Hiking Inn to Inn
This past April and May my wife and I spent a month in Italy. About half the trip was an organized tour, and the other half was independent travel. None of it was really a true Walkabout, but we did have a quasi walkabout experience in an area I definitely want to return to someday --- the Cinque Terre. The name means the Five Lands, and it is five tiny fishing villages along a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera seacoast south of Genova, north of La Spezia. Each village is within easy walking distance of the next, and in fact it is possible to visit all five on foot in a single day (but you should really try to relax, and spread them out!).
The trails that connect the towns are spectacular. They wind along dramatic seaside cliffs with amazing views of the sea. The countryside is steep and the hiilsides have mostly been terraced and farmed with all kinds of crops --- grapes, olives, vegetables, herbs and other produce.
The towns are beautiful. Years ago this coast was menaced by Saracen pirates, and five castles were built to protect the area. Fishing villages formed in the protection of each castle. The towns are all nestled into steep ravines that lead down to the water's edge. It seems that every building is painted a unique and vibrantly colorful hue.
The area is a hikers' paradise. The trails are great --- the entire area is an Italian National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site --- but even the towns are a pleasure for walking. Most of the towns have almost no vehicle traffic at all, so you can walk in the streets with no fear of being run over by a car or a pack of scooters. It makes for a very quiet and peaceful pedestrian experience.
In addition to being connected by the networks of great trails, each of the towns has a train station and the narrow guage train runs something like every 20 minutes --- very cheap and easy to get around. There are also boats that run from town to town, and being able to see the towns and coastline from the water is a great treat.
Because we had never been to Italy before, and we wanted a smooth trip, we made reservations in advance in Monterosso al Mare. Making the reservations from the States was not the easiest thing to do, and it seemed like not all the hotels and inns were very good about following up on our inquiries. Part of the problem is that about a year ago there were some very damaging flash floods and mudslides that caused some problems in several of the towns, and at the time we were making reservations, it was uncertain what would be open. From what I hear, it's usually easier to make reservations than what we experienced. There also seem to be lot of affitacamere in each of the towns, and many people just show up and get a room somewhere. When I go again, that is what I will probably do.
On our first day in the area, we dropped our rental car in La Spezia and took the narrow gauge train into the Cinque Terre. Monterosso is at the far end, so we passed through all five train stations before hopping off in our town. We walked about a mile to our inn, so it was great that we had packed Walkabout style with all of our gear in small backpacks --- the streets are steep, sometimes there are cobblestones and sometimes there are stairs, so rolling luggage is not recommended.
We didn't do too much exploring that first day except to find a great restaurant down by the waterfront, and have some of the best seafood and most delicious pesto we had ever had in our lives. Pesto was invented in this region. And the seafood is the best. We had plenty of good wine too. My strategy throughout Italy is to glance at the menu, and then just ask the server what is the local specialty and what is recommended --- you cannot go wrong, and you'll try things you have never heard of before.
The next morning after cappuccinos, croissants, eggs, cold cuts, fruit, and yogurt (included breakfasts at the hotels are great) we hit the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza. We were staying another night in Montorosso, so we did not have to bring our packs, but it would certainly be easily doable to hike from town to town with the packs. We brought a very small daypack with plenty of water, snacks, light sweaters and the camera.
The trail to Vernazza was great, it starts off paved in stone but quickly turns onto a more traditional backcountry trail. You have to pay admission to the trail at a checkpoint not far from the beginning and it comes with a nice trail map.
The trail passes through the terraced farmlands, past residences and along the cliff sides. The views are spectacular. Eventually as you come over a ridge and begin to drop down to Vernazza, you catch the first glimpse of the multi-colored town and its watchtower castle on a point overlooking the harbor. Amazing. The drop into Vernazza is steep and the last bit is stairs that drop you into the main street.
There is plenty of hiker traffic on the trail --- people from all kinds of places the world over out for a great hike together. There was a cute little dog that started the hike in Monterosso. Every now an then he’d pass us on the trail, or we would catch up with him when he sat down to take in the view. We assumed he was with someone, but after awhile it was clear that he was just out on his own --- he probably woke up that morning and thought, “This looks like a nice day for a hike to Vernazza.” When we arrived in Veranzza, there he was walking down the main street. When we sat down for lunch, there he was down at the harbor sitting on the sea wall. Later we saw him inspecting the tractors working on excavating the food damage out of the harbor. I wonder if he walked back to Monterosso that evening, or if he took the train or the ferry.
