Hiking the breathtaking cliffside trails of Italy’s Cinque Terre

The Dolomites were inspiring. Venice, the third time around, was as hauntingly beautiful as ever. And is there a more perfect blend of history, scenery, sun and good wine than Tuscany?

Yet, the bucket list item that most excites is hiking a portion of the cliff trails of the Cinque Terre, the five medieval fishing villages carved from the jagged bluffs on the Ligurian coast.

Since the villages are available only by sea or by rail, hiking is an expeditious, as well as sublime, way to experience this heavenly slice of rugged coastline in northwestern Italy.

National Geographic anointed the Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Trail, among the world’s best 20 epic trails. Though the UNESCO World Heritage Site was incorporated into a national park in 1999 — some say to gouge visitors with trail fees — the paths have existed for 1,000 years. The persevering residents of the five villages etched them from the incredibly steep hillsides to access their vineyards and olive groves, and to reach neighboring towns.

Like the enterprising Venetians, people here knew how to make the most of seemingly impossible space. It’s all a heady panoply — crashing azure sea, pastel-colored villages and terraced vineyards on impossibly steep hillsides — all visible at once.

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