The Cinque Terre coastal villages were introduced last post. But there is something you need to know. The best bit about the 5 Terre is their hill trails.
You can walk the 24 miles from Levanto to Portovenere, keep to the wooded hills, and barely touch on the Cinque Terre coast that lies in between. Not only can you do that: if you are in the area, I recommend that you do.
You start in Levanto, a quiet, stately town, refreshingly free of pickpockets and panhandlers - an indication that few foreign tourists visit. Yet it is as nice in its way as the Cinque terre, and includes a good surfing beach.
In the hills:
From Levanto, a wooded trail heads up into the hills. Stay high until la Cigoletta. We then headed down towards Manarola via its hill sanctuary, Volastra.
Manarola from the trail to Volastra:
There is a good reason to head down, splitting the walk in two. The entire trail is 38km, so doing the whole thing in a day in the Mediterranean heat is a serious undertaking. Also, the trail down from Volastra is beautiful. And oh yes, we were staying in Manarola!
Riomaggiore from the sea:
The second day started with a calf-bursting ascent then rapid descent to Riomaggiore, followed by an immediate steep climb out of Riomaggiore towards its sanctuary church of Montenero.
Volastra from near Montenero:
In the church a hymn was being sung. As the chorus swelled the hairs on my arms pricked. I had heard that vocal chord change before. That bell had tolled in the distance before. It was a fragment of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. It was a Spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood. Suddenly the cactus that littered the trails made sense.
"Where are you going?" said a man behind me.
I turned to him, chewing a metaphorical cheroot. "Il Telegrafo."
"Where are you going?" The spell was broken. He was oblivious to me, talking into his mobile phone to someone else. Talking in English. At least he was American.
We continued uphill.
At Il Telegrafo we were back on the hill trail. This is a pleasant forest walk, with far fewer people around. There were fewer views, but a delicious coolness in the shade, the constant scuttle of lizards fleeing our approach.
In the hills above La Spezia:
Finally we arrived in Portovenere - a classy town with a big castle, a place that seemed better set up for crowds than the Cinque Terre, perhaps due to its substantial harbour area. A tourist ferry took us back to Manarola. We'd seen far fewer people than on the famous Cinque Terre coastal trail, and had enjoyed the walk more.
Do you know what? Reading back on the last two posts, I obviously prefer walking in cool empty areas with no over-charging or petty thieves. Perhaps I should just stay at home.