Prior to 2011, most people in recent decades have used the Via dell’Amore to walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It’s a coastal trail, relatively flat, I hear you can even take a baby stroller on it. Total time – maybe 20 minutes. However, the 2011 floods closed this trail and it has yet to reopen, so if I was going to walk to Manarola it would be via “the high trail” or “the 531”.
The lady at the visitor center where they sell the trail passes spoke very good English and said the good news is there is no charge to walk that trail. The bad news is it is very difficult. I asked again – “You call it the 531 trail?” “Yes – you can’t miss it.” I said I think I would give it a try.
So as I was walking towards where this trail was to start, I came across 3 guys that sounded American. They were from Philadelphia and Toronto, Ontario, so they were technically North American. They were also planning on walking the 531. Then I look behind us as we walk up a winding road and I see a familiar face – someone I had met maybe 30 minutes earlier.
While I had been resting in the shade on the rocks of Riomaggiore harbor, this boat arrive with three people; two gentlemen dressed alike and a woman. Aside from getting their prop tangled in one of the mooring lines of another boat, they dropped of the lady on the rocks in front of me. One guy turns to me and asks me in some strange form of Italian what sounded like “Come ti chiama….” What’s my name? What else did he say? Who is this guy? So I reply I don’t understand. The other guy with a heavy French accent says “You speak English?” “Yes.” “What’s the name of this place?” “Riomaggiorre.”
Who are these people? They land their boat on the Italian coastline and have no idea where they are? This is a small speedboat. They must have come from nearby, right? Then I hear “We missed it by one.” They say something in French, the lady walks by and says thank you, while the guys start working on unfouling their prop.
Now this lady was right behind me – within talking distance. So I ask her, in Italian, is she walking to Manarola. She replies “No Italian. I walk to Manarola.” To be honest, I didn’t think the walk would be that bad. Look at the photo above – that’s the beginning of the trail. It’s called the 531 trail because it starts at house number 531 on the street. In the end, it took about 75 minutes for the boat lady and I to complete the trail as we passed each other probably a dozen times, and 90 minutes for the three North Americans (which I learned later in the day when we ran into each other in Corniglia!). It was a rough hike for a non-hiker in tennis shoes, but very memorable.
By the time I arrived in Manarola, I was soaked. Then I arrived at the bay and wished I had worn my swimming trunks! Manarola is a nice town, but I definitely enjoyed the journey more than the destination. It seems to be the smallest village in the Cinque Terre as well. I explored a bit, then decided to head back to La Spezia, grab some swimming trunks, and take the train to Monterosso for some swimming. Here’s some shots from Manarola.
After a quick trip to the room, it was on to Monterosso. Honestly, Monterosso didn’t speak to me at all. I was hot and a little tired, so I wasn;t at my best, but it felt very touristy. As the largest town in the Cinque Terre, is also appeared to be the most accessible by car. But I will probably remember Monterosso for three things: most of the beaches were full, so access was denied to any additional people; it was the first time I saw that riviera-like arrangement of beach umbrellas; and it is where I first went swimming in any part of the Meditteranean.
Maybe for some people my favorite villages of the Cinque would be too small. The nice thing is every village has it’s own personality, so it’s worth seeing them all! Here’s my favorite shots from Monterosso. All the color shots in this entire post are Ektar 100, and the Black & White are Svema 64.