“On the port of Vernazza, the lights were sometimes scratched by the rising of the invisible waves at the bottom of the night” (from “Le Occasioni”, 1939) a scene Eugenio Montale loved to observe during the strong storms that filled the air with saltiness. The harsh and devious landscapes of Cinque Terre inspired Montale for his hermetic rhymes and gained him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975. Montale is just one of the poets, novelists and artists that got inspired by this amazing land.
Here is the story of how we enjoyed our staying in Cinque Terre, here is how we explored the nearby pearls Portovenere and Portofino and truly lived this magical land. Here is the story of how we got engaged…
But before we get into the story, let me share some practical info that might help you in planning a journey:
Monterosso is the western most village of the “five lands” (one land – one village, basically). The remaining four (west to east) are Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. We took a train ride from Milan to Monterosso and it went easy and smooth. You can catch offers for 10€ if you are lucky and if you book well in advance. After arriving to Monterosso we had to get off and change to a local train that connects Cinque Terre every 20/30 minutes.
Train is the most convenient means of transport. You can buy a Cinque Terre Treno Card, which gives you access to all trains between Levanto – Monterosso – Vernazza – Corniglia – Manarola – Riomaggiore – La Spezia Centrale. When you buy the card in the tourist information point, they will also give you a time table of train departures – keep it at reach as you hop on and off between the stations. Included in the cost of the card is the access to all hiking paths (“sentieri” in Italian) which connect the five villages.
If you are up for a bit more of adventure, hiking will give you a completely different perspective and a chance to truly explore the surrounding National Park.
When it comes to accommodation, we paid 120€ per night for the apartment (during July – super high season); it’s probably not a cheap option, unfortunately we booked a bit late and there wasn’t so much to choose from. As the villages are small, booking well ahead is advised in case you want to have more affordable accommodation in Cinque Terre. An alternative is to stay slightly outside the area (e.g. in La Spezia) and then use the local train to reach your destination (its’ not far).
Restaurant prices in Cinque Terre are about 10-14 euro for pasta or risotto dishes and 16-20 euro for meat and fish courses. If you are already familiar with Italian cuisine try to pick those places that offer “a taste of Liguria”, order local dishes (for example “bagnun”) to see and taste what they are like. It is always good to have cash with you as many places in Italy don’t go well with credit cards.
When it comes to safety and security, we didn’t feel any threats, despite the many warnings for pickpockets at the train stations.
And now, let’s look into the different villages:
Our accommodation was in Corniglia, the highest of the five villages, built on top of a cape, with a breath-taking view of the Ligurian sea. The train station is almost at sea level, so in order to reach the village center you have 3 options:
- Take a mini-bus that runs approximately every 15 min between the station and the village center. The bad news is that there is no services later in the evening. The good news is that the cost of the ticket (1.5€) is included in the Cinque Terre Card! 😉
- Walk the 300 and more steps that bring you almost at the village center. Of the two walking options this is probably the fastest, but it requires trained legs and lungs if you want to make it without running out of breath.
- Walk the same road that the shuttle bus takes. This is the longest option, however the road is not very steep, so it’s probably the most suitable option for the less fit ones (and you also get a nice view of the local vineyards).
After visiting all the villages in the area, we concluded that Corniglia truly gives you a glimpse of the local village life.
If you are in search of more authentic country-style feeling of Italy, then don’t look no further and choose Corniglia among the five! You will have to cope with the tedious walks from the station of course, and learn how to sleep despite the church bell which rings throughout the night and gives you a kick-off salute at 7am (when the country-life in the vineyards is supposed to start). Surely the other 4 villages might be prettier and better fit for your Instagram killer-photo. But after a few days in Corniglia, the few families that run the local businesses become your own family, you get to know most of the locals and you get to meet Igor. Igor, the local dog that apparently everybody knows, will welcome you wagging his tail and when you fill his water bowl next to the drinking fountain, you will become his new friend.
First day – CORNIGLIA
On our first day, we decided to spend the few hours left in the afternoon to visit one of the 3 nearby beaches, or maybe they better be called “points of access to the water“. If you are expecting a long beach full of white and fine sand, surrounded by palm trees and coconuts, then you are probably reading the wrong review (check out our Caribbean Cruise article instead). One of the 3 beaches close to Corniglia, Guvano Beach, is unfortunately not accessible anymore, due to a landslide in 2011 that brought destruction in the area and irreversibly changed the landscape of Cinque Terre. The biggest of the 3 beaches, the one that is right behind the train station didn’t seem so appealing (very narrow area with rocks and continuous noise from the trains). So we decided to go for the 3rd (and best) option…a cosy marina bay that is accessible through stairs from village center.
Like almost everything in Cinque Terre, the path to the bay requires a bit of trained legs and is not adjusted for strollers/wheelchairs, but your senses will be rewarded once you arrive.
We found this place lovely, with few people (given the high season) and with crystal clear water. Be aware though that getting into the water is not easy. We had to literally slide down some rocks in order to enjoy a swim. Here is a very important tip: if you plan to have a dip in the water every now and then in Cinque Terre, you must bring with you a pair of swimming shoes. They will make your life much easier by protecting your feet from the cutting edges of the stones and will provide you with that extra grip you need to move comfortably between the rocks. After a refreshing swim and a little shower to remove the salt, we let ourselves indulge in a beautiful sunset from the “comfort” of our rock. Needless to say the warmth of the colors are worth a few pictures and if you are on a romantic trip, your partner will surely fall deeper in love with you…it’s a guarantee 🙂
Second Day: VERNAZZA & MONTEROSSO
For our second day we had planned Vernazza and Monterosso as our destinations. We started the day with a generous breakfast in Corniglia, we bought some tasty “verdure ripiene” – stuffed veggies – and awesome-tasting tomatoes at a local shop called “A Bütiega” (you will see a lot of Ligurian spelling – for those interested in different languages and dialects of Italy).
