Learn to say Cinque Terre the Italian way by clicking on the YouTube link below.
Five captivating, remote fishing villages along the rugged Italian Riviera make up the Cinque Terre, Italian for the 5 Lands. If you want to see soaring Mediterranean views with quaint and colorful villages built on steep mountain slopes, and you’re willing to travel light to climb LOTS of stairs, Cinque Terre is for you. The villages are best accessible by train although I understand the truly dauntless may attempt to drive the steep and narrow winding roads only to find they have to park their cars outside of town at exorbitant rates once they arrive.
We stayed at Elisabetta Carro’s Rooms (a click will take you to her website) in Vernazza, seeking the best views at the best price and we were not disappointed. The strenuous climb up endless stairs along narrow, uneven walkways carrying our “rolling” backpacks from the train station was absolutely worth the effort. The views were exactly what we had hoped to find. Our room was tiny but very clean and Elisabetta was delightful. When we returned muddy from hiking, she even helped Jim clean his shoes over my protests. One evening when we returned, a man stood looking wistfully at the stairs to our place behind the gate and asked if we were staying there. He told us he tried to book a room but the last one was rented just before his call. When he asked if the views were as good as he envisioned, we invited him and his companion up to the terrace to share the wine we brought back with us. It turned out he was a priest, Father Frank, from the U.S., traveling with his sister. We had a great visit, enjoying the view while he bemoaned his missed opportunity.
Views from Elisabetta Carro Rooms
(Hover over the photo to see captions or click on the photo for a slide show.)
The train from the southeast at La Spezia takes you first to Riomaggiore in about 10 minutes, then 2 minutes more to Manarola, 3 additional minutes to Corniglia, 4 more minutes to Vernazza, and finally 3 minutes more to Monterosso. There are few views from the train, however, because most of the trip is through tunnels. Tickets are inexpensive; from town to town costs less than 2 euro and the ticket is good for several hours from the time you validate it, or you can purchase a Cinque Terre Pass that covers unlimited train travel and use of the trails for varied periods of time. You can also travel by ferry with stops in Monterosso, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore. Make a plan for each day then calculate whether a pass or individual ticket is more cost-effective. We actually found that individual tickets were right for us.
Each village has its own charms.
Food and Restaurants
Food is such an important part of travel and the Cinque Terre is known for its seafood, olive oil, and mushrooms, among other culinary delights. In high tourist areas like this, it’s often difficult to find good food at reasonable prices. Indeed, it’s sometimes difficult to find good food at any price. The number 1 rated restaurant in Vernazza on TripAdvisor is Il Pirata–The Pirate. I was VERY skeptical about a place with such a kitschy name but the food was excellent and the owner took special care to recommend gluten-free dishes for me. The reviews were varied on some of the places where we ate, but fortunately, we enjoyed good food and good service everywhere.
Hiking the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre was designated a national park in 1999, with a fee to hike the trails between villages. The ravaging floods and mudslides of 2011, however, destroyed many of the paths. In October, 2013, when we visited, the easy trails connecting Riomaggiore and Manarola, and Manarola to Corniglia were still closed. We hiked the more difficult trails from Vernazza to Monterosso and from Corniglia to Vernazza. Had the easier trails been open, we may have missed the more arduous but rewarding hikes that we experienced. Things usually work out for the best, don’t you think?
We hiked Trail #2 from Vernazza to Monterosso, then from Corniglia to Vernazza. The first segment at 1.8 miles, is reputed to be the most difficult section, and takes around 2 hours to complete. There are many uneven stairs, up and down; steep grades; narrow passageways; and the path surface varies from stone to gravel to dirt to mud. On this section we encountered a young couple geocaching, which is “the real world treasure hunt, that’s happening right now, all around you. There are 2,412,846 geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide”(geocaching.com). I’d actually never heard of it before. Jim told them he thought the cache would be at the rest stop with the bench and all the cats. When we saw them again later, they confirmed his guess had been correct.
The 2 mile section from Corniglia to Vernazza is somewhat less difficult. It begins with views of grape vines growing in verdant fields followed by lush olive trees and stunning views of the Ligurian Sea. There are still plenty of uneven stairs and narrow passages, however. Wear comfortable hiking shoes, layer your clothing, and bring water. Stop and rest when needed along the way and enjoy. the. view.
Views from the Trail
Based on events from October, 2013