Imagine strolling along a path that hugs the Italian hillside, a path that overlooks the brilliant blue Ligurian sea. Perhaps you've had a cappuccino and a pastry, and now you're strolling arm-in-arm with your special someone, nothing more on your agenda than enjoying the sweeping views and watching the sea birds wheeling overhead. You admire the sandstone cliffs, the tenacious vegetation, the rugged and rocky beaches 50 feet below. Perhaps you'll find a little seaside trattoria in the next village where you can share a carafe of wine and contemplate lunch. This is the Via dell'Amore, the Walk of Love.
Lover's Lane: Part Of A Bigger Trail System
The celebrated pathway between the cliffside Italian villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola known as Via dell'Amore is part of a longer route called the Sentiero Azzurro or "blue path." The full route connects five towns and, depending upon your source, is somewhere between 9 km and 12 km (5.5- to 7.5 miles) long. The Via dell'Amore is the easternmost segment and comprises a mere 1 km (a little over half a mile). Not only is this the shortest segment of the Sentiero Azzurro, it is the flattest, widest, and easiest to walk. It is the only segment of the trail that is paved.
A Bit Of History
The path known today as the Via dell'Amore owes its origins to the Genoa-LaSpezia railway line. When construction on this challenging engineering feat took place over a century ago, a tunnel needed to be built between Riomaggiore and Manarola. The workers carved a path beginning at Riomaggiore and another at Manarola, meeting in the middle at an area where they stored the blasting powder for the railway work. The powder magazine was destroyed after the railway was completed, but the inhabitants of the two villages decided that a pedestrian path between the two would be useful. Citizens improved the path, which they called "Strada Nuova," or "new street." Soon the romantic ambiance earned the trail its nickname, "Via dell'Amore."
The wide-open aspect of the trail and its friable limestone composition make it highly susceptible to erosion. It has been closed on many occasions in recent decades, including during my last visit in the summer of 2001.
The Walk Of Love
But the tedious details of geology and history don't matter much to most Via dell'Amore walkers. They come in droves to stroll the historic path, to share a kiss under the humble entrance arch, to add their names to those of hundreds of couples before them who have declared their love with paint or blade along the route.
There are picnic areas along the way and rocky beaches below for the more intrepid. Most are content to stick to the asphalt path and admire the breathtaking views.
When Italy declared the Cinque Terre ("five lands," referring to the five coastal communities connected by the Sentiero Azzurro) region a national park a few years ago, fees were levied for using the park and its trails. They are a small price to pay for the important protections and needed improvements they have purchased, including some shoring up of the Via dell'Amore.
The least expensive way to walk the Via dell'Amore is to purchase a pass at the trailhead for 3 Euro. Alternately, you can purchase a one-day Cinque Terre Card for 5.4 Euro at any of the railway stations in the five Cinque Terre towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, or Monterosso) or nearby towns such as La Spezia.
The Cinque Terre card gives you unlimited access to the train system between the five towns, to internal transportation (buses) within the towns, and to the entire trail system, which includes the Sentiero Azzurro plus many miles of additional trails up and down the hills. Three- and seven-day passes are also available. Children's passes are half the price of the adult passes.
It's easy to find the "trailhead" for the Via dell'Amore. Exiting the Riomaggiore train station, just turn left and ascend a flight of stairs clearly marked with the trail's name as well as the characteristic white-and-red horizontal stripes that indicate an Italian "trekking trail." If you don't have a Cinque Terre Card, you can pay your entry fee at the top of the stairs before entering the trail proper.
Sally O'Neal Coates is a travel writer who makes her home in the open desert country of southeastern Washington State, where temperatures soar in the summer and the snow flies in the winter. She writes weekly for Sportsmansguide.com.