Cinque Terre , Italy
September 3-5, 2014
A picture cannot capture the beauty of Cinque Terre. The five picturesque towns each have their own special character and none are alike. Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s national parks and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cars are not allowed in four of the five towns but you can easily reach the seaside villages by train or, if you’re a little more adventurous like me, you can hike the trails.
Hiking the trails is the only way to see those stunning views of the towns. I bought a 2-day 23 euro pass which gave me access to all trails and unlimited trains rides. However, once you buy the pass and activate it, it does expire at midnight. The hike between Monterrosso and Vernazza has been said to be the most difficult. I’ve hiked the Glen Aulin trail in Yosemite and the Paseo Miramar trail near Malibu, CA and this hike didn’t compare in terms of difficulty. It takes between 1h 40 mins to 2 hours to hike and hiking poles aren’t needed. The hike between Vernazza and Corniglia takes exactly 1h 30 mins and to avoid the 365 steps from the train station to the city of Corniglia, it is better to hike to it from a neighboring town. The hikes between Corniglia and Manarola and between Manarola and Riomaggiore are the easiest and take between 40 mins to an hour. You can see all the towns in one day if you wanted to since the train ride is less than 5 mins between towns but it’s better to spread your time across at least 2 days so you can hike, relax, swim, paddle board, kayak, and enjoy what each town has to offer.
Monterrosso. It is the only town with a huge beach. Filled with umbrellas and lounge chairs, Monterrooso caters to those looking for a beach day or a long stroll along the promenade. Be sure to stop at Slurp Gelatio Artiginale. Piero is the owner and he makes the best “5 Terre Creme” gelato!
Vernazza. Known to be the most photographed of the five, Vernazza is quite small with one main street that runs down the center of town. I spent two nights here using AirBnB for the first time and it was my home base to explore the other gems. Of all the towns, this was my favorite. The people we’re friendly, there was a sense of family & community in the area. My first night, I watched the entire town come to the harbor to watch and support their team during a night water polo match. You can also rent kayaks or paddle boards or choose to lay out on the small beach or large rocks in the harbor. Restaurant Belforte is a must! Located in the old castle at the edge of town, they are known to have the best pesto in town!
Corniglia. I almost skipped this town due to time but I am so glad I didn’t. And thanks to an Austrailian I met along the way, I hiked to it from Vernazza and avoided the endless staircase from the train station. I liked Corniglia – it surprisingly had a lot of character. Getting lost in the narrow stone streets led to terraces with ocean views and it was quite different compared to the other towns. I almost felt like I was being brought back in time. I also ran into my new friends that I met while in Lake Como, Claire and Ashe from Harrogate, England. After having an Aperol Spritz (Italian summer cocktail) on the terrace, we made our way to explore Manarola.
Manarola. The town situated on the cliff side offers a much more dramatic and stunning view than the rest. The town seemed a bit larger than Vernazza but similar with one main street leading to the water where you’ll find natural, clear blue pools to swim in. We grabbed a bottle of local Cinque Terre wine, walked around the cliff side rocks to the left of the harbor, and watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. It’s comparable too Santorini’s renowned sunset. For dinner, seafood! Cinque Terre is known for its seafood (especially the anchovies), trophie al pesto (local pasta), focaccia, and Sciacchetrà (sweet local wine usually served with desserts or cheese). We had anchovies which were freshly caught (and I hate anchovies but figured this was the place to have them), mussels, pasta with lobster, pasta with octopus, and pasta with branzino (sea bass). Dinner was amazing and we topped it off with tiramisu and a light lemon ice cream dessert.
Riomaggiore. The closest town to La Spezia, Riomaggiore seemed to be the most crowded with tourists. However, the view from the harbor is different and beautiful in its own way since the two sides of the town meet closely here. Although not my favorite, I’ve read that most people enjoy Riomaggiore and that it is one of the more lively (aka crowded with tourists) of the five towns like Vernazza. I also purchased a nice leather backpack for 115 euros here – I couldn’t seem to find any in Lake Como nor the other towns.
Cinque Terre is definitely one of those places you put on your bucket list to see and hike, especially while you are able. The hiking views reminded me of the Big Sur in California except there are untouched, traditional Italian towns to hike to/from in Cinque Terre. You won’t find any commercialism in the towns, just local restaurants and plenty of touristy souvenir shops. The food was also amazing here, probably the best I’ve had so far!
Onto the next stretch of towns…. Rapallo, Santa Margherita, and Portofino! Ciao!