Cinque Terre is one of those places I have been planning to see since I moved to Italy. The name Cinque Terre means The Five Lands, and it is a stretch of land with five beautiful little towns nestled in between the mountains and bright blue sea.
Laziness and indecision is what has kept me from going up until now. I was never sure what plan of attack I should take.
Drive or take the train?
Stay in one of the little towns or the city?
One night or three???
I finally decided to drive and stay in La Spezia for two nights. I stand by my decision to drive; but I would probably stay in one of the towns instead of La Spezia next time. La Spezia is convenient, but not at all charming.
After the accommodations were made all I had to focus on what would fill my days. Cinque Terre is famous for the hiking so I wanted to make that the focus of my trip.
I started in Monterosso, the most resort-like of the five towns. The coolest thing I found in Monterosso was this statue carved into a cliff overhanging the beach. The statue is of Neptune holding a giant shell on his shoulders. The giant shell was used as a stage for dancers until it was badly damaged in the war.
I had a lunch-time boat trip planned to leave from Monterosso and I was really looking forward to it. Of course Murphy’s law prevailed and it started raining as soon as I got to Monterosso! Once I got word that the boat trip was cancelled I walked around the town for a while getting soaking wet. I was getting pretty depressed that my first couple of hours in Cinque Terre were turning out so wet and disappointing so I decided to move on to the next town.
While waiting for the train to Vernazza I realized that I overestimated how often the trains run between the towns. I thought they ran about every 15 minutes, it is closer to an hour between trains. And they are crowded!
Once I got to Vernazza I found a cute little restaurant to get some lunch and get out of the rain. I ordered the two local specialities; Anchovies and Pesto pasta.
The anchovies were fresh and not overly salted. They were prepared with plenty of lemon juice and served cold, not at all like the anchovies you love to hate.
The pasta, Trofie al Pesto, is a Ligurian specialty and pesto was actually invented in Liguria (the region that houses Cinque Terre).
By the time I finished my long lunch the rain had stopped and I wandered around Vernazza for a couple of hours. There is an old castle tower in town, and you can climb to the top for some great views. Vernazza also has a pretty little port with plenty of rocks in the water to lay on, kind of like those floats you keep in the pool.
Something I found very charming was the way the boats look when the locals pulled them into the town square to protect them from the rough waters. I absolutely love all the colors of Italy!
After my rainy day I was ready for some sun, and the next day I got plenty of it. The weather completely cleared up and the day was beautiful.
I started my day of hiking in the town of Riomaggiore because the first two legs of the hike are easiest when you leave from Riomaggiore.
The hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola is actually not a hike at all. It is an easy walk along a paved path that overlooks the water. It is called the Lover’s Walk because it is so easy and romantic.
One of the tourist traditions in Italy is for lovers to leave a lock on a bridge, or gate, or really anyplace, to seal their love forever in Italy. There were hundreds of these locks scattered around the path, which I thought was so romantic.
I wanted to start the day with the easy hikes because it can be difficult to find a hearty breakfast in Italy and I didnt want to do any strenuous hikes on an empty stomach. That plan changed pretty quickly.
When I got to the next town, Manarola I saw that the hiking path to Corniglia that runs along the coast was closed. I really wanted to spend the day hiking so I decided to attempt the strenuous hike up and around the mountain to Corniglia. On an empty stomach. With the sun beating down on me.
The hike was so pretty, but they were not kidding when they said it was up and around the mountain, I felt like I would never stop climbing!
See the terraces all along the mountain? They are used to keep the soil in place so vineyards and olive trees can be planted all around the mountains. The rumor is that there are at least as many stones in the terraces of Cinque Terre as in the Great Wall of China!
After about two and a half hours of hiking I was getting close to the end of the trail. I was starving, hot, and tired of climbing. I had also fallen, very ungracefully, twice. I was ecstatic to see Corniglia just below me. Do you see the train station and tunnel at the bottom center of the picture? Ok, now look directly above the tunnel at the zig-zag going up the mountain. That zig-zag is a very long staircase and I have a very sad story to tell you about it.
So I finally reached the town of Corniglia and I went off in search of food. I got to the staircase and decided to walk down it, because something told me there was some really good food waiting for me at the bottom. I got to the bottom of the staircase and there was NOTHING there! Except this sign…
This was the lowest point in my day, and I felt that tingly feeling in my nose I get right before I cry.
As much as I wanted to sit down and have a nice long sob-fest, there were no benches, so I had to drag myself up the zig-zag stairs, legs shaking the whole way.
When I finally found a restaurant I stayed there for over an hour recuperating and planning my hike from Corniglia to Vernazza.
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was easier than my earlier hike, but I was super-tired by this time so it was kind of difficult for me. Still, the views were amazing.
When I got to Vernazza my feet seriously needed a break so I decided to call it a day and hang out in the water for a while. I found one of those rocks in the Vernazza port to sit on and let the water lap at my legs. By the time I got out of the water I was soaked from the waist down and feeling wonderful.
The last thing I did before I left Vernazza was track down some local wine. Sciacchetrà is a sweet wine made in Cinque Terre. I bought a bottle that is chilling in my fridge right now. I am very excited to try it!
Overall the trip was fantastic but I am still sad about missing my boat ride 😦 I think I am going to have to go back very soon to get my boat ride and some more hiking (I decided to save the Vernazza to Monterosso hike for next time).
But this time I will be eating a giant breakfast before climbing any mountains!