Did you ever read the book, Paths of Glory? The one about the first man to climb Everest?

Calm down everyone… I’m not comparing myself to the great George Mallory. But I will say, I suddenly know what shin splints and knee cramps are, and I’d be willing to bet my left blistered pinky toe that Mr. Mallory and I have shared the same misfortune.

This is Cinque Terre.
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Or rather, this is a view of Manorola, one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre. This is the image that postcards and travel magazines advertise as one of Italy’s most impressive destinations. And it certainly is. The series of five small towns could have once been inhabited by singing Who’s, as the houses are painted in colors that appear to have come straight from the imaginative palette of Dr. Suess. The views are breathtaking and the small-town hospitality remains intact, even with tourists sporting “I heart Spaghetti” T-shirts around every corner.

It is honestly perfect. But mind you, there is always a catch.

If you want the easy way, you can certainly visit all five towns by 2 minute train rides, snag a few sea level photos and then feast on pesto gnocchi with sincere contentment. But, if you want the good stuff, the filet and the spuds of Cinque Terre, you better dust off those kicky boots and start applying deoderant with a spatula because it is a HIKE.

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The five towns are stitched together by hillside coastal trails, allowing the adventurous and the ambitious a chance burn off those inevetible Ravioli-fed thunder thighs.

Each hike is around 5 kilometers long, which sounds relatively harmless. But parts of these trails feel like being on a Stairmaster built for Shaq. I had to use both hands to lift my quivering, gelatin legs up each step about halfway from Corniglia to Vernazza. And before you start judging me, you go ahead and try to raise your knees to your forehead 217 times without using you hands. Yeah… You’re not as fit as you imagined either.

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Somewhere between coughing out clouds of chalk dust and massaging my new, sexy cankles, the trail gave me a hidden treasure tucked under grape vines and olive branches. A few generous locals, living in rustic palaces nestled along the trail, would open their homes and terraces for a much deserved rest, local cold wine and endless free water. This man practically appeared from the heavens bearing lemons and sugar. I reached a flat resting point and suddenly heard sweet Italian opera serenating the sweaty passerbys. Then a voice shouted, ” Freddo Limoncello e Limonade!” (cold limoncello and lemonade). My knees buckled and I charged toward the voice, where I found the patron saint of lemonade standing in a tiny stand. My sandpaper tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth, so I proceeded to order a large lemonade in my best Lou Holtz voice: “Shlemonade por favor-shlay.” He understood somehow and I was immediately revived.

But even with a closing esophagus and legs turning into the stumps of Gumby, it’s impossible to muster up a complaint. In between pants and asthmatic convulsions, the only thing I could breathe out was, “Wow… Would you….look..at that.”

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I mean, how many times can I discover paradise?

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And watch the sunset over the Mediterranean?

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And hike a 5K that ends with this view?

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And eat Pistachio gelato for dinner?

Just pack a bag and get here at some point in your life. I promise you, it is more than worth the joint damage.

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