Walking along the Cinque Terre’s Sentiero Azzurro (“Blue Trail”)
The British author Robert Macfarlane, in his famous book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (a must read for every walker) highlights the importance and the meaning of walking on tracks and roads that are many hundreds or even thousands of years old as a way of discovering the landscape and our human roots in it.
There’s undoubtedly something special in walking along ancient tracks. Obviously, the ancient travelers who covered those many miles with simple sandals (or even barefoot) could never have dreamed of our hi-tech trekking boots. Still, following their trails, we can experience something of what it was like to walk in their shoes. Stopping at a particular curve, we can admire the landscape as millions of people have done over the centuries during many different eras of human history — and at the same time, we can feel the same effort every one before us has felt, far back in time.
The Ancient Sentiero Azzurro
Among the multitude of Italy’s ancient tracks and roads, the Sentiero Azzurro (“Blue Track”) in the Cinque Terre is certainly one of the most spectacular. This narrow trail connects all the five villages, starting in Monterosso (the westernmost village of the Cinque Terre) and ending after 12 km (7.5 miles) in Riomaggiore (the easternmost village). Along the way it passes through olive and lemon groves, and behind every leaf and building offers marvelous views of the bright blue of the Mediterranean sea, with its beauty, history and wildlife. And for centuries, from the Middle ages until recent times, this path served as the sole means of communication by land for the local inhabitants.
The trail begins in the central square of the old village of Monterosso, and immediately starts climbing through vineyards and terraced fields, crossing streams and going by a few farmhouses. Then it descends into Vernazza, the second of the Cinque Terre and one of the most astonishing, with its typical colorful houses and quaint harbor.
From the village’s little harbor, the trail starts climbing again on a typical arpaia (“staircase”) to reach the medieval tower that once guarded the village from Saracen pirates. When the borough ends, the Mediterranean scrubland begins, full of fragrant rosemary and prickly pear cactus. The track leads to the little hamlet of Prevo and then continues to the church of San Pietro in Corniglia, the only village in the Cinque Terre with no direct access to the sea. Perched high upon a promontory, Corniglia has been known for its wine since Roman times..
From here, another staircase links the village back to the Sentiero Azzurro. Running parallel to the beach below, the trail proceeds to Manarola, with stupendous views up and down the coast. Manarola, the fourth of the Cinque Terre, hosts each Christmas the biggest presepe in the world, a nativity scene made of dozens of characters placed on a mountainside.
From Manarola to the final village of Riomaggiore, the Sentiero Azzurro coincides with the Via dell’Amore (“Lovers’ Lane”), a road carved in the rock that is famous for its romantic atmosphere and its wonderful sea landscapes.
Walking along the Sentiero Azzurro is a unique experience, allowing you to move through space and time at the same slow pace people have been traveling for centuries, and in that way discover one of Italy’s most fascinating territories.