Travel: An Italian clifftop romance

Perched on the Italian west coast, an hour north of Pisa, the Cinque Terre, has been kissed by the sun and cultivated by hand. Literally translated as "the five lands", the Cinque Terre is a mountainous coastal region, with fertile terraced farms, knock-out scenery and home to the famous five villages, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

It's the rainbow of subtle pastels that makes these villages so photogenic. Narrow multi-storied homes, painted in creams, yellows, ochres and crimsons - and all green-shuttered. Each village is connected by a a railway line that winds along the steep coastline and through the verdant national park, a Unesco World Heritage-listed landscape.

The mountainside is covered by terraced vineyards, lemon and olive groves, bougainvillea and fields of fragrant herbs.

After the Saracen raids in the 12th century, 200 years of back-breaking work ensued, as villagers hauled stones across the hills to build the stone wall network, which equals the length of China's Great Wall at 7000km.

Walking trails criss-cross the region, but the most revered is the Blue Trail, an 11km-long coastal path which threads the five villages together.

Buy a one-day Cinque Terre card, for €6 ($9.70), and start on the Blue Trail early in the morning, to avoid the crowds and punishing afternoon heat.

Via Dell'Amore (Lovers Lane) is the legendary path that connects the first village, Riomaggiore to its neighbour, Manarola.

Much of the Blue Trail is hilly, and you need a reasonable level of fitness to complete it, but Lovers Lane is flat, well-paved and could easily be accomplished by Kim Dotcom.

It will take about five hours to complete the full route to Monterosso, but allow more time to take a breather in the villages, browse the shops and recharge with an espresso.

There is also a monstrous cat colony between Corniglia and Vernazza, complete with donation boxes and food bins, that transfixes passing tourists.

The felines are friendly, albeit homeless, which would not impress Gareth Morgan.

You may have heard about the recent floods and rockfall that closed the walking trail in October.

The debris has been cleared and the walking trail will re-open in March.

If you have doubts your legs will withstand 11km of hardy hill walking, rest assured, you can village-hop on the train, which runs every 30 minutes.

- Hamilton News

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