Hiking the Cinque Terre is one of the high points of visiting Italy and a magnificent way to enjoy the Italian coastline. The views are absolutely stunning. You have a really good chance of excellent weather in September with its warm sunny days and evenings perfect for eating outside in one of the many restaurants that hug the coastline. I stayed in Monterosso, the largest of the towns connected by the trail.
The day I hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza, the most challenging section of the hike (comprised of a steep path and lots of stone steps) it was absolutely crystal clear. I started out very late in the morning to avoid the early AM crowds comprised of a lot of folks who are aiming for hiking the entire trail in a day – which you can do if you’re in decent shape. If you start early (around 7-8 am) you will basically be one in a long line of many and subjected to their pace as well. It messes with my chi so why not avoid that if your itinerary allows, right? Also, the five towns are connected by a train so you can end your day in any of the them and just hop on the train to get back to your hotel. My plan was to hike the part of the coastline that promised the best views, find a cozy and delicious spot for lunch in Vernazza and just take in la dolce vita. And that’s exactly what I did. Along the way I passed a man selling freshly squeezed lemonade for passers by using fresh lemons from the groves that grow on the hillside – or a sweet alcoholic beverage made from fermented lemons called Limoncello for 2 euro.
When I got to Vernazzo around 3 pm I had slight moment of panic when I found all the restaurants closing up early, and I realized quickly that it must be a patron saint day. Happily, one of the cutest places located in the little historic port was staying open and I was lucky enough to get a table. There I had the best grilled fish of my life, done whole, very simply prepared with loads of fresh rosemary sprigs, lemon, salt, pepper, and of course the local olive oil. With the caraf of chilled white wine to wash it down with, it was a slice of heaven.
Instead of taking the train back to Monterosso I opted for the ferry. I purchased a ticket and was ushered onto the boat, but it turned out that it was heading south. Whoops! Another opportunity to see more coastline from a different perspective so I was psyched! I was let off at Le Spezia and found the bus station just in time to hop on one headed north. The driver was really nice and let me ride for free. I think he figured it was too much trouble to advise me on where to run to buy a ticket. The entire experience, including the unexpected parts which often end up being my favorites, shaped up to be an amazing day. If you want to get to know Italy, the Cinque Terre in the region of Liguria is a must. If possible, go in September when the summer crowds have dissipated but the weather’s still gorgeous and mild.