Of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, Corniglia is the only one that doesn’t have a harbour. The village is built atop a cliff.
I didn’t do enough advance research to know that fact.
The instructions from our rental property had mentioned a staircase into town, so I knew that there were stairs between the train station and the town center. But I had pictured a couple of flights at most – not the 365-step monstrosity that greeted us upon our arrival!!
A shot of Corniglia that Junkii took during a hike later in our trip. You can see the whole length of the switchback staircase here, but I’ll include more detail in the photo below.
The Scalinata Lardarina, as it’s called, is immense! We all had the same reaction as we spotted it from the platform of Corniglia’s train station: a sense of dawning dread as we realized exactly what we were looking at.
We knew right off that we were all going to have to climb that massive set of stairs, with our luggage in tow. But that didn’t stop us from trying to ponder a way out!
To be fair, there were options to climbing. There is a regular shuttle van that runs from the train station into town, carrying a small number of people on each run. But it was raining lightly when we arrived and there was a huge lineup of tourists waiting for the shuttle. The shuttle just didn’t seem feasible – especially since we were scheduled to meet our property manager.
Still, we were hesitant to launch into the climb because we weren’t ENTIRELY sure we actually NEEDED to climb the stairs to meet our property manager.
The written directions for our property were not especially clear. They said we were to meet our host at the staircase, but did that mean at the top or the bottom? Our confusion was further compounded by our brief text exchange with the host. There was a language barrier, and her final text before we arrived in Corniglia hinted that she might just meet us at the station.
Either way, we were meant to contact her on arrival to let her know we were in town. But as soon as we stepped off the train, cell reception disappeared and we couldn’t get a text through to her.
So we were left to make a choice based on partial info. Do we climb the stairs and hope to find cell service at higher ground? Do we wait at the base of the stairs in the hope our host comes looking for us? Do we wait at the station, and possibly take a shuttle if the host takes too long?
We stood in the rain for a bit, unsure of what to do. But the more we stood still, the wetter we got and we agreed the best course of action would be to climb, and to keep checking the phone along the way. Besides, we figured the villa was likely closer to the town center anyway.
We started the short trek from the rail station to the base of the stairs, and as we did so, we were met with more than a few bemused smirks, and a few scoffs to boot. Several people even looked at the rolling suitcases my parents were dragging and muttered sarcastically, “good luck with that.”
Okay, so my parents hadn’t heeded my advice to use a hiking pack (like Junkii and I) and chose instead to travel with rolling suitcases. Yes, they learned their lesson the hard way in Corniglia. But it irked me that so many fellow tourists would be so callous about it. We certainly didn’t expect help carrying the bags, but a little sympathy would have been a hell of a lot nicer than the sarcasm we got.
As we stood at the base of the stairs (making one last desperate but failed attempt to text our host), it was clear that the stairs wouldn’t actually be that hard of a climb.
Junkii’s shot looking down the staircase from about halfway up. You can see it’s not a terribly steep climb.
Yes, there were a lot of them, but they had a shallow rise, and each step was quite long. Without luggage, it would have been a breeze. After all, that’s why we do step aerobics, right?
Still, while it was a fairly gentle incline, we knew Mom would need help with her bag.
She started up on her own, dragging the case up each step: clunk-roll-clunk-roll-clunk-roll. We got about ten steps up and it became clear that dragging the case up wasn’t going to work. The wheels on the suitcase would have broken for sure.
So Junkii and I hoisted Mom’s bag between us and started to power our way up. It wasn’t the most comfortable way to climb. We were wet from the rain. We were sweaty from the humidity. And our hands were sore from trying to balance the heavy luggage between us. Plus we were both wearing our own hiking bags AND we each had a camera bag strapped to ourselves.
It was unpleasant, but slowly and surely we made our way up. And thankfully, George packed a little lighter and was able to carry his own suitcase.
A tourist from the southern U.S. on his way down the staircase inquired politely whose bag we were carrying, and we told him it was Mom’s. She was bringing up the rear on our little mule train and was a few switchbacks behind us. He stopped her on her way up and kindly told her what good sons she had, which she promptly agreed with.
Thanks for the recognition, random stranger! That went a long way to lightening the load and to taking the edge off the sting I still felt from the snarky travelers below.
As we neared the top, the switchbacks ceased and we climbed the last few steps straight up, dropping the heavy luggage as soon as we reached the peak.
Junkii immediately wandered off to locate a cell signal while I waited for Mom and George. They had just reached the top when Junkii returned with news that he was able to get a signal and had sent a message to the host.
She wrote back that she had actually wanted to meet us at the train station.
This was my face:
Meh. What can you do?
The property manager sent her daughter to climb up to meet us at the top of the stairs, where we waited, trying to cool off and catch our breath. The daughter arrived about 5 minutes later and explained that our home for the next few days was actually about halfway back down the Lardarina.
We had just climbed more than half the staircase for nothing! Pointless exercise and pointless sweating. Argh!!
Still, good blog fodder. So it wasn’t a complete waste!
Junkii and I hefted the bag between us once more and backtracked, retracing our steps down – a much easier undertaking!
The view of the Ligurian Sea – and, in the background, Manarola, another of the five villages – as seen from our patio!! (Photo: Junkii)
We arrived at our place, which was pretty much the only one built right onto the staircase. The gate literally lets out onto the staircase, with a short pathway leading to our villa.
It was awesome, and it more than made up for the travails of the day. We met the property manager who walked us through our lovely place, set back from the staircase but still plenty close enough to watch the people climbing up and down like ants.
We would eventually climb back up and wander about the town center for happy hour and dinner, but for the rest of the afternoon, we threw open the windows on our cliff-side villa, opened a bottle of wine, kicked back on the sofa and took it easy.
We had finally arrived in Cinque Terre!