After lunch, we took the ferry all the way to the first of the Cinque Terre towns Riomaggiore. The boat ride is great, and highly recommended. From there we walked along the Via dell'Amore, a lovely path connecting Riomaggiore to the next town, Manarola. The path is dedicated to love. There is a little bar about halfway along and we stopped off for a couple of drinks, of course.
In Manarola we caught the train back to Moterosso and had another great dinner. The only town we did not visit was Corniglia, so I guess I’m almost obligated to go back. I would have loved to stay longer (about a week would be nice but definitely longer than the two nights we had), but this was the end of our month-long vacation and we had to head home. The next day we caught the train to Milan, and the day after that we flew back to the states.
I think the whole Cinque Terre area would make for great Walkabout country. You could easily hike from town to town carrying a Walkabout Backpack. Or if you like hiking, but don’t want to necessarily move each night, the area is perfect for setting up a home base for a few nights, and exploring the region by foot, boat or train.
Wikipedia has a decent description of the Cinque Terre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinque_Terre
We used Rick Steves’ Italy Guide book to plan our entire Italy trip, including the portion in the Cinque Terre. This is a great book. Rick highly recommends the Cinque Terre as an overlooked destination for travelers to Italy, and I have to agree.
Eric, this sounds like a wonderful trip!I hope our next walkabout will be in the Cinque Terre. Thanks for the inspiration.
My husband and I just completed our 11th long-distance inn to inn walk. Most of these have been in Europe and include Coast to Coast (England), Alpine Pass Route in Switzerland, Camino de Santiago (Spain), Slovenia/Croatia, Camino (France), Glasgow to Inverness Scotland, Via Francigena (Italy), and Rheinsteg/RheinBurgenWeg (Germany). We usually walk 200-miles in 13-14 days and only carry a day pack. We have our luggage transported for us, as my back doesn't like a heavy pack anymore.
We've especially loved the comradery with other walkers and the lovely villages we've walked through.
We would love to do a long-distance walk in the US but most of the opportunities are in remote places that require a heavy pack. We'll definitely take a look at this walk and may look into hiring someone to carry luggage.
WALKING THE COAST 2 COAST ACROSS ENGLAND
My husband and I took our first long distance walk in 2004. We were inspired by a Smithsonian Magazine article (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-walk-across-england-89547636/); “A Walk Across England” and we were hooked. We’ve done ten more long walks or major hikes since then.
The Coast 2 Coast, a 190-mile route across Northern England from St. Bees to Robin’s Hood Bay, is really a walk through history. When we walked it, 11-years ago, it seemed as though a lot hadn’t changed since Alfred Wainwright wrote his book in 1973, “A Coast to Coast Walk”. The way signing was at a minimum and a lot of the path directions were for instance, “turn left at the red barn” (and the barn has now been painted blue); or “when the track turns uphill on an open fellside” (what in the hell is a fell?); or when it says a gently climb up ahead, don’t believe it. I’m certain that we ended up with more than 200-miles, particularly when not following rules we had already learned, such as, if the gates are locked and topped with barbed wire don’t climb over; and don’t let false cairns direct you onto the wrong path.
We started our adventure in the sun with two friends we had met the night before. The day turned rainy and this became the scene for most of the 13-days. Luckily, we were not carrying a heavy pack as our luggage was being transferred to each accommodation by “Sherpa Expeditions” (they do this around the world). I made all the arrangements for each night and was very pleased with my choices. Many of the inns or B & B’s had special rooms for us to dry our boots.
We met a lot of people who were doing the C2C and often walked with them during the day, and then saw them again at night in the pubs. We all shared our stories and really enjoyed the companionship. The two friends we started out with became longtime walking buddies and we’ve had five more adventures with them.
Calling the C2C a “walk” understates the effort required to successfully complete this journey with it’s nearly 26,000’ of total ascent (and corresponding total descent). The constant rain set up conditions that promoted blisters, and formed the little streams we had to cross into rivers. But, with this said it was truly a fabulous journey. The route took us over mountain ranges, rich woodlands, through private land and public parks, moorlands with a deep covering of peat and heather, prehistoric standing stones, and the remains of a Roman road. The community of other like-minded walkers made every day more special.
