If there’s one thing I hate, it is getting up early. But if there’s one thing I hate even more, it is crowds. And the unfortunate thing about Italy’s Cinque Terre being so beautiful is that everyone and their mother wants to visit, making the crowds pretty crushing at times.
During my visit, I knew I wanted to do a bit of hiking. Since the devastating floods and mudslides hit the area in 2011, some trails have been closed on and off for repairs, meaning that a few of the routes I wanted to hike were not open during my visit. Luckily, the hike I most wanted to make – the one with the iconic view of Vernazza’s harbor – was up and running. And I knew two things: I wanted to make the journey before the crushing midday heat, and before the equally crushing throng of hikers descended on the trail.
I woke to a beeping alarm clock at 7am and…got out of bed somewhat begrudgingly, albeit less begrudgingly than usual. After a quick breakfast, I set out, taking the trail out of Vernazza and upward.
Along the way, I encountered almost nobody, just as I had hoped. The trails were blissfully empty, save a few ambitious early morning joggers and a handful of locals, puttering around in their hillside gardens and terraced fields. And the views…the views were spectacular.
I have this memory, from the first time I hiked the Cinque Terre in 2005, of utter exhaustion mixed with exhilaration. Every time I found myself getting annoyed at the endless climb – up, up, and up – I would catch a glimpse of something spectacular: the blue sea sparkling below, the colorful houses dotting each town, the wild flowers growing along the path.
It was a lot like that this time around, though a bit less stressful given the cooler temps and empty trails. Sometimes I felt tired, but getting to the top, getting to the point where I could look down and see Vernazza’s jewel of a harbor below, splendid as ever in the soft morning light, made me remember that any weariness was temporary. I felt like I could have stayed at the top forever, content to admire the world below in tranquil silence. It was well worth rising early.