A walk in the park – Italian style

By ALICE BRATT, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

The Cinque Terre — or “Five Lands” — region is found along the northwest coast of Italy and comprises five towns — each town distinct, each incredible. (Shutterstock)

MONTEROSSA, Italy — The Cinque Terre — or “Five Lands” — region is found along the northwest coast of Italy and comprises the five towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — each town distinct, each incredible, all connected by hiking trails along the rocky cliffs.

The Cinque Terre -- or "Five Lands" -- region is found along the northwest coast of Italy and comprises five towns - each town distinct, each incredible. (Shutterstock)

The Cinque Terre -- or "Five Lands" -- region is found along the northwest coast of Italy and comprises five towns - each town distinct, each incredible. (Shutterstock)

The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all encapsulated in Cinque Terre National Park, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The terraced landscape of this area is truly a sight to behold. Around every corner you’ll discover stunning vistas of land and sea.

Our one week in Cinque Terre was spent in the charming town of Monterosso al Mare. Like the other towns, Monterosso is perched precariously along this rugged coast. Like the other towns, Monterosso boasts the pretty, pastel-coloured houses and terraced vineyards and olive groves. But unlike the other towns, Monterosso is home to the Societa Agraria Buranco, located at the top of Via Buranco — an invigorating five-minute uphill walk from the sea.

Buranco is an agricultural farm (agri-turismo in Italian) where guests stay at one of three lovely cottages. All are fully equipped with a kitchen, private washroom and comfortable sleeping quarters. There is ample space between the three cottages for privacy.

You are surrounded not only by the vineyards and olive groves, but also by the fragrant lemon groves and busy bee hives. The Buranco wines, olive oil and honey are all available for purchase — and these, you will want to purchase as their purity and quality are second to none.

The grounds feature several walking paths, a secret garden and an open-air veranda where mother and daughter, Loredana and Meriolina are the gracious and fun-loving hosts of this little piece of paradise. Angelo manages the estate and Brigida provides the traditional Italian morning repast of coffee and sweets.

Friendlier people, you will not find.

Days were spent soaking up the sun. Monterosso is home to the largest beach of the Cinque Terre. The warm, crystal blue water of the Ligurian Sea invites you to take the 200 metre swim to an outcrop of rocks that shelters the bay. Sunbathers can rent beach or lounge chairs at a cost of 10-15 euros (about $15-23) per person, per day.

No trip to Cinque Terre is complete without hiking the trails that link the five towns. The terrain satisfies both serious hikers and novices.

Our hike began in Monterosso on a hot, humid day. The trail from Monterosso to the next town — Vernazza — is arguably the most challenging of the 11-km “Blue” trail; however, hikers are rewarded with stunning vistas. After an hour and a half of rigorous hiking, we happily descended into Vernazza, exhausted yet eager to check out the local shops and restaurants.

After a brief visit, a bite to eat and replenishment of water, we continued to Corniglia, which is perched atop perilous cliffs rising 384 steps from the sea. From there, we continued — past cliff-divers — to the charming town of Manarola.

Approaching the end of the hike, the trail’s intensity lessens as it flows to the last town along the Via dell-Amore, or Lovers’ Walk: An easy stroll marked in areas with “lovers’ graffiti.” On arrival in Riomaggiore, we thoroughly enjoyed well-deserved, thirst-quenching, cold Moretti beer and sparkling Prosecco to toast our completion of the five-hour trek. Thankfully, we were able to take a boat ride back to our starting point.

If you go, don’t forget to bring your camera as the views from your walk and from the boat are definitely picture-worthy.

If hiking is not your style, a train runs between towns throughout the day at a very modest cost. All five towns are definitely worth exploring.

Nights were for dining under the stars, al fresco. Fish naturally, is plentiful and local specialties include anchovies, mussels and branzino (sea bass). The pesto — well, let’s just say you’ll never taste anything better on a plate of homemade pasta.

Among the highlights were a wonderful restaurant called “Ciak” in the old town square, tasty pizza at Jonathan’s and a spectacular view and fine dining at L’Ancora della Tortuga overlooking the sea. Nightly musical entertainment helps you dance off dinner in the main piazza surrounded by the balmy breezes gently blowing off the Ligurian Sea.

As in all parts of Italy, you’ll usually find an open-air market on any day of the week. In Monterosso, market day is Friday. Vendors from the local area sell everything from fresh produce, fish and cheeses to housewares, clothing and shoes. Market day is popular with locals and visitors alike.

Boat tours to other nearby towns offer daily excursions. We took a day-trip to Portofino, a little gem of a place only 45 minutes by boat from Monterosso. The town square, with its bright houses and the marina with its fairytale yachts is home to many of the rich and famous. You’ll find all the designer stores here.

Fabulous restaurants will tempt you with the local favourite, homemade pasta with pesto, but don’t forget to leave a little room for the inevitable gelato. Dozens of flavours in a rainbow of colours are available at any of the many gelaterias in the area.

Portovenere, in the opposite direction to Portofino is an equally stunning town, which also has received World Heritage status from UNESCO. It is dominated by Doria castle, which is open to visitors. Saint Peter’s church, built in 1277 in Genoese gothic style, with alternating bands of black and white stone, stands tall at the entrance of town.

Memorable is a word sometimes over-used. But in this case, it cannot be said enough to describe the area of Cinque Terre and specifically the town and the people of Monterosso.

IF YOU GO TO ITALY’S CINQUE TERRE

– More information

There are daily trains to Monterossa from La Spezia. For details on Societa Agraria Buranco, see burancocinqueterre.it. For more on travel in Italy, visit the Italian Government Tourism Board italiantourism.com.

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