‘It is the most beautiful walk and it is free,’ the girl in the cafe told us. Sold! What could possibly go wrong? We had just arrived in the area of Italy famous for five multi-coloured cliff-hugging villages and hungry for an adventure. Cinque Terre is made up of the pretty towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarolo and Riomaggiore. The hike from Levanto to the most westerly Cinque Terre settlement of Monterosso was our first activity. Levanto was a short cheap train ride from Vernazza, our base for the weekend, which we chose as it was noted to be the most beautiful and easily accessible by boat.

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Levanto was pretty quiet and had a fairly long beach, which on a mid-October weekend had a smattering of sunbathers enjoying the last of the summer sun. We found the steps that began the trail to Monterosso at the southern end of the beach, by the blue villa. At first, the hike was pretty easy, with a good path that climbed steadily up the headland and some lovely views back towards Levanto. However, this was just lulling me into a false sense of security.

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Pretty soon the ascent got steeper, with seemingly endless steps and a path that got more and more precarious. I suffer from vertigo and thought that I would be ok, as the beginning of the route had barriers and some kind of decent level of safety. The path was in places loose rubble or just the bare rock to navigate across. I was brave enough to even make it around a corner that was on the edge of the cliff! That didn’t last for long though. Adding dogs and energetic children to the vertiginous hike made my courage evaporate completely, and I was a nervous wreck. As we were past the point of no return it was a case of keeping going, even though I was almost physically sick at points. Luckily my friend was able to look out at the views as I focused on not dying and reaching sea level.

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After descending the giant stone stairs into Monterosso we headed straight for a restorative glass of wine and some lunch. Luckily, the Italians have a very high standard when it comes to food and we would most likely not be disappointed wherever we ate. We chose Bar Gio 5 Terre as it was outside by the beach, had a reasonably priced menu and was fairly busy with customers. As we were sat by the ocean I opted for the seafood salad. When it arrived I was pleasantly surprised, as the salad part was very minimal and the plate was drowning in a variety of fresh underwater creatures. Usually, it is the other way round!

DSC_5056Back in Vernazza, the evening kicked off with a very educational chat about regional produce. Winexperience Vernazza is the perfect way to relax after a hard day scaling a mountain whilst being scared witless. Alessandro is not only a sommelier who produces his own wines but he also has a uniquely soothing way of telling you the stories behind each wine. I opted for the ‘Cinque Terre’ selection, a collection of handpicked white wines from the local area. My friend chose to try the ‘Red Lovers’ compilation that our expert had sourced from around Italy. The samples are generous, but Alessandro uses a special contraption for pouring a measure from the €80 bottle so it keeps for longer.

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Not afraid to push some boundaries, I was warned that the Harmoge 2014 was an acquired taste that divided those who sampled it: you either loved it or hated it. For me, it was the latter but we both found a new favourite in Barbera Elena La Luna. We had missed the sunset but the terrace overlooking the ocean was a perfect backdrop to this anecdote for our adventure. No reservation is required either, just a relaxing drop in, sit back, listen to Alessandro wax lyrical about wine, sip and enjoy a tasteful journey.

After all that vino we needed some sustenance. Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre is on the top end of the main drag into the village and serves up a decent selection of traditional Italian fare. As pesto pasta is the signature dish of the region, it seemed only fitting to give it a whirl. When it arrived it was the freshest, greenest, eye-popping, taste-bud-rocking pesto I’ve ever eaten. Just look at the colour of it:

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If it was steak it would still have a heart beat…..

To round off the day you can’t leave Italy without trying some gelato. After all, if there is a cat waiting outside it must be good, right? We were not wrong and they even served up a vegan chocolate option for my friend, which was quite impressive.

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The next day we chose to visit the towns of Manarola and Rio Maggiore by boat, which was a very relaxing way to get around. I did overhear someone who had walked between some of the villages, and the word steep was used quite often, so taking the ocean route was much more calming. Most of the walks between villages are a case of sharp inclines and declines as the more leisurely coastal paths have suffered from landslides and are mostly closed (always check the latest status on this as repairs are allegedly in progress, but have been for years).

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Manarola is the postcard-perfect, chocolate box cover town, and definitely the most handsome Cinque Terre village we visited. We grabbed some breakfast at Cappun Magru at the top of the main street and pottered around some of the little tourist shops.

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DSC_5101By the time we reached Rio Maggiore (Corniglia is not accessible by boat), we felt we had pretty much seen everything, as the five towns were quite similar.

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Before we left Cinque Terre we dropped into the Monkey Bar in Vernazza. We had stumbled upon it the night before, en route via some confusing stairways to the wine experience. It is another typical Italian style set-up, if it’s open its open, if it’s not, it is not, there are no set hours or strict rules to be governed by. This little bar was refreshing in two ways, the attitude to life and the delightfully thirst-quenching blonde beer.

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Cinque Terre was both terrifying and rewarding in equal measures, and definitely a highlight of any trip to Italy. It may get uncomfortably busy during peak season but October was perfect, warm, welcoming and without overwhelming crowds. However, you decide to explore the five towns, by rail, boat or by feet, be prepared for pleasingly painted picturesque places on precipices accessible by precariously perilous pathways.

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