(Edited from AP) Catchy harmonica music wafts across the cafe umbrellas that line the minuscule harbor of this conch-shaped village, squeezed between vine-covered hills and the Mediterranean Sea. The Cinque Terre, one of the most scenic (and overrun) stretches of the Italian coast.

There, the only tunes are cicadas above and pounding waves below. Bursts of purple bougainvillea and glimmers of silvery olive trees provide the splashes of color. And rather than sipping cocktails in a cafe, hungry hikers get to feast guilt-free on sublime seafood specialties at locals-only restaurants not far from the trails.

(Edited from AP) Catchy harmonica music wafts across the cafe umbrellas that line the minuscule harbor of this conch-shaped village, squeezed between vine-covered hills and the Mediterranean Sea. The Cinque Terre, one of the most scenic (and overrun) stretches of the Italian coast.

There, the only tunes are cicadas above and pounding waves below. Bursts of purple bougainvillea and glimmers of silvery olive trees provide the splashes of color. And rather than sipping cocktails in a cafe, hungry hikers get to feast guilt-free on sublime seafood specialties at locals-only restaurants not far from the trails.

SENTIERO AZZURRO (TRAIL): This 9-mile (15-kilometer) “azure trail” links the five villages of Cinque Terre and provides a way to experience them as something other than a series of postcard views with a “for rent” sign in English in virtually every window.

The hardest and most rewarding stretch is from Monterosso to Vernazza and on to Corniglia. Climbing nearly 1,500 feet (450 meters) up the dark-green hills, the unpaved, rocks-strewn trail meanders among olive trees, fragrant shrubs, and gnarled pines.

On a July weekend, there are only two kinds of fellow hikers: awestruck tourists who were more likely to say “hi” than “ciao,” and taciturn Liguri tending the fantastically terraced vineyards that cling to the cliffs.

After passing through the main piazza of Vernazza, huddled between the church and a black castle tower, the trail takes off again on the cliffside unto Corniglia, perched high on a hilltop. Then it gets back to sea level and, at Manarola, becomes a wide, paved passeggiata known as the “Via dell’Amore” (the way of love) that ends in Riomaggiore, where the train takes you back to Monterosso.

Last stop, La Brinca restaurant, which serves up the vegetable-and-meat cuisine of inland Liguria, like springy lettuce wraps in hot bouillon. Only an arduous day on the trail can justify its gargantuan antipasto-to-dolce meal.

Beyond jaw-dropping views (and dishes), walking the trails of Liguria is to get right inside the poems of native son and Nobel Prize-winning poet Eugenio Montale. One of his most celebrated verses, “Meriggiare pallido e assorto,” turns a stroll under the blinding sun on a pallid afternoon into a melancholy existential metaphor.

But there are sadder ways to live than, as Montale puts it, walking alongside a “scorching orchard wall” as “scales of sea pulsate far away among branches” on the Riviera’s trails.


If You Go…
GETTING THERE: Fly into Genoa, in the middle of the Riviera, then travel by train: http://www.ferroviedellostato.it

WALKS: All walks are enjoyable year-round, best in late spring and early fall. Anyone in any shape can do the Giardini Hanbury, the Lungomare Europa and the Manarola-to-Riomaggiore part of the Cinque Terre hike; the rest are best for the moderately fit. The Hanbury gardens (www.giardinihanbury.com) and the Sentiero Azzurro (www.parconazionale5terre.it) charge a small admission fee.

RESTAURANTS: Lilliput in Noli, 011-39-019-748009. Baracun in Alpicella, http://www.ubaracun.it. Ristorante del Mulino da Drin, at Punta Chiappa, 011-39-0185-770530. La Brinca in Ne, http://www.labrinca.it.

 

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