Cinque Terre: why everyone raves

Which are the most photographed sites in the world? Judging from a scientific study I've conducted on Facebook, Italy's Cinque Terre National Park has got to be up there.

From the plethora of photos I'd seen online, I felt as though I'd already visited the seaside area with its five iconic villages dotted along the cliffs high on the west coast of Italy's boot. Which is why it was low on my list of must-see places.

But a couple of friends were heading there and Ted and I weren't yet ready to leave the Mediterranean for the big smoke of Rome, so we tagged along. I've now joined the legions of FB posters who've been equally wowed by the olive-tree-lined slopes overlooking the sea.  

Because yes, it turns out there is a reason everyone raves about this walk. I'm glad we did it after peak season, because as you're winding your way around the unsheltered rocks in the beating sun, 32 degrees is quite hot enough. I don't know how people who trek the path on 40-degree days in the height of summer cope. September meant fewer walkers as well; this track is so popular it's common for it to close once it reaches capacity during July and August.

We hopped off the train at the first village, Monterosso, about midday (the previous day's talk of starting early had faded away). For a while I thought we'd take a lot longer than the predicted two hours to reach the next town; around every corner was another phenomenal view that warranted a photo stop. The locals were beginning the grape harvest as we passed, using a monorail to pick bunches on the near-vertical hills. I felt as if I'd stepped into a romantic Italian movie.

Eventually we settled into our pace, which is when I realised why I'd seen so many images of Cinque Terre - the bulk of the accents we heard were Kiwi or Aussie. After a few obligatory "where are you froms?" and "how long have you been travelling fors?" we saw the first of the four brightly coloured villages we were about to stroll through. The red and yellow houses of Vernazza look as though a giant hand has plonked them haphazardly on the cliffs - the village is a photographer's dream.

After a quick gelato stop we continued up about a thousand brutal steps as the grapevines gave way to olive groves on the way to Corniglia. By the time we got there we were well ready for a late lunch of the most delicious pasta I've ever eaten. Unfortunately the part of the track from Corniglia to Manarola is closed due to flooding so we took a train there instead. It was then an easy 20-minute stroll to Riomaggiore.

All of us were suffering from a heinous case of the back sweats so it was delightful to reward ourselves with a swim. We ended the day with pina coladas and an array of snacks overlooking the water before heading back to our base in La Spezia, a couple of towns over. A picture's worth a thousand words, but there's nothing like the real thing.

What's the place you always see popping up on your Facebook feed? And do you feel there's a place in the world where everyone seems to go?

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