Because of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, us people in the UK received an extra day’s holiday this past week. With another 4 day weekend on the horizon, I decided that I had to go somewhere nice. I already had a destination in mind. Cinque Terre would be the place this holiday.
Flying into Pisa is the easiest way if you are going to come from Europe and can get a direct flight. From there, approximately a 1 hour and 45 minute journey by train (will include 1 change) will get you into any of the 5 villages within Cinque Terre. If you are flying in from North America, the best bet might be to fly into Milan where a longer train journey awaits but Milan is generally a more direct route for those flying from overseas.
Cinque Terre is a combination of natural beauty (with it’s mountains, cliffs, and clear coastal waters) and rustic culture (the architecture is very old, but colorful and full of character). As you can tell by the name, the relation to 5 is that there are 5 main towns that comprise of the Cinque Terre region: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola, and Riomaggiore. While it may not be well known, to those that know about Cinque Terre, many cannot wait to come here on vacation. To get to each village, you have the train, the boat, and you can trek by foot. Many who come to Cinque Terre will know about the hike along the trails, which connect all 5 towns.
Being from Vancouver, I’m big on being out doors (though I am not the go backpacking for weeks while camping type) and I enjoy hiking. Naturally, Cinque Terre was the perfect location for that. The total hike would take approximately 5 hours but keep in mind that it will take much longer if you choose to take your time and visit each village. I based myself out of Monterosso (known as the town that is most touristy as it has its own sandy beaches) and it is the furthest village North along the coast. Wondering what the views from the hike look like?
M O N T E R O S S O
Monterosso has pretty much everything you need really. Great restaurants (see below) and a beautiful coast line. It helped that I had a room in a B&B that overlooked the ocean though :D The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza would take approximately 1.5 hours. This may be the most difficult part of the entire hike as there are a lot of narrow sections with no railings (can be dangerous if you’re not being careful) and there are a lot of uphill sections (you only start going downhill a bit as you reach the next town). Coastal views are available at most stop points though!
V E R N A Z Z A
At the end of the path was Vernazza. This was the town I wanted to stay in but the hotels and B&B’s were all sold out. It is probably the most picturesque out of the five. There were rocks that extended out into the bay and people just sat atop each one, reading a book or drawing. Right along the bay were several restaurants where you could sit, have a drink and a meal while looking out into the water. The bay actually acts as an inlet into the village, giving the city great views out into the water from as much as 180 degrees. I stayed here on a narrow ledge during sunset just so I could catch the town in the light I wanted to see it in. The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia would take another 1.5 hours or so and has many ups and downs. The paths are not as narrow though.
C O R N I G L I A
Corniglia is unique in that it is situated atop a cliff and therefore has no harbor for the boats to stop along (for public transportation purposes). There is a look out point that gives panoramic views from this height, which was worth seeing – you just need to go into the village center and follow the signs. I also had some great gelato here (see below). Relatively small compared to Vernazza and Monterosso, once you’re done seeing the sights, it’s time to move along to Manorola. Unfortunately there was a landslide along the path so it was closed off. We had to take the train instead so I can’t speak of the hike from here to Manorola. It is not supposed to be as long (I don’t think it would take longer than 1 hour and there are not as many steep ups or downs).
M A N O R O L A
Manorola was particularly tiny I thought. The architecture and the color theme were consistent for the most part with all other towns. It also had a bit of a church/cathedral which I thought were neat but I probably spent the least amount of time here. There are no beaches here so if that is what you are looking for, Manorola is not the place. The path was open from here to Riomaggiore but this one had a special name – Via dell’Amore (Path of Love). It is a path that has meaning to many that pass through. People left locks along the path and inscribed love notes on the rocks. It made me wonder how many of those relationships lasted (I just realized how pessimistic that made me sound haha). The hike from here to Riomaggiore is an easy one (all paved) but it is not without great views.
R I O M A G G I O R E
The last town of the five on my trek, Riomaggiore was also the place where I finally had my “lunch” at 4:30pm. It gave me… 1 hour before I had to get on the boat ride back to Vernazza (I had to get back there for the sunset lighting… the things we do as photographers haha). I highly recommend taking the boat ride back, it gives you a view of the towns from the water and it is a great way to relax after an 8 hour trek.
A C C O M M O D A T I O N S
While I originally wanted to stay in Vernazza, the alternative was Monterosso. I couldn’t find anything on Booking.com for the first little while, everything was a train ride away from the main towns so I was hooped. But then I emailed a few places and got some recommendations and found Il Parco in Monterosso. It is only a 10 minute walk from train station but it is uphill so I recommend you take the taxi up the first day if you are carrying loads. My room was modern and very clean but the best part yet was that as soon as I open my door, I see the ocean in front of me. There were also chairs and a table directly in front of my door too so I could sit there with a view of the sea. In fact.. that is exactly where I am as I type this. Cup of wine in hand, prosciutto and cheese at the ready, this is a nice break from the crowded beach just 10 minutes below. Overall, I highly recommend this accommodation. The breakfast is great as well and is included in the rent. Great location and quiet.. I am not sure you could ask for more!
F O O D
Overall I had some great food while I was in Cinque Terre. Most people who think about Italy probably think pasta synonymously. I had some great pasta (pasta, despite what some may think, is hard to cook properly. A lot of restaurants under or overcook their pasta) while I was here and I also indulged on some of their very fresh sea food (them being by the ocean and all). While I found almost all places I went to were very good in terms of taste, I highly suggest you ask your fellow local (ie. The person who owns the B&B or someone at the front desk). I was recommended to a couple of restaurants in Monterosso including Miky and Monerosso in old Monterosso (there is both a section of the town that is dubbed new and another, old).
I ate at Miky on the first night I arrived. For starters, I had the warm seafood salad. Minimal greens but a nice mixture of clam, muscles, octopus and parsley. Very simply done, there was no sauce. The seafood was simply steamed. It really showed how fresh the seafood was! For the entrée, I had the seabass ravioli with pine nuts. Mmm… Kind of light but the portions were actually very decent.
The second restaurant I went to was called Ristorante Il Moretto. It is located in old Monterosso and it is located within a plaza that has about 2-3 other restaurants in the area. I had the seafood salad again to compare to Miky and oh boy was I ever glad I did. This seafood salad was much better (fresher tasting seafood does wonders!) and for the entrée I had seafood linguine. More clams, mussels, and prawns… but oh so good. I think I was seafood-ed out after this meal though lol.
O V E R A L L
Anyone who is not a resort person like me but enjoys culture and great food and doesn’t mind a little beach, should heavily consider visiting Cinque Terre. The five villages all have incredible character, a boat of great restaurants, and lots of beautiful coastlines and views. People who enjoy hiking (albeit an easy hike) will really enjoy this area of the Italian coast. I think I went at a good time though, it being May and just before the tourist season. If you come from June – September, be prepared for big crowds and hot temperatures! Anyway, I had an amazing time. It strikes me that I really enjoy traveling on my own. I got to meet some great people along the way (tons of Aussies on vacation!) as well.