I have been lucky enough in my travelling life to have walked between Manarola and Riomaggiore twice. The first time in 2009 was with my daughter and the second time in 2014 was with my wife. On the first occasion, we walked along the coastal route and I was surprised to find that it was called the “Via dell’ Amore”, or in the less romantic English translation, “Love’s Trail”. Some marketing genius decided this would encourage lots of loving couples to come to Manarola, walk the coast trail and somewhere before the end of the walk, add another lock to some part of this sensitive environment. The whole process went according to plan but I am not sure the locals would see any advantage in the continuing numbers of locks that are being left behind by tourists to scar the cliff face and rust on the walkway’s railings.
The “Via dell’ Amore” has been closed for a lot of the years since I visited the area and I am trying to avoid having a ‘cognitive bias’ and suggesting that the locks have been the cause of tipping the local environment into shedding the love-locks through flooding and landslides!
In 2014 we had initially decided to do the coastal walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore but I wasn’t surprised when we got to the start of the walk and the closed gate to the coastal path forced us to change our minds and go over the mountain trail to Riomaggiore. While the walk up-hill was challenging, we decided when we arrived at our destination that it was a wonderful way to see the Cinque Terre. The walk through the terraced vineyards was very beautiful, particularly when we got to the top of the trail and made our way down the hill as Riomaggiore emerged below us.
All the Cinque Terre towns have different features. Only one has a large extended beach, another has a good, small harbour and Corniglia has neither. Riomaggiore has a small beach and a wharf as well as the beautiful tower houses that greet arriving visitors by boat or by the coastal path.
Like the other towns along this coast, history records are a little sparse so there is debate as to whether the town only goes back to the early 13th century or whether there was a village here in the 8th century when a small church was built by the locals to celebrate a vision of the Virgin Mary by a young girl of the area. Like the rest of the Cinque Terre villages, Riomaggiore was beset by pirates, the most infamous event was in 1545 when a pirate flotilla arrived and began by trashing Monterosso, looting, burning and carrying off men and women. The flotilla, led by a character called Draghut, went on to attack Corniglia which suffered similar outrages. Their next stop was Manarola where the pirates were prevented from docking as the men of that village were ably assisted by citizens from Riomaggiore who came to assist in resisting the invaders. It is believed that the last major pirate attack on the Cinque Terre was in 1815 when fishing boats were attacked and fishermen were kidnapped.
Pirates have to be able to come ashore before a castle is of any use in defending the locals so I am not sure what part Riomaggiore’s castle played in defending the town against the pirates. There are sections of a ‘castello’ (see location on town map to the right) still surviving above the town on the left hand side today. It was originally built on the site of an earlier castle in the 13th century. Curiously, during the Napoleonic period, the castle was filled with earth and used as a cemetery. At the end of the 20th century, the local council decided that the town would be better served by a renovated, ruined castle for visitors to inspect rather than a castle cemetery.
If you are staying in Riomaggiore and are looking for another good hike on the mountain, there is an historical ‘place of worship’ quite a way up the hill at the back of town. It is called the sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Montenero, one of five such sanctuaries to be found in the Cinque Terre. It is reachable along what was once an old mule track used by the local farmers, rising 340 metres above sea level. It takes about 45 minutes and hikers should travel well stocked up with water and snacks. The views are apparently well worth the effort.
We enjoyed our day of hiking and strolling around the streets of Riomaggiore. We chose to walk all the way down the main street, Via Colombo (see left), to the wharf and the small port where ferries can dock and the local fishermen can escape out to sea. We couldn’t resist also walking to the end of the coastal path, “Via dell’ Amore”, to see whether any part of it could be accessed from Riomaggiore. Alas no, a fairly substantial gate had been erected across the path but this had not stopped travelling lovers attempting to gain some of the love magic of this trail by attaching their locks to the gate and its surrounding railings!