Having been to Cinque Terre last year, I was looking forward to going back. I envisioned scouring the cute shops for olive wooden spoons and this amazing lemon-scented soap, as well as hiking between the towns. I hadn’t hiked the first trip, so I was looking forward to adding that new component on this visit.

Only…I didn’t realize how little five hours was in Cinque Terre if you hike!

The Loooong Hike

Our bus driver dropped us in Monterosso, the northernmost of the five villages that crowd the shores of the western Italian coast. The plan was, for those of the yoga retreat attendees who wanted, we’d hike from there to Vernazza, the next town over.

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Kerri, the effervescent young Aussie who worked at the retreat center, said it should take us about two hours.

“Be sure to wear your tennies,” she chirped.

The hike did not take two hours. Now, I’d just bounded over skyscraper-high mountains in the Dolomites, so I have no doubt that I could have done it in that timeframe, but I thought it would be an easy hike, so it took me by surprise how rigorous it was. And a few of our party were a little less adept at scaling mountains, so we vowed to stick together, which meant the hike took three hours.

I didn’t mind, really. Every time we stopped to rest, we were rewarded by views that, had our breath not already been taken by the climb, would have stolen it away. The mountains rise sharply above the Cinque Terre towns, and they’re covered with grapevine fields. But the incline is so steep that farmers have to use little carts on tracks (much like a toy train for kids to ride) to load up the bounty, since carrying it up and down is out of the question if you actually want to harvest it in time to make wine.

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Gorgeous view aside, we practically kissed the cobblestones of Vernazza when we descended the stairs right into a house-lined alley. Onward to sustenance!

Beautiful Views, Waiters, and Food

We decided to get to Ristorante Belforte, where we had a reservation, early and enjoy some rosé while we waited the rest of our group, who had forged ahead on the trail and were now wandering the village. We were delighted when our deliciously gorgeous waiter took us to the top of the restaurant, which had once been a lighthouse. The view of the bay of Vernazza as well as the coastline made for a wonderful backdrop as we decompressed with the wine after our long hike.

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Eventually the rest of our crew joined us, and we had a long lunch, about two hours long. (If you do the math, we have now reached the end of our five hour time budget.) The cuisine, which featured seafood heavily, was delightful. I had the lobster tagliatelle, which was a presentation in and of itself, and delicous as well.

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We finished off our lunch with limoncello, one of my favorite digestifs anywhere.

Time for a Little Shopping?

We drunkenly stumbled out of the restaurant and back onto the street. But now was no time for meandering; we had to take the train to the southernmost town, Riomaggiore, to meet our McGyver-looking bus driver. I was sorely disappointed that I didn’t have time to browse the stores, but I am a determined woman when it comes to getting what I want. And so I parted with the group and made a mad dash for a couple of stores that had the items that were on my list.

I made it just in time to hop onto the train to Riomaggiore.

One pleasant and surprising photo op came in Riomaggiore: a young couple were headed to their wedding (or after party). I love her shoes!

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Clearly, five hours isn’t long enough to see much in Cinque Terre. If I had to do it again, I would probably skip the hike in favor of a more rewarding sport: shopping!