Cinque Terre: The real gem of Italy

Tips for Cinque Tizzle

  • Watch out for added charges on the walks… You will be charged for the privilege of walking along the front
  • The time for hiking between all 5 villages is 9 HOURS!! Didn’t find that snippet of information out anywhere and when it gets dark earlier in Autumn, this bugger can be a little hindrance. There is an option to hike along the front but there may be restoration in progress
  • La Spezia is a great, cheaper hub than the five villages and a €4 train ride to any of the villages is easily affordable. Alternatively, you can get the Cinque Terre pass, which is under €10 (I think) for unlimited travel between the towns. For more information, consult the website
  • Staying on a boat is fun and unique, however in October, it’s chuffing freezing!
  • Try the pesto… The home, the beacon, the pinnacle of pine nut delicacy.
  • Portovenere is also a beautiful stop off, with a slightly more gothic, dated feeling to the villages
  • Most restaurants charge a “service charge” as opposed to relying on tips. If your bill is upped by 3 euros or so, don’t be surprised and query it!

Cinque Terre was a definite highlight for our Italy trip and something we were really looking forward to. We enjoy hiking, beautiful quaint villages and the sea, up until Rach had a wrestle with a jellyfish in Nice. To get there, we used Corsica Ferries to ship us over to Livorno (which seemed pretty run down) and got the train up to La Spezia. We had lunch in Livorno actually and got our first taste of Italy, which was a couple of vegetarian pizzas to share.

La spezia seemed quite inundated with little side streets, a constant feature of Italian towns. Without internet and just a print screen, we ventured to find our boat. Stubbornness is a fundamental component of our relationship, yet our persistence fell short after 20 minutes of trudging around La Spezia. We called our Air B’n’B lady, who then was a bloke and he guided us to him. A lovely chap that he was, he had that classic Italian sleeze and made me feel rather uncomfortable around my own girlfriend. Bella Italia! He showed us to our boat where we shared many a morning limoncello and were calmly swayed to sleep each night, under the watchful eye of Giorgio Armani’s yacht (which moors here). We had a wander around the town, rummaged up a quinoa delight for dinner and hit the hay.

Hiking the Cinque/Quattro Terre

Our first full day here and we obviously endeavoured to explore the sights and scenery the Cinque Terre had to offer. As mentioned, it takes NINE hours to hike the whole thing and unfortunately we aren’t the Usain Bolt equivalent in hiking and couldn’t get to Riomaggiore in time. We did however manage to tick off Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia & Manarola. All of which sound great when you say them in an Italian accent! We started at Monterosso and were informed of the delight of a nine hour hike there and got to work. Each town is petite and therefore can be explored in a moderate amount of time, especially if you don’t have plans to sit down for lunch or an ice cream, which we didn’t.

We started the trek and there were clearly local veterans who were planning to hit a hike with their dogs, which we saluted with a “fair play”! The steady incline and autumn heat made it a little sweatbox adventure but the views atop the hills were stunning, in and around the Santuaro di Nostra Signora di Soviore. We plundered on and you may be fooled when you join the main road but this is the way. There’s also a cool spot where you can roll down a hill towards the sea and find your inner child 🙂

The hike to Vernazza was the longest, town to town hike we did but certainly getting to this jewel was a reward worth reaping. Often revered as the prettiest of the five, it’s easy to see why, with its narrow colourful streets all emerging to their cute little port. All roads are littered with lovely restaurants, bakeries, gelateria’s, souvenir shops and more. As our trip was on our budget, we found a cafe come restaurant selling pesto in the epicentre and decided to sit there. For €7 each for a pesto pasta and pizza, it was certainly worth it, plus there were no cover charges. Winner winner, pine nut, basil and other ingredient dinner. We treated ourself to an ice cream yet we are still to find one better than Gastro Azzurro, Nice and wondered aimlessly around the town. There are some historical ruins at top of Vernazza if you’re into that, up an unnecessary amount of steep and narrow stairs. I believe the entrance is €5 but this trip was 2 months ago, so I could be wrong.

We headed out of Vernazza and desperately tried to find a free public toilet, which is impossible in tourist traps before moving to Corniglia. Luckily, at the very top of the town, there is one in a car park and there was no-one on the chair, so we got a freebie here. Vernazza really showed our bandit nature as after we got turned away on our hike to Corniglia as we were unwilling to pay €7.50 to walk on a path, we jumped a train to the next town. Honestly, I’ve never babbed myself as much as I did in those four minutes and I think I lost a good year or so of my life in stress, especially as the train guard trundled past. We got off and hugged in a huge sigh of relief!

Corniglia was in my opinion, completely different to the rest, being atop a hill as opposed to perched at sea level. The streets have a slightly different feel, maybe they’re even narrower, more exotically coloured or the dizzying altitude affected my perception…. It became apparent by the third town that depending on your travel goals, you could easily dip in and out of all of the villages and be easily satisfied with your Terre Travels. The church at the top of the town was lovely and it offered a different perspective of the surrounding landscape. Smack bam in the centre, a cracking location for a stay.

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We conquered the final hike in around 90 minutes with a Dutch compatriot, who made it clear that Greenland needs to be on the travel bucket list. We raced to Manarola in order to catch the sunset and caught it immaculately. Although my GoPro isn’t the best of cameras for stills compared to you avid photographers, it gets a good enough picture to ingrain in my memory that will last a lifetime. We enjoyed a relaxing drink and the panoramic views from Manarola’s “Hollywood” sign equivalent (I think it was just a really old billboard) and wandered into the town square, which lies above the cobbled path to the sea. It was peculiar seeing all the rowing boats parallel parked on the road in a manoeuvre that something a 17 year old learner driver would be proud of doing. We had an aimless walk in the dark before getting a train back to La Spezia, which get more infrequent as the day goes on. I think it was every 40 minutes when we got there and sod’s law, we were two minutes out. Details can be found here:

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La Spezia is also a great town and worth a visit, although a lot more military and flowing with traffic (there are no cars through the Cinque Terre except for one village due its World Heritage status) and worth writing about separately. On this instance, I will just recommend where we ate, which were:

  • Dai Pescatori – Fresh fish everyday, don’t get the octopus salad.. I may as well have been chewing down on a Michelin tyre
  • Il Trittico – Fantastic pizza, although it is worth making sure they’ve got a tomato base if you’re wanting one, that threw us! The pear and gorgonzola pizza is quite a treat!

Cinque Terre was a memorable day trip and it most certainly is doable in a day, if you aren’t fussed about living the high life in each and every town. Although overrun with tourists, the five villages can be a relaxing break if you take your time and pick the right accommodation. It will always be ridden with crowds but the best thing to do is get out there, enjoy the sights, enjoy the weather and most importantly, enjoy the pesto!

And just for good measure, here’s some pics of Portovenere:

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