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It's time to walk along the Cinque Terre


For too long we've been dozing off in front of American sitcom reruns and planning to get to this someday, but since everybody we know (except for Fred) says that this is the loveliest walk in the world, we're going to do it at least once before we get pensioned off to the next planet.

Parco Naturale Regionale di Portofino

Next day's hike: Halfway around the peninsula of Monte di Portofino, part of the Parco Naturale Regionale di Portofino. We jump off the train at Camogli, 4 February 2007, about halfway along between Sestri Levante and Genoa, and begin to make inquiries of passersby concerning the boat for our trailhead, San Fruttuoso.

A nearby gentleman helps us out by informing us that the boat should be leaving in two minutes from the pier on the other side of the lower town.

The day gets off to a Bustling Start -- we're already 400 metres along the Via della Repubblica and down the Garibaldi public stairs to the waterfront, only one minute to go, with no boat in sight yet. Right or left?? (Imagine the Three Stooges vibrating back and forth, left and right, right and left, hitting each other with their hats, trying to decide.)

Kristin bolts to the right, as the tourists cringe and recoil from her path.

Passing the carousel of Camogli, but no time to stop for a ride now

Passing through tunnels under the wall of buildings, we spy a man, a scout or sentinel, standing out on the pier waving to us reassuringly, and seconds later we're safely aboard and on the way to the start of our day's hike, exhausted.

Leaving Camogli port, soon to turn off towards the right, the south, out along the peninsula of Monte di Portofino.

Last view of Camogli (for us, not for them)

Half an hour later, we've turned the corner of the peninsula, and we're passing a watchtower built in 1561 (for 940 lira) to cover the western approach to the Abbey of San Fruttuoso and the adjacent fishing village.

(If you stare hard up at the rocky lump on the right, you might make out some hikers inching their way along the first part of the Portofino hiking path, Camogli to San Fruttuoso. Cleverly, we're on our way to the start of the second part.)

And there's our trailhead: San Fruttuoso, the abbey (left) -- 10th and 11th century, with a 13th century front on it -- the ancient fishing village (right), and between them, the great Andrea Doria's defensive tower against the nearly-daily pirate raids at the time, completed in 1562 just after his death at the age of 90-odd.

The abbey and its public beach in the centre, and the 16th century tower -- which, we're told on the wall plaque, was provided with three bronze cannon, several harquebuses, 33 muskets, and "a bomber".

A festive beach scene down at l’Abbazia di San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte. The establishment is served by this boat and three vertiginous foot paths, no roads.

Pleasure-seekers sprawling all about on the beach. In February.

Nobody seems to know who Saint Fruttuoso was, though there's general agreement that he was martyred in Spain and dragged over here in a reverent manner in either the 4th or the 7th century. Less doubtful is the claim that a bunch of Greek monks got this place started in the 10th century and that most of the present architecture dates from the 11th, thus the Byzantine influences in the church and cloisters behind.

The boat's leaving now, and we're on our own. Just like the Greek monks.

Before commencing our afternoon's hike, we need to have a closer look at the tower (one of us has newly become besotted with the Doria Pamphili, after a rewarding visit last November to the family's Old Digs in Rome -- they donated this spot to the state for part of the park in 1983). Nothing terribly special about the tower, it turns out, but this view down upon the abbey, trying to imagine what life was like here in the 16th century -- that is special.

The fishing village is also a very nice outdoor restaurant.

Okay, now we think trailhead: it's time to get a move on.

Up we go, very nice path -- just two Brits with an annoying dog, whom we let get ahead of us somewhat.

Fairly steep walk up a couple of hundred meters out of San Fruttuoso, improving the view of that watchtower out on the coast.

The narrator pausing to catch his breath, which he thinks he may have lost in the mid-'70s.

Kristin just past the landmark of "Base 'O'" (220m altitude), more or less the high point for the time being

The view down into the Cala degli Inglesi ('the English Cove')

The winding little path along steep hillsides. According to the guidebooks, if you're walking this path at midsummer, try to be finished by noon, but in February 2007 the temperature couldn't be better.

An overview of the hike -- we're getting near the lower right, now, and ready to start quite painfully downhill towards Portofino.

Little houses along the footpath

Portofino down below -- it's just straight down now, than which there is little worse.

We're hobbling into Portofino at sea level late in the day, with the light toughening up on us somewhat. We need to find some sunlight for the photos and a nice bar-café for the bathrooms.

No sunlight yet. No bathrooms either.

This imposing defensive architecture, looming over Portofino's tiny port since about 1557, is the "Castello Brown". Already in 1575 the old pile successfully turned back an attack by the Dorias, apparently the bullies of the neighborhood, and it continued looming until the English gave it a good whack in 1798. It fell into desuetude until a gentleman named Montague Yeats Brown, the English representative in Genoa, was passing by in 1867 and recognized a good bargain when he saw it (7,000 lire). He turned it into a pleasant villa-with-big-turrets and passed it on down the family until another English couple took it off their hands in 1949, fixed it up somewhat, and then in 1961 threw up their own hands and sold it to the city (probably for the tax arrears).

It's said that Guy de Maupassant was one of the "first visitors to Portofino", though that doesn't include the Dorias and the English fleet. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Humphrey Bogart all helped to give the place an eclectic and philosophical/cinematic tone.

There's the sunlight we were seeking in Portofino.

The main harbor, such as it is, unfortunately just after the sun has just passed over the yardarm and the horizon both.

A nice place at which, after the bathroom break, we can have a nice, tiny, viscous Italian coffee, in a tiny cup or a syringe, as you wish.

The chef surveys his handiwork

The recommended hiking path goes back up along the tops of the plateau towards Santa Margherita Ligure, but now the shadows are lengthening and we're thinking about getting back to Sestri Levante for another episode of Wish Me Luck. So instead we walk out along the coastal roadside path past Paraggi, catch a bus, and meet the train for Sestri Levante in Santa Margherita with perfect timing.

And that's it for this weekend getaway, February 2007. Back to Amerika for one of us, and to the Ramsar Standing Committee for the other.

Sestri Levante, 2-5 February 2007

Cinque Terre 1: Riomaggiore to Corniglia

Cinque Terre 2: Corniglia to Monterossa

Portofino walk


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 20 February 2007, revised 26 September 2013.


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