The Cinque Terre was one of those places we should have booked months in advance, so we were lucky to get an apartment in Monterosso only one week out.
As the name suggests, the Cinque Terre is made up of five towns on Italy’s west coast just above La Spezia, each of which is perched on the cliff above the ocean. With the surrounding terraced vineyards, the setting is spectacular and the area has become a big tourist destination in summer. They had a massive flood in October last year and nine people lost their lives, but we found no traces of the devastation.
From Verona, we trained to Milan and then changed to an intercity train that runs to Genoa and then down to the five towns through an impressive series of tunnels, finishing in La Spezia.
This wasn’t such a good apartment and it was one of our most expensive… The owner didn’t speak a word of English, so we wouldn’t be getting any free tips (given we could barely work out what she wanted us to do with the rubbish). The apartment was on top of a restaurant, so come 6am an army of noisy Italians wheeling trolleys (on cobblestones) full of ice and fish turned up at our doorstep. We looked out our window to the church bell (which didn’t bother us, except every fifteen minutes) and the train ran across a viaduct 20 meters away. Actually one day I thought Em was taking her suitcase for a walk in the lounge, but it was a tourist in the square down below. All that said, the place was very quiet between midnight and 6am if you were a sound sleeper (the key to this turned out to be lots of walking + wine).
The main attraction of the area is walking the ancient path between each of the towns. From our base in Monterosso al Mare the order of towns was: Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Monterosso is probably the least enchanting of the five, but it served us well as a base.
Day 1 we were intent on walking the coastal path from one end to the other and catching the train back. Shortly after beginning the steep ascent out of Monterosso, the heat kicked in and we were both quite glad that we’d had a week in the Dolomites to sort out the legs. The paths were busy and some of our fellow path-walkers were really not suited to any walking, let alone the Cinque Terre. Not that we are highly-tuned athletes by any means, but it is baffling why some people pick this as their holiday and then decide they can manage the paths! Must be in Rick Steves’ Guide to Europe or something.
The towns are a bit touristy, although still have plenty of charm and some great eating spots.
We made it to the middle town of Corniglia, having taken our time, and started towards the fourth. All was going well and we must have been almost there, before all hopes of getting any further were dashed by some walkers coming the other way saying the path was closed due to a landslide. Given you pay to use the path, you might expect some kind of notice with this information before you climb down 300 steps from the previous town. Nope. Not in Italy.
We gave up and caught the train back for dinner. Dinner in Monterosso was at ‘number 12 Trip Advisor ranked’ Trattoria Da Oscar. Em discovered the awesomeness of local Trofie (tight twisted pasta with pesto) and I tried to choke myself on a plate of anchovies in white wine sauce.
Perhaps it was the 6 am ice/fish army alarm, but we really didn’t feel like walking on day two. Following some procrastination, we trained to the middle town where we had terminated our walking the day before. Then we cheated by taking the free shuttle to the top of the road, avoiding the 300 steps going up and rebellion by Em. From there, we enjoyed some of the best walking of our whole trip, Dolomites included.
With the coastal path being closed between Corniglia and Manarola, the only walking option was straight up to Volastra (somehow ditched from inclusion as a Cinque Terre town). The walking was tough, but this meant far fewer tourists on the trail. We found growers tending to vines and grapes on the precarious terrain and one gave us a handful to munch on. Views from Volastra = vast.
From Volastra, we took an uncharacteristic risk and left the main trail to follow an unofficial ‘panoramic path’, expecting that we were going to be sprung by an Italian at any moment asking for a fee for crossing his land. This never happened and we walked for 40 minutes between vines and down a ridge without seeing one single other person. It dropped us right to the main street of Manarola. If I hadn’t already proposed, I could have easily done it anywhere on that path.
The walk to the last town was only 20 minutes and we caught the ferry back, finding that some of the best views of the towns were from the water.
Next morning, we were back on the train to Pisa Centrale.