Our travels through the five villages
These mythical cliffside fishing villages have become one of the most iconic travel destinations in Italy. Situated between La Spezia and Levanto they sport colourful houses, winding alley ways and all things quintessentially Italian. Wrapped in a package of crystal clear waters, friendly locals and great weather almost year round.
Bearing all of this in mind people would say "you're crazy to plan a trip there in the middle of August, say... the day you plan on leaving!" However this weekend we did just that.
After calling a few hotels things went as you might have expected and having no luck we decided first things first we needed to get there. We called the local car hire company and our luck continued down the same path as the hotels. Undeterred we looked up the earliest train, packed our bags and headed out.
How To Get There:
Leaving from Imperia the train ride can be anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours long depending on the time tables and layovers. The Italian train system being the monster that she is means it always pays to check for strikes (at the station if at all possible otherwise you can do so online) as well as your last train home (this may be different on different days and sometimes not make any logical sense whatsoever). Never book anything shorter than a 15 min layover as the trains are often late. On the flip-side however, if your ticket is booked for a standard train and not a fast train or intercity it will allow you entry on to any earlier train to the same destination. Unfortunately if you bank on making it and fail to do so your next train may not arrive for another 1-3 hours, sometimes longer depending on your destination and connecting station.
The train pulls in and we jump aboard. We had planned on using the journey to find a hotel but the multitude of tunnels along the coast line to Genova had different ideas, so instead we watched as the beautiful coast line passed below us. At last we arrived in the northern most village of Monterosso Al Mare at about 3 pm. Craving our afternoon coffee we found a beachside cafe with Wifi to find a bed and avoid sleeping on the street.
How To Look:
For Cinque Terre specifically we use cinqueterrehotels.it. This is a brilliant website where you simply enter your trip details and preferred location. All of the relevant and available hotels will then send you an email with the info you need to make your choice and book. It is better to use this site if you have a little more time as it can take a day or two for them all to reply. The advantages are however that this is a local website that lists many amazing boutique accommodations that are not on larger booking sites such as hotels.com, Travago ect... On this occasion, given it was such short notice we used the booking.com app. You have the option of staying in Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola or Riomaggiore. There are more affordable options in the nearby town of La Spezia, so if you are happy to take a short train or water taxi ride in to the villages themselves then you may want to consider this option.
We found a hotel in Monterosso after some comparison of our few remaining options. It was called Hotel Marina, located a short walk from the train station just up a side street. Given that it was such short notice and how affordable the accommodation was, we were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and charming the room was (it even passed willows cleanliness test which is saying something seeing as she is a super yacht stewardess). The fresh coffee and watermelon provided all day was a nice touch as well. We quickly dumped our stuff and headed out for a swim before returning to get ready for dinner.
For dinner we took the train to Manarola. As you exit the station into the tunnel, turn left towards the sea and you will reach a paved courtyard. Standing at the seaside balustrade gives you a cascading view of the soft lit streets filled with beautiful pastel colours. A sweeping stone stair case will meet you on the right-hand side and bring you down into the winding thoroughfare of the village proper. We walked through the beautifully cobbled streets until we got to a small restaurant called Il Porticciolo S.R.L which the local hotel staff had recommended. We indulged in some of the finest wine and seafood on the face of this sweet earth. As the night rolled on and our bellies began to fill we finally tore ourselves away to catch the last train home to Monterosso at around 11pm. .
The next morning we awoke to one of the best hotel breakfast we've had in Europe to date. The dining area was located on a terraced outdoor patio covered in thick fruit bearing grapevines with a made to order omelette station as well as a sweet and savoury bar. After stuffing ourselves full of chocolate croissants and delicious omelette's we pocketed a few packs of nutella for the arduous hike ahead and headed off in the direction of Vernazza. It's about a 1-1.5 hour walk filled with all of the things you would expect from Cinque Terre. Lush hilltop vineyard and sweeping ocean views, with the occasional fleeting glance of the bright pastel coloured villages that have made this stretch of coast line world famous.
Towards the end of the hike our favourite village of the 5 comes into view in a big way. The first time you see Vernazza, with its tiny harbour and medieval towers from the cliff-top path is a sight you won't soon forget. It is as if you have stepped through a portal in which the outside world ceases to exist and life is simply and wonderfully confined to this tiny, bustling picturesque fishing village.
Travel Tip: Every one who visits this coast has their personal favourite but more often than not this is the one that captures peoples imaginations. If you have a little more time on your hands we recommend you plan to spend at least a whole day here. Explore the narrow alleys filled with artisan craft stores, lay on the beach or catch a drink and a meal in one of the many clifftop restaurants.
If you are keen to get your feet wet you can either head in to the village and left through a rock tunnel to a sea shell beach, or you can continue on to our favourite spot. Head around the corner past the ferry loading point and you will come to what seems like a dead end. However if you climb to your left over the rocks you will find a large slab of sunbaked rock that is completely private from the crowded town around you. Opposite this, if you are feeling a little adventurous there is a sweet cliff jump that juts out from the water at a gradient that allows you to chose your level of adrenaline rush.
Depending on your time frame the villages can be seen by 3 modes of transport. Trains being the fastest and ferries being a close tie with your own two feet (which in our opinion, for the view is by far the best and most rewarding way to see cinque Terre). Both train and ferry are reasonably priced but can add up quickly when combining many small trips together. For this reason we'd recommend getting the Cinque Terre Card which will save you some cash and make getting around a little more enjoyable. From Vernazza we took the ferry to Riomaggiore for an afternoon filled with shaded, winding alley ways and cliff-top vantage points and of course a little gelato...
After our whirlwind visit of the 5 villages we headed back via train to our hotel, who had kindly offered to hold our bags and allow us a hot shower upon our return.
So, although we would not recommend leaving everything to the last minute, don't let it deter you from going on these spur of the moment weekend getaways. If we can do it in Cinque Terre in the middle of summer, well, you can do it pretty much anywhere and if you have an open mind then figuring it out along the way can be half the fun!
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