What more can be said about the Cinque Terre other that it is just amazingly stunning. Beautiful. Picturesque. Tranquil (after the tourists have left for the day). One of the highlights of my trip to Italy.
If you don’t have a car, the journey can be a relatively long one unless you’re staying close to La Spezia. Me, nah I was coming from Bologna via train. On the map it looks like maybe 2 hours, but my trip took 7. Three connections and two delayed trains (Italy sort your shit out with that please), but I eventually got there, determined to see the famous Cinque Terre!
From Bologna I took a train to the outskirts of Florence. Train delay number 1 for 2 hours! Then a train to Pisa and no I did not get off and go visit the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ after seeing the impressive ones in Bologna (you can read about that here) there was no need to. But you know, another train delay meant that I probably could have. Another train to La Spezia then it was FINALLY onto my destination, Monterosso al Mare.
The Cinque Terre (five towns in Italian) is five cliff towns on the west cost of Italy in the Liguria region. Centuries old seaside villages each with their own charm but all filled with colourful homes and vineyards that cling to steep terraces. Pretty much all of the Cinque Terre is steep! But oh, so beautiful. Post card stuff! For the five towns, their harbors are filled with fishing boats and trattorias that turn out seafood specialties along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. Which is divine. The Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail links the villages and offers sweeping sea views. If you are into hiking and are fit enough the trek between the five towns is meant to be quite special. But I am not that fit and I was on a tight time schedule.
Monterosso al Mare is the furthest away from La Spezia (or Florence if you don’t know where that is) but the closest to Portofino and Genova. Next is Vernazza, followed by Corniglia, Manarola and lastly Riomaggiore which is the closest to La Spezia/Florence side of the Cinque Terre.
Staying in the Cinque Terre can be expensive but worth it if you can stretch your dollar. A lot of tourist stay in nearby towns like La Spezia and train it to the Cinque Terre daily. It is after all only a 15-minute train ride. Speaking of trains, the 5 towns are linked by a fabulous train system of which you can buy daily passes. Italy train system got that one right!
I chose to mix it up on my stay in the Cinque Terre. The first night I stayed in Monterosso al Mare which is the flattest of all the towns. The second night was in Riomaggiore. Sadly, only had two nights in the area. Next time I will definitely stay a week and totally chill because it certainly is the place to do so!
My arrival in Monterosso al Mare was met with a short 10-minute walk from the train station into the main part of town. That walk alone was enough for me to know I’d be having a super relaxed time in the Cinque Terre. People just seemed happier; I mean why wouldn’t they with those views. Hawkers sell items on the beach and on the roads and for split second I thought I was on a beach in Bali. The whole vibe, the shops and hawkers were all a little hippie, a lot coastal and quite alternative. Not so mainstream Italian which was for me, a nice change of pace being a bit of an alternative seeker myself.
I managed to find my hotel/boarding house called an Affittacamere (you can read my review of Affittacamere Sull’Arco here) quite easily and after unpacking went out walking around, and finding a spot to people watch and shop watch. From where I sat, I could easily pick out 3 shops from which I just knew the next day I was going to make some serious purchases from.
Being late into Monterosso al Mare after the too many train delays, I found a great little Osteria off the main street and sat myself down to do my favourite of all the things in Italy, Aperitivo of Aperol Spritz. What I love about Aperitivo is the food that accompanies that is all complimentary. This place gave me fresh hot focaccia, olives and potato chips. That was simply enough for me, not wanting to spoil myself of a bowl of pasta for dinner. However, no matter how many drinks you order, you get a fresh plate of food every time. Damn. And I like to drink! Alas, money saved, no dinner needed! Of course. I left myself enough room for Gelati.
I wasn’t expected at the next Affittacamere in Riomaggiore until midday the next day so off I went spending my hard-earned Aussie dollar (little battler)! Managed to get myself a beautiful olive-green linen top, stone necklace and….. bag number 1 (of many) on my trip to Italy. I wish I could remember the name of the shop because this lady was selling some really beautiful clothes, bags and jewelry (all of the hippie variety) and she was super lovely giving me items for free because she “loves Australians”. Ah I know where the shop was so when I get back to the Cinque Terre, I will find her… I will buy from her… I will, I promise!
I was met at Riomaggiore train station by the hotel staff as they didn’t want me to get lost finding the Affittacamere . And thank the universe they did! I went through such a maze of back alleys and buildings that I was 100% sure I would get lost time and time again. My room at Alla Marina Affittacamere was divine, you can read my review here. Again, settle in and then explore. Big photo opportunities in Riomaggiore when exploring. Nothing was more satisfying than the perfect shots I took and the obligatory gelati with beautiful Riomaggiore as a backdrop.
Riomaggiore is much steeper than Monterosso al Mare so you know what’s a girl to do but find a bar in the sun and chill for a while. From my little table I managed to start chatting to some new friends from Texas (who have since followed The Bright Eyed Explorer), Germany and the UK. Got to love being a world traveller and someone who can converse with strangers at whim. I think I spent the most of my afternoon talking & drinking with strangers.
My hotel recommended a lovely place for dinner which ended up being not overly great but I had steak and Cinque Terre is famous for seafood (which I sadly don’t eat) but this was the most expensive meal for my entire trip. Ah give me pizza or pasta any day! I managed to have a bit of an altercation with bar staff at the place I went to after dinner. I’d passed this bar several times during the day and thought it would be a great place to head to later in the evening. But, no toilet, bad communication meant that I was duped out of a pint of beer. Alas, a minor thing and there was always the bar across the street (the one I had been to earlier in the day) that was far more friendly and accommodating.
The worst thing about the Cinque Terre was leaving. But Florence was calling my name. I am so so so glad I went because I almost didn’t. A shame that it was only for 2 nights because I was super relaxed and damn happy being there. I can certainly see myself back in the Cinque Terre some time when the weather is warm and the drinks are flowing. A week to unwind and chill and write would be my ultimate dream.
And then maybe I would go visit the other 3 towns. I’ll admit I was pretty lazy on my trip to the Cinque Terre but, well needed time to chill was what I was after and I succeeded with that on a great level. The only regret I do have is that I didn’t get out on a boat and see the towns from the water. I did try but would have been the only person to charter a boat and at 80 Euro, that was something the AUD didn’t stretch to. I’ll be back, it’s ok.
Cinque Terre? Just do it!
You can read my blog post of my recent trip to the foodie capital of Italy, Bologna right here