Going for a walk? Get up, eat breakfast, start walking, stop for lunch... You get the picture. It's not complicated, and that's the point. But in Liguria's Cinque Terre region there's more than 'just' going for a walk to think of. Because walking the ancient ways between coastal and hill villages, traversing vineyards, olive groves and cliff-top trails, is simply the very lovely glue which binds the other highlights of the region – namely the five ancient fishing villages at the heart of the Cinque Terre National Park, and all the culture, food and history that goes with them.
The scale of the region is distinctly human-friendly, with modest walking distances between staging posts. But the novice Liguria walker shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking it's all easy (it's not) or that you won't have enough to fill your day (you will). Precisely because the bits in between the walking are so enjoyable, they demand more than just a passing glance before you yomp onwards and upwards – the beach is to be swum from, not just admired in passing; those intriguing steps up from the harbour must be investigated, not just glanced at, and the cool of that church interior should be savoured even if the guidebooks don’t rate its frescoes…
To get you off on the right foot, here's an outline of a typical Cinque Terre walking day, with insider tips:
Get up early
The photographer's magic hour is equally lovely – more so, quite probably – if you're not faffing about with photo stops. Just drink it in with your eyes, as well as all your other senses, taking a turn along the beach before heading for...
Almost always a pleasant surprise in these parts. Though not traditionally a big event in Italy, at its best it's an opportunity for indulgence: go easy on the sensible elements (muesli, bacon, eggs, hams and cheeses are often available) to leave room for bite-sized, often sweet, taste-bombs – cakes of all kinds, macaroons and nutty biscotti. All of which could have been dreamt up simply to create the ultimate accompaniment to…
Whether it’s espresso, cappuccino or anything in between, I shouldn’t need to say much about it, surely? We are in Italy, after all, where they don’t waste words talking about coffee, they just drink it (and love it). Take your time over all of this, but not too much, keeping in mind there will be more coffee later in the morning, quite possibly somewhere spectacular.
Although no-one should be rushing (especially not up the hills we've arranged for you), you should aim to do much of your walking in the relative cool of the early part of the day. Steep stone staircases winding through terraced olive groves up into thickly forested hillside are a meditative joy at a gentle pace; less so if you’re rushing.
There are so many approaches, it’s hard to know where to start. The option to picnic should be on your list, though if you find yourself in one of the coastal villages at the appropriate time of day, how about a typical local snack such as fritto misto or focaccia? There is also the nuclear option: a full-on sit-down meal served over an hour or two, probably with wine. This reduces your afternoon options but elevates one of them to essential status: falling asleep on the beach. What it doesn’t allow (if you’ve made a proper job of it) is…
Continuing your Walk
Obviously only if you’re capable/need to. The typical perfect picnic spot will need to be gently descended from, savouring the thought that it’s downhill all the way to your next ice-cream; equally, a village stop half-way through your walk leaves you with a bit still to do, though with the excellent train service linking the Cinque Terre villages, that needn’t involve much effort. After all, there’s a very long list of things to explore in the region, so relax a little, and don’t worry about the walks being too short; instead cultivate that fine Italian art of doing not that much, in style.