A vertical sea – exploring Liguria’s Cinque Terre on foot



“The oceans bed is where my dreams swim boundless
Preparing to arise again
They bloom and glow like flowers in the water
And in a moment
To the sky they open”
(Cristina Donà)

These words of the Italian singer-songwriter Cristina Donà come to mind when I think of these few days lived as if in a dream that embraces the infinite sky of the coastal mountains of Liguria, a dream as blue as the space between Heaven and Earth. And you feel as if you are touching the sky, here at the sanctuary of Madonna di Soviore, walking through thick clouds, while the sun shines brightly a few hundred metres below you on the coast.


Head in the clouds, feet in the sea is a common image here around this iconic stretch of the long Ligurian coastline, the Cinque Terre, named after the 5 fishing villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Sea and mountains in one day, or even in less than two hours, is what you’ll find here, but you have to make the effort to earn these breathtaking views. Hundreds of stone steps follow vertical paths through vineyards, citrus groves and Mediterranean macchia. Crêuza de mä, which literally means “sea path” or sea crossing, is what the locals call these centuries-old paths in Ligurian dialect. They were once the only means of communication to reach the hinterland from the tiny fishing ports: today, winding asphalt roads and railway tunnels have taken precedence over sea transport. However, by far the best way to explore these picture postcard landscapes is still the easiest: on foot, as there are many trails suitable for different levels of fitness.

View over Monterosso
View over Vernazza
The colourful village of Riomaggiore
The colourful village of Riomaggiore

Today we chose a more demanding route: a 500 metre climb up the slopes of Monte Soviore on our way from Monterosso to Vernazza. The green hills of late spring are dotted with color: the red of poppies, the yellow of broom, the pink of the occasional rose in the hillside gardens. Spring is also a good time to escape the large crowds that populate the narrow paths during the summer months, and the temperatures are pleasant for walking.

Stop for a view from Corniglia
Stop for a view from Corniglia

The next day, we hike on from Vernazza, with its characteristic medieval tower towards Corniglia, along the Sentiero Azzuro, the “deep blue trail”. We cross the lemon groves and steep vineyards where a local sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, is produced. Spring flowers, red poppies and yellow broom brighten up the path, with the blue of the sea in the background, like a painting. Corniglia is the only one of the five villages that does not have direct access to the sea; the houses are nestled on a rocky spur overlooking the sea, the heart of the village is a tiny public square, where we stop for lunch in the shade of old plane trees.

Arrival at a viewpoint to Manarola
Arrival at a viewpoint to Manarola

In the afternoon, we continue our way towards south and the village of Manarola. Here, we choose again an alternative path a bit higher on the hill that brings us to the tiny mountain village of Volastra. The views on Manarola, as we are approaching, are breath-taking: with its colorful houses, Manarola is possibly the cutest fishermen’s village on the entire coast. From here, it is only a short walk of about one hour again up the hills to the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, another highlight with yet again charming fishermen’s houses in a Mediterranean style. Tired from this long hiking day, we decide to take a boat from Riomaggiore back to Monterosso and the experience of the coastline is again a different one, seen from the sea.


On our final day, we start at Monterosso and take the coastal path heading through the nature reserve of Punta Mesco towards Levanto: we leave this place as we approached it – on foot. Going home, with a distinct feeling of leaving home. A feeling that Bruce Chatwin, the cantor of modern nomadism, expressed with these words:

Man’s true home is not a house, it is the road. Life itself is a journey to be made on foot.

Traveller tips

- Best period for hiking the Cinque Terre: May-June and September- October
- Where to stay: Best option is Levanto, a small, quirky seaside town with large sand beaches, just 5 min by train from Monterosso, the first of the Cinque Terre villages. Here, a good place for travellers is Hotel Oasi.
- Where to eat: Try local food in Levanto at Osteria Tumelin (sea food) and La Picea (Pizza).

© all pictures by Zsuzsanna Gaal and Robert Weis

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