Hi, liked reading your post. I've walked parts of the North Downs way and the South Downs way, but would like to do a whole trail. Any suggestions for a moderate trail that could be done in March? thanks, Mark
We've done all of our hikes in September when the weather is usually better....not too hot and not too rainy. But, as you read in my post, we had lots of rain so maybe March would have been good. I'm going to post descriptions of the other hikes we've done and maybe you'll find something interesting. All of them have been about 200-miles, and some at higher altitudes so snow would be a possibility in March.
I've been looking at trails in Ireland that interest me. Lots of info on the internet.
WALKING THE ALPINE PASS IN SWITZERLAND IN 2005
Our second long-distance inn-to-inn journey takes us to Switzerland walking a portion of the classic Alpine Pass Route (APR). The complete route extends east to west from Liechtenstein border to Lake Geneva, about 220-miles. Our route was scheduled to take us from Engelberg to Lenk, a section of 85-miles (I could have sworn it was a lot longer that that).
We were met with changes to our itinerary due to extreme weather shortly before our arrival. The damage from storms and flooding was quite evident with train tracks totally wiped out as well as trails we would have been hiking on. Sherpa Expeditions made our arrangements this time, including our hotels and luggage transfer, so they were very efficient in making the necessary changes to our itinerary.
The walk took 11-days with some rest days included, but I wouldn’t have really called them rest days as we still put a lot of miles under our feet. The beauty surrounding us on every mile was breathtaking. Each day began with the prospect of wandering through valleys colored by wildflowers, streams, crags and waterfalls, cowbells, remote farms and woodlands. Outstanding views of the Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau were a daily highlight. A trip on the Jungfrau railway (highest in Europe) was amazing, and the Reichenbach Falls, near Meiringen, scene of Sherlock Holmes’ final struggle with Moriarty, are some of the memorable moments of this walk.
We were fortunate to experience this journey with our friends Janey and Skip that we’d met on the Coast to Coast. We had wonderful accommodations with one night in a mountain hut. The way signing was fabulous and we never got lost. We checked the weather daily to make certain not to run into thunderstorms or possibly snow.
The weather was great for most of the trip, except for a hard rain one day. We took many modes of transportation, i.e. funicular, cable car, bus, chairlift, gondola, cog railway and train. I had problems again with blisters but able to manage the long ascents and descents. This walk is billed as challenging but I think there are many options to shorten or change the route depending on your experience.
WALKING IN SLOVENIA/CROATIA 2010
We arrived in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, on September 15, 2010 and spent two days walking the city and getting oriented to the time change. Once again, we hooked up with our friends Janey and Skip for another adventure. Hooked on Walking helped us with our arrangements in Slovenia, including transporting our luggage. I planned our itinerary in Croatia. When planning this trip we had first considered hiking the Slovenia Alps but decided we wanted to experience the Julian Alps that are west of the capital and close to the Austrian border. There’s so much history to devour, with a lot of cultural influence from Prague, Vienna, and Venice.
We spent 3-days hiking from the alpine village of Podkoren as our base. The “warm up” hike took us to Mount Pec (4947’), the summit that borders Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. Beautiful scenery everywhere we hiked, but as we found out this was just the beginning of the magic we would see.
We left Podkoren and walked to Lake Bled, Slovenia’s leading mountain resort. Today’s path led us along the Radovna River to their national treasure the Vintgar Gorge. Boardwalks and bridges guided us through the gorge carving its way through the vertical rocks and turquoise water (1-mile). Truly an amazing experience.
We spent 2-nights in Lake Bled, hiked around the lake (4-miles); took a boat ride to the island church; and walked to the castle on the rock. We have a few more days of walking before heading into Croatia.
We’ve rented a car and will be doing mostly day hikes as we travel to Dubrovnik. The Plitvice Lakes was the highlight of our trip where we spent a day hiking around it. Croatia’s National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. It covers more than 73,350 aces and its beauty lies in the 16-terraced lakes, inter-connected by a series of waterfalls, and set in deep woodland. Definitely designed for hikers, although there are buses and boats to help connecting to the best parts. The highest waterfall, Veliki Slap, is over 250’ high.
We had a couple more nights on the island of Rab, then to Dubrovnik, and finished up north in Zagreb. Although this was not typically inn-to-inn like our other walks we loved both countries and found that we were still getting many miles in per day. We loved the beauty of both countries, and the hospitality was wonderful.