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The Art of Terrazzamenti

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The Art of Terrazzamenti

The Cinque Terre region of Italy is well known for its hiking trails and there are many to choose from! During 2017 I chose some of the higher trails that went between towns and included the sanctuaries. This day’s hike was from Corniglia (the middle of five towns) to Manarola (the next town to the south) via the town of Volastra high in the mountains.

The hike starts well before the trail if you take the train to Corniglia! Corniglia sits up on a cliff and of course the train station is at sea level. You can ‘cheat’ and take the bus from the train station to the town or you can do one of the 10 ‘must-do’ things in Cinque Terre, that is climb to Corniglia via the Lardarina stairway with 382 steps. Of course I chose the Lardarina.

After a little sightseeing in Corniglia, I set off for Manarola via Routes 7a, 6d and 6, an 8 km hike. The route provides great views of the Ligurian Sea (what the Mediterranean is called in this little corner of the world) as well as both the towns of Corniglia toward the beginning of the hike and Manarola toward the end. This hike also takes you through the vineyards up on the hillsides where the ‘art of terrazzamenti’ is quite evident. Terrazzamenti simply means terracing, although it sounds more poetic in Italian. This part of the trail is particularly beautiful, letting you see the sinuous patterns of the terrace walls that seem to be in good repair and the new grape vines sprouting bright green in the springtime. Terracing is a solution adopted in agriculture to make cultivable areas out of steeply sloped hillside. The technique of building the walls in Cinque Terre to provide the terraces has been used for centuries but with the advent of tourism, some farmers have abandoned farming for more lucrative tourism.

This trail is narrow, sometimes with barely enough room for passing someone going in the other direction. At the viewpoints above this terraced area, there was quite a traffic jam since everyone stopped for photos! You definitely had to keep one eye on the scenery and one on the trail if you didn’t want to slip off the edge.

Although I am an avid walker and love to hike, the trails in Cinque Terre were a challenge to my previously and long ago injured knees. Uphill is a breeze, downhill is torture. On this day, I’d already had a morning hike so this was my second hike of the day and my knees weren’t happy! I alternately told myself ‘I must be crazy hiking with painful knees’ and ‘I came to 5terre to hike and I am NOT going to miss the opportunity!’. However when I spied the town of Manarola in the distance (in the upper right of the photo), I made up my mind that my first stop….even before gelato…would be at the trekking shop to get some trekking poles. I’d been at the shop previously and knew they had extensive supplies and selection. Until this day, I’d always thought hiking poles were more of a nuisance but at this point my knees needed help! I was trying to stay ‘in the moment’ and enjoy the experience but I was pretty much counting every step on the downhill!

The end of the story was I DID make it down, I DID get hiking poles, I DID have a gelato, I DID buy some Voltaren (topical NSAID which is OTC in Europe but Rx in the US) and….you might have guessed….headed off for my third hike to make it back to my ‘home’ town of Riomaggiore. I cannot say my knees were happy but the rest of me was.