The walk to Volastra - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

During our day trip to the Cinque Terre something unexpected changed the whole experience.
We were on our way to Corniglia from Manarola (the second town to the third) and, after only 5 minutes into our walk, we realized this second path we taken was closed, just like an alternative one we saw earlier. After the terrible flood that happened some months before in the area, some paths were closed to the public because they’re were not secure enough, we couldn’t really blame anybody, security comes always first!
A big disappointment to our faces! This meant we had only one remaining option to get to Corniglia, taking the train! NOT HAPPY!

Still, with a bit of hope, on our way to the train station we checked a map with the different paths of the area and realized that there was another last option we could consider instead of taking the train. SMILES WERE BACK ON OUR FACES! 🙂
We doubled checked the alternative route (The Way of the Sanctuaries) with a nice old man we found on the way, he reassured us that the path was open and also that it was a very beautiful one (he recommended that we went for the beautiful views if nothing else).
We needed to get to Volastra first which was not on the coast but up on a hill inland, from there we’d then go down again to reach Corniglia.
So we went up, up and up under the hot sunshine, taking a scattering of breaks whenever there was a shaded spot, the sea now far away from us though still slightly visible. Instead we were surrounded by land, trees and loads of green!

The green view on our way to Volastra

Almost breathless (we both agreed we need to get more fit, we never know when another walk like that might come across) we reached Volastra and, by following the small indications on the way we arrived at a church and we stopped outside. We were not alone, another nice couple was there. They shared with us their very detailed map with the hiking tracks, hang on a minute, have they just said the word ‘hiking’?

Mmmm… I secretly started to be a bit worried about it. Since the beginning we’d decided to take the easy walking paths because we thought we both weren’t physically ready to hike, but it was too late now, we‘d made our way up till there and we had no other choice if we wanted to get to Corniglia on foot, so I didn’t say a word about it, plus, if others can do it, why shouldn’t we?

Let’s move on then! Bottles were refilled with water (thanks to the fountain we found at the back of the church, there are many scattered everywhere in the villages), we said goodbye to our new friends and started our new challenge.

View from the Sanctuaries path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

This is when I realized we were higher than expected!


Corniglia from the Sanctuaries path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

This is where we were going to, Corniglia


Manarola from the Sanctuaries path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

This is were we started from, Manarola

From the beginning we noticed that the path was different, smaller and it felt more like a natural path than the ones we walked on before that were purposely built to connect the villages.
We almost felt like intruders in somebody else back garden or piece of land.

Eventually the path reached the middle of a densely terraced hill covered in rows & rows of vines. We suddenly were walking on the edge of a terraced step with the trees & outstretching branches to our right and absolutely NOTHING but a sheer drop with no fence to our left. Apart from a stunning and steep view down to the sea, there was no protection from a slip, trip or fall. No fence, no handrail.

Walking on the Sanctuaries Path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

The nightmare began…

My legs started to shake and I couldn’t do anything to stop them, my head felt light and I felt terribly dizzy, I needed to stop to prevent the worst. Yes, I am scared of heights and right then, I thought I was about to faint!
A quick look around was enough to understand that this unprotected route was the only way available, THE ONLY ONE!

What shall I do? Shall I carry on or turn around? Surely it’s not too much further?

If I had been on my own I’m not sure if I’d have continued, thanks to the supportDale gave me I managed to keep walking, even if really-really slowly, UNBELIEVABLY SLOWLY!
I was holding anything & everything I could find on my way to make me feel more secure and stable, and considering there weren’t things like handrails, they had to be the outstretching branches, the roots, pieces of vine taller than the others & a rocks that pointed a bit out. And when there was nothing? Dale’s hand, which was constantly behind me as he watched me place my steps one by one, was my guide rail.

"View from the Sanctuaries Path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

Thanks to Dale that managed to take some photos!


Views from the Sanctuaries Path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

Otherwise if it was for me, we’d have none!

Believe it or not, whilst walking on such a path I was also thinking on how the locals managed to pick up and transport the grapes when they were ripe. Not only, how they managed to do any kind of work on the land too? That was just crazy for me but necessary for the farmers of the area I suppose. At intervals we also had to step over single-rail tracks that plummeted straight down that the local farmers rode to & throw staring STRAIGHT DOWN the incline as they moved the days pickings. Beyond imagination.

… and eventually became a nice adventure!

It started to get better when we entered an extended woodland, only afterwards we realized we’d been through the entire Cinque Terre National Park. The path was better for me there, as there were trees on both sides which hid the emptiness behind and below them. I felt better and more confident in walking. I could relax a bit more now, PHEW!

Cinque Terre National Park - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

I never felt any more relieved!


Dale's shadow - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

That’s the proof: Dale was there too!

From there on the walk became more enjoyable for me, we started to slightly walk down the hill and we could already see Corniglia from up high, while Manarola now was only a little dot behind us.

Corniglia from the Sanctuaries Path - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

It looks like we aren’t that faraway…


Close view of Corniglia - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

…almost there!

Along the way we met a few other people that were heading in the same direction & had most likely done the same humongous journey we had, or they were going in the opposite direction towards our starting point – their journey was just beginning. I didn’t see terror in any of their faces, I was clearly the only one out there petrified, shame on me!
When we reached our destination I couldn’t help being proud of myself! I was so happy I made it and all in ONE piece !!! 🙂

Corniglia sign - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

The walk from the church in Volastra at the top of the hill to Corniglia would normally take 1 hour 20 minutes, maybe a bit longer with few stops along the way to enjoy the surroundings and the view Mozzafiato, but for us it took a bit longer, 2 hours and 30 minutes, that’s right, you are not reading it wrongly. There was never a point that I was going to start running along those tight dry mud paths, I was more than happy with my baby steps.

If anybody reading is scared of heights like myself, they should not give up doing this wonderful walk because it’s VERY different. It’s true that is not as easy as the normal one (so we heard), but it’s worth it, and if it’s me saying it (ask Dale how petrified and almost on the edge of a crisis I was up there) you should believe me!

Plus, walking through the National Park will give you the opportunity to discover the coastline as well as the back country: villages that cling to the cliffs, tiny sandy coves as well as terraced fields and lovely woods.Going through groves of vineyards, chestnuts, olive trees and pines will still give you the chance to enjoy the breathless view of the sea and coastline from a different perspective.

View from the Sanctuaries Path in Cinque Terre - Hiking in The Cinque Terre - An Alternative (and totally unplanned) Path

Before starting though you should make sure you take some precautions:

  • Make sure you are wearing walking shoes – wearing heels in this case might still make you look sexy, but will definitely not make the walk easy (I’d say impossible).
  • Carry plenty of water. The walk might take you a bit longer than expected (look at us for instance!) and there are no ‘magic’ fountains along the way this time.
  • Avoid walking in the hottest hours of the day if you can’t stand the heat (we managed to do so and it was quite hard I have to admit, even though I was too busy thinking of how high we were than how hot it was).
  • Enjoy the walk: take a few break to enjoy the stunning view (unless you are crazy enough to walk back, you won’t be there again anytime soon). There is no shame in taking longer, it’s not a run, you should do it at your own pace!
  • And if you are scared of heights? My only advice is take it easy, don’t look down too much and take your time, you won’t regret doing it, I don’t.

How high did you get to on your adventures?