And then we took off on a hiking trail that connects Corniglia with Vernazza. The trail is in a good shape and is suitable for beginners, although the height difference might be tiresome for some. On the way, you get an understanding of the landscape and nature of the national park, local tradition of grape cultivation, great views of the sea and a lot of fun! At approximately midpoint between the two villages, we had a short stop in Prevo, where we enjoyed a refreshing mixed lemon and orange juice. The outside terrace has a picturesque view of Corniglia from a distance and it’s worth a quick look. Continuing on our trail we approached Vernazza approximately 2h after we departed from Corniglia. The view over Vernazza with its eye-catching little castle is definitely worth a few photos.
We walked down into the village and, compared to the hiking trail where we barely met people, Vernazza seemed overly crowded! As everywhere in Cinque Terre once you come down to the water you see people enjoying their beach time – without any beach though – towels spread on the rocks, in the little harbour, on the pier, everywhere! Tired from the hiking and heated by the strong sun (around 30’C that day), we found refreshment in a pebble beach, where we had a short swim before taking the train to our next point of interest. To access the beach we had to go through a low natural tunnel (cave, actually) in the rock, with houses built on top of it. Of course, the tunnel was closed for access and of course that’s where everyone was tempted to go! The beach was less crowded (maybe because of the don’t-go-there sign?) and we could enjoy some time at the water. If you dare to go there, don’t forget your swimming shoes!
Monterosso is probably the most popular of Cinque Terre. Maybe because it’s the only one with a few sandy beaches, which make access to the sea more convenient (especially for kids and older people). As you come out of the train station, there is a nice street (“lungomare” in Italian) that goes along the beach. A bit of riviera-style, you can find small shops, “focaccerie” (where they sell a local type of pizza), “gelaterie” (“gelato” is the Italian for ice-cream), etc. Lungomare is nice for a stroll, it gives you that summer-resort feeling, but a bit overcrowded to my taste.
Honestly, I went to Cinque Terre to admire its nature, so Monterosso was not my favourite. But if you happen to be there and you are up for a bit of hiking, you should definitely head west towards Punta Mesco.
Tip: Check the hiking map (590 SVA Monterosso – S. Antonio Mesco).
We started around 5 pm when everything around is just breathing heat after the sunny day. We found the hiking a bit heavy, perhaps because we were already quite tired of the day and because of the high temperature.
What unfolded in front of us when we reached the top made the extra effort definitely worth it! From the top you can enjoy a staggering view, not only of Monterosso but of all the five villages along the coast. If you are looking for a hike among the pines and for some break away from the crowds that’s the thing to do! Advice: by the late afternoon you will get the perfect light for amazing pics, but don’t be too late or the sun will hide behind the mountain.
Third Day: MANAROLA & RIOMAGGIORE
The day after, we decided to take a break from hiking. We headed to Manarola by train. If you have ever googled Cinque Terre, the very first picture you see is taken in Manarola.
It’s a lovely place that you find after walking through the tunnel that connects the station with the village. The narrow street going downhill leads to a small bay, where a mix of rocks and a small marina create a very picturesque view. But if you are after that very same Instagram killer-shot (that is probably the very reason you decided to book this trip), then you need to walk a few extra meters. Follow the crowd to the right of the bay, where a walking path leads you to the best view point. Afternoon/evening time is what you want for the classic sun-lit shot. But of course day light does not make the view less amazing. If you want to take a swim in Manarola, it is again a bit of rocky experience, right in the bay or behind the view point on the other side.
After Manarola, we headed to Riomaggiore, also by local train. Riomaggiore is another lovely village with direct access to the sea. Don’t miss out on “fritto misto” in one of the shops in the central street. We got one from Il Pescato Cucinato, it was yummy! The layout of the village is on both sides of a little bay with a local marina. If you are a photographer, you might be even interested in renting a boat in the evening as the view from the sea after dark should be amazing. As all the other places, Riomaggiore is crowded in high season. I have heard of some tourists who woke up at 5am to see Cinque Terre without people but we didn’t go that far.
In the past, it was possible to walk to Riomaggiore from Manarola following the famous Via dell’Amore but after its closure because of a landslide, only 200 meters were reopened above the train station. Don’t be upset about it, other hiking trails offer beautiful summer views of the sea.
So here is how our short but active visit to Cinque Terre concluded. Riomaggiore and Manarola would both well deserve a longer visit, however, we also wanted to see the surrounding areas, so due to time constraints we had to head off to start our journey towards Portovenere and Portofino.
Cinque Terre offers almost any kind of vacation…from the relaxing and lovely views of its villages, up to kilometres of hiking trails for the more active tourists. It’s a place that won’t leave you indifferent to its beauty and if you combine it with the delicious Italian food experience, it will surely not disappoint you! What I realized is that after a couple of days visiting amazingly beautiful places, your eyes get almost used to such beauty, to the point that it feels as if you are not appreciating it anymore. Maybe that is just a little “bug” of my brain, or perhaps many, like me, would have such a thought. Anyways, always remind yourself of how lucky you are to be in such a place and that not everybody in the world will have your same opportunity to witness this beauty during their lives.
Oh, yes, the engagement story I promised you… There is a Part 2 coming up on the blog, so stay tuned!