak, but after you arrive at a part that has less "steps" but more sort of steep parts down.  If you have some leg issues or vertigo this might not be for you.  I was ok with it, but twice when Manu encouraged me to look at the view, I happily declined and continued walking.  This part of the trail took us about 45 minutes, but we went quickly trying to avoid the singing French hikers just behind us.  The whole thing, with LOTS of stops for pictures and a sorbetto in Volastra, took us just under 3 hours.

Beautiful Corniglia

The most amazing thing about this trail is that you walk through the vines, through the terraces and over the little grape "monorails" for a good part of it.

I think that for someone to really appreciate and understand the wine culture here and to fully experience the territory, this is the trail you need to hike, not the always talked about and fawned over trail 2.  We stopped a few times and started chatting with other hikers, and once they found out that Manuel was actually from here, they all asked him, each time, if he ever got sick of this view, if living here he was still able to appreciate what he had around him.  He smiled each time, and answered perfectly, "You never get sick of it.  It's amazing".
From one side, Corniglia
From the other side, Manarola amidst the vines, the terraces, and the little grape train
Sitting on a stoop overlooking this hill laced with terraces filled with budding vines, Corniglia shyly peeking out in the distance on the right and Manarola grinning on the left, I found myself thinking that this viewpoint, this picture, perfectly sums up the backbreaking centuries of hard work the locals have put in to these terraces and the cultivation of the land.  This is truly a national park.  You cannot see this view without agreeing wholeheartedly that this area is certainly deserving as it's UNESCO World Heritage status.  It's magical.

Wildflowers and Manarola

Salad bar, Italian style in someone's garden outside Volastra

Corniglia from above

A rocky part of the trail

Friday, May 2, 2014

Oh Christine, where have you been?

I'm not forgetting this blog, pinky swear.  But I have a quite a bit on my plate right now, and for a great reason.  I got another job!
I'm working with another lovely American gal for her travel planning company here in Italy doing social media and excursions and so forth - it's a little company called Bella Vita Italia, and it's great to actually be using my degrees for something slightly more relevant (though with food studies, you can certainly argue that running the Cantina counts).
Beyond that, Rick Steves has been here the past week filming, the 25th is an Italian holiday (Liberation Day), the 1st was Labor Day here and needless to say, I haven't had much blogging time.
But here I am, safe and sound and happily busy :)
Happy May!