Here at Walkabout Florence we’re constantly asked what’s our favourite part of Italy. Naturally, being based in Florence, and knowing it so well, means that it’s very high up on the list. (The clue is in our name!) But anyone who’s visited this wonderful city knows that it’s never wise to play favourites because, in truth, there are so many magical surprises waiting in store for anyone who explores the surrounding areas, as well. And there is just so much to see and do…
Florence is perfectly positioned to use as a base to get out and discover the many and varied delights of Tuscany, and even slightly beyond. Our fantastic Cinque Terre day trip from Florence takes you to what is truly one of the most spectacular parts of the world you could ever hope to see. While there are several ways you could travel to the majestic Cinque Terre, we recommend joining us. Our expert guides guarantee you will experience it from a completely unique perspective.
Walk the Coastline of the Italian Riviera
The dramatic coastline of the Italian Riviera is completely and utterly breath-taking. The hike between the five fishing villages that cling to the cliffs along the way – Monterosso, Vernazza (there’s more in this blog post), Corniglia (find out more here), Manarola and Riomaggiore – is something that’s on the travel wish list of many people. The excellent Cinque Terre day trip from Florence is one of our most popular tours and it doesn’t surprise us at all. For a quick snapshot of the five towns that make up the spectacular region, find out more in this guide.
While many people do walk the entire length – and it’s a fabulous experience if your legs are up to it – you certainly don’t have to complete the whole thing on our day trip from Florence! There are more than 120km of hiking trails along the coastline, encompassing 48 different trails. The most renowned is the Sentiero Azzurro (the blue path), which links all five villages and is about 12 km in length, in total. But there’s one part of the trail that holds a very special place in the hearts of locals and romantics from all over the world: the section known as Via dell’Amore, or the Lovers’ Way.
This section of the hike links the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore and runs for a kilometre and a half. While it’s always been the most popular part of the entire hike, being relatively short and very accessible (it takes just 30 minutes to walk), unfortunately, due to landslides it has been closed since the end of 2017 for repairs. But even though you won’t be able to wander along it holding hands with your significant other in the very near future, that doesn’t make its history any less interesting – and it’s a very good reason to schedule a return visit!
A Trail Cut Through Rock
In 1926-1928, construction of the rail link between Genoa and La Spezia required that in order to build a tunnel to link the towns of Riomaggiore and Manarola, workers needed to cut a path right into the cliffs through solid rock, in order to allow for their ease of movement between the two towns.
(Tip: They also built a gunpowder warehouse along the way, which today serves as a bar where you can enjoy a drink with a view!)
The fact that it’s hewn right out of the hard stone lends this part of the trail a very special ambience. Its dramatic footpath virtually hangs out over the ocean and is offset by absolutely magnificent views of the cliffs, vineyards and out to the horizon.
Even after work on the railway was completed, the villagers asked that the footpath be kept open, in order to promote the trade of fruit, vegetables and other goods. So, while its construction was undoubtedly very helpful for practical purposes, local legend has it that in the years that followed the beautiful pathway became very useful for something else as well…
A Place for Lovers to Meet in Secret
The story is that when the footpath was restored after WWII it opened up a wonderful way for young people from the two towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore to meet – sometimes in secret. In those times, due to the isolation of the villages, it was very rare to marry outside your own town, so the ability to meet up with one another actually changed the whole dynamic of the area and created a new way of socialising. There are plenty of secluded spots along its length that facilitated some lovely little hiding places for lovers to enjoy a romantic tryst – and, of course, the views!
A Peek into Riomaggiore…
As the path joins the towns of Riomaggiore and Manarola, it seems apt to introduce the two in brief.
Riomaggiore is the first town you get to if you arrive from Portovenere and La Spezia (which is the way we come in on our Cinque Terre day trip). Despite being at the start of the string of towns, it appears no more crowded; on arrival people are usually desperate to get going on the hike or en route to the next place to explore. For those that do afford it more than a cursory glance, though, it makes for a lovely place to have a wander or stop for a cappuccino. The bustling main street is full of character and the working harbour with its colourful fishing boats is very pretty and particularly photogenic.
… and a Look into Manarola
The town you see today dates back to the 1300s and many believe it to be the oldest in the region. In days gone by it was home to a strategic castle and watchtower that were used to help protect the Republic of Genoa from rogue pirates. Today, however, you won’t find any pirates, but you will discover the delectable sweet wine, known as Sciacchetrà that has made the tiny town famous. This is a ‘must try’!
A Modern Love Story
Over time it’s become a popular rite of passage for visitors to declare their own love by carving their initials, names or messages of ‘amore’ in the rock walls of the cliff edge. This charming practice led to its name (which was actually bestowed by a journalist after observing the love graffiti), and there are literally thousands of these messages adorning the rocks, and even on the cactus plants that cling to the cliffs! Far from being considered damage, though, it really adds to the ambience and romance of the site.
As well as the amorous graffiti, it’s become a popular practice to hang a ‘love lock’ (a padlock) along the railings, the chain link fences on the rocks and particularly under the tunnel on the Manarola side. While for some this craze is considered tacky, for others it’s a way of declaring their undying love for their significant other. And who is anybody to stand in the way of that?
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Although it has been closed since 2012 (with just a brief reopening in 2017) due to issues with rockslides, do remember that the Via dell’Amore is a very important and significant part of the history and heritage of this wonderful region. Reports differ as to when the works to repair the pathway and make it safe for visitors again will be completed, but it appears likely that it will be 2022-23. This much anticipated reopening will have cost somewhere in the region of 12 million euros, with Italy’s Culture Ministry putting up seven million and the Environment Ministry and the Liguria region putting up the remainder.
Planned reconstruction includes extending the artificial tunnel that leads under the most suspect section of the path, and incorporating more steel mesh and bolts that will be placed to secure any loose rocks above.
Despite its problems, when it is open it’s a very easy part of the trail to navigate. It is paved basically its entire length and has handrails installed for safety, as well. There are also benches along the way where you can stop for a rest (or a kiss), but if you haven’t got a head for heights you might be advised not to look down! Just look at those wonderful views over the ocean instead.
Even though our guides won’t be able to take you on this section right now, don’t worry, it doesn’t make the experience any less enjoyable. We can’t wait to get back out there to show all our guests the beauty, history and culture of Tuscany and beyond. Now is the time to start planning your next trip to Italy!
In the meantime, take heart in the fact that the Via dell’Amore isn’t going anywhere, and it’ll be back in action for us all to enjoy those magnificent views in the not too distant future. Time to add one more thing to your Italian bucket list…
We Are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence we’ve got a reputation as the best in the business. We’re passionate about providing our small group, bespoke tours, including Cinque Terre day trips from Florence. With everything from authentic food and wine experiences and memorable Fiat 500 and Vespa tours, to wonderful cultural day trips, our friendly and knowledgeable guides are dedicated to showing our guests the true heart and soul of Tuscany.