Ciao Italy: Cinque Terre

Almost as soon as I settled into my new place in Florence I was off again! My friends and I decided to plan a very last minute trip to Cinque Terre after the first week of class. As the name would suggest Cinque Terre is actually a collection of 5 towns located on the coast of Liguria.

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From Florence to Cinque Terre, the train trip took a total of roughly 3 hours, including transfer times from La Spezia.We had chosen to stay in Monterosso, which is last of the five towns. As soon as we stepped off the train we were all immediately blown away by just how stunning the beach front looked. Apparently, the areas covered with beach chairs and parasols are ‘private’ areas of the beach, which you need to pay for, but there were still plenty of people enjoying themselves everywhere else.

Although we had packed a few snacks for the train ride over, it was well past lunchtime by the time we had settled in. Being by the coast a seafood meal was in order! The meal was a touch on the pricier side, as is usually expected in the more touristy areas of Italy, but it was delicious.

Thoroughly rejuvenated by the good food and a quick peek into the souvenir stores we were ready to go for a hike. I think normally you have to purchase a Cinque Terre card to have access to the paths, but when we arrived at the starting guide box, we were ushered in without needing to open our wallets!

The trail to Vernazza tends to be touted as one of the most difficult paths. This is because there is an abundance of stairs, both up and down. As we weren’t the most athletic group around we took our time and took plenty of breaks.Along the way, we ran into a friendly gentleman selling shots of limoncello from his vineyard, and some of the most incredible views.

We arrived at Vernazza just as the sun started setting. The dusty pink sky made a perfect backdrop for the colourful houses.

Once we actually got into the town it was time to reward ourselves for the workout with pizza and limoncello. As the sun completely set and the weather turned cold, we huddled together, chatted and eventually made our way back to Monterosso by train.

If you’re someone who loves to sleep in you will be relieved to hear that Italy is also a country of late sleepers. The early riser of the group commented that not much was open as the rest of us blearily opened our eyes. Over breakfast we roughly planned out the rest of the day (although that wasn’t without mishap!)

We decided to start from Riomaggiore, the first town of the five, and slowly make our way back to Monterosso.

Riomaggiore is well known for its long slanted street and colourful houses which appear haphazardly stacked atop one another. We poked our heads into everything and almost tumbled down the steep road looking around.

We arrived in Manarola by boat. When we docked, there was a particularly adventerous French family jumping off of the rocks on the port. Everyone in the area was transfixed. As for the town itself, it was also colourful and charming. We made our way up stairs to look at churches and more of the stunning view before leaving by train.

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Corniglia was different from all the other towns as instead of being on the water it is located up on the cliff face. Just getting to the town from the train station was a considerable trek up many, many flights of stairs. Once you do finally manage to get to the top you are rewarded with more temperate weather, a cool breeze and an incredibly charming town.

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We stopped for a round of panino and some of the most creamy lemon gelato that I have ever had in my life. Feeling relieved from the heat it was time to start hiking again! This hike was considerably easier than the previous days. Perhaps it was because we were all better rested. More likely it was because there weren’t as many stairs.

Half way between Corniglia and Vernazza is the tiniest little hamlet of Prevo. I’m not sure if it would even classify as a town considering how small it is. We stumbled upon the town rather late, so everything was already  closed but that didn’t stop us from gawking over how cute everything was.

Once again, we were in Vernazza as the sun set. Only this time we were coming from the opposite side. This time we sat and watched the sunset before heading off to a pasta dinner. On the way back we manage to scrounge up some sparkling wine and a game of Italian Monopoly. After many laughs, we all sleep well, thoroughly exhausted but happy.

On the last day of our trip, we took the time to properly explore Monterosso. We happily bought bread and souvenirs before finally heading to the beach. Throughout the whole trip the water was just too cold to go for a proper swim, but before leaving we all dipped our toes into the sea and happily splashed around for a while. I think that at the end of the trip we were all congratulating ourselves with having done incredibly well on such a last minute trip.

As a side note on the way back, our train to Florence had been canceled by a train strike. So we spent a few hours meandering around La Spezia waiting for the timetable to return to normal. Honestly, this just made everything feel much more typically Italian.

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Tips:

If you’re a keen hiker remember to check to see which of the hiking paths are open before you go. I found this map really useful: https://www.incinqueterre.com/en/trails-advice#statusmap. Due to damage from extreme weather conditions the paths sometimes close, and some of the more popular trails s some of the popular tracks won’t be open for some time. However, there are always alternate walking trails between the towns and further afield for the more adventurous!

A few of my friends said that it was possible to hike through all 5 towns in one day, if you started early and finished late. If you’re extremely time poor this may be an option for you, although I don’t particularly recommend it. The appeal of Cinque Terre is in the rustic towns, picturesque beaches and  the views from the hiking trails. To rush it would be missing out on half the enjoyment.

Remember to check train and boat times online or at the station early on in the day. They don’t appear as frequently as you would hope. If you know exactly what you’re doing it might also be a good idea to buy tickets in advance so you don’t need to line up behind everyone else. We weren’t nearly organised enough in this respect, but it also meant that our day was extremely flexible.

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