My heart yearns to return as I reminisce over the wonderful time I had in my much too short stint journeying through the iconic Cinque Terre. Paddling in rock pools, mesmerised by romantic sunsets, laughing till my sides ached watching my partner ‘oh, ah, ow’ as he tiptoed across the pebbled beaches; the Cinque Terre was a love-every-minute experience.
This bucket list destination of mine was crossed off in September of this year (2017 for future clarity), and despite going during the off-peak season (by choice as I had heard of the heaving masses during the summer months) to try and visit a bygone time when the towns were unknown Italian hamlets, I still couldn’t escape becoming one of the many flocking tourists.
Travelling aboard through the Cinque Terre is like visiting an Italian theme park. The train is the magical ride (and the only mode of transport) that everyone wants to hop on board and the excitement builds as you weave through mountains to emerge from tunnels with expansive views of brilliant blue waters from the cliff side.
And at each stop off awaits a memorable experience. Every town along the rail-line possesses its own set of delightful architectural characteristics that make each distinctive in its own right – Manarola was arguably the prettiest, Vernazza’s open courtyard was the best place to have a drink at a waterfront table and people watch, Riomaggiore is the largest and most distinctive, and Monterosso offered the best beach in the Cinque Terre. The multitude of beautiful villages, five to be exact – I didn’t get to see Corniglia, are separated by this single train ride which makes the Cinque Terre such an accessible and wonderfully unique travel destination.
Here are some highlights of my trip that I think are worth sharing:
A Girl Who Blooms’ Cinque Terre Highlights: September 2017
Where I Stayed:
I opted not to stay in any of the five villages, because it’s much cheaper and just as handy to reside outside the Cinque Terre in one of the neighbouring towns. I stayed in La Spezia in a lovely modern apartment. The clean accommodation offered high speed WiFi, fresh fruit and water as a welcoming gift, and was located approximately fifteen minutes’ walk from the train station.
Would I stay there again?
Yes, but, do know I wholeheartedly say that without knowing anything about La Spezia. I didn’t explore the town as I just used the town and the apartment as a base to visit the Cinque Terre. However, it was so easy to get there from Pisa and to use the place as a launch pad to set off on my day excursions to the Cinque Terre that I wouldn’t hesitate in staying there again.
What I did in the Cinque Terre:
The main thing that I did in the Cinque Terre was wander. It was wonderful to meander through the passageways not knowing what pleasant surprise might await around the corner and to absorb the sheer magnitude of surrounding colours, which created such an uplifting atmosphere.
The Cinque Terre’s walking mountain trails are synonymous and a huge draw, and for good reason, as the verdant walks offer spectacular views, which, coupled with the pastel coloured town, create a picturesque image fit for any postcard. Or Instagram post, as you may have noticed on my own Cinque Terre obsessed feed. I did however only get to do part of the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia as the rest were closed.
Adopting the role of a ‘water baby’ during my time at the Cinque Terre is one of the standout activities that I loved. Even though it was late September, it was still hot during the day (but chilly at night) and the warm water was forever inviting. Monterosso, which is the final town from La Spezia, actually has a beach of sand, unlike Riomaggiora’s pebbly beach. I went to Monterosso early in the morning and I would highly recommend you do the same. Until 10am, the entire beach is for public use and there’s no need to rent a lounger. If you go to the end of beach, there’s a beautiful secluded pool of water behind the rock formation. Dipping into the clear turquoise waters is reminiscent of swimming in Capri. No-one interrupted us for the entire two peaceful hours that we were there and it was a lovely way to spend the morning.
As mentioned, there is also Riomaggiora’s beach that you can visit. You should, just for the experience of being on a beach covered entirely with rocks and pebbles. It can be a painfully (and amusing) slow wade into the sea but the water is lovely and you can capture a lovely sunset from there.
Where I Ate:
There are three simply unmissable dining experiences in Cinque Terre that you should aim to experience.
Dine on Dau Cilia’s patio that’s tucked into the distinctive harbour of Riomaggiore between pastel buildings built upon the steep ravine. They open in the evening for dinner at 7pm and offer lovely and fresh seafood dishes along with a captivating view of the marina, which is beautiful to admire as the sun sets.
At 12pm, on the dot, make sure you’re in that queue for Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola. They don’t take bookings, so it’s first come first serve and if you’re not there for when they open their door at noon, you’ll find it hard to get a seat by the terrace with an uninterrupted view. And you’ll want that view because it is breath-taking. Order the Pesto Bruschetta, as the pesto is as good as you’ll ever have because it’s made fresh in the region and have a spritz to soak in the views with. Also, just an FYI, they offer a Pesto Making Class in the morning which looked a lot of fun.
In Vernazza, Ristorante Belforte is a restaurant that makes my heart swell and it reminded me so much of Pangkor Laut Resort’s Fisherman’s Cove. It’s located atop of a cliff that overlooks craggy rocks and the sparking sea, and is an amazing spot for lunch or dinner. If you want to romanticise your partner, book the Lovers’ Seat, which is a separate table on its own platform that offers one of the best views in the house. They take large booking, too, and I highly recommend the Spaghetti Bolognese; it’s excellent. Hopefully you’ll be served by the very best waiter I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting – Andrea. He sings, dances, and takes hilarious selfies to instil an upbeat vibe and add a memorable service to an already stupendous dining experience.
How Did I Get Around:
I got around as everyone does in the Cinque Terre by using the train. There’s one train route that connects the five villages. Each stop off is no more than eight minutes apart, some even as little as four minutes.
It costs €29 for a two-day Cinque Terre Pass. €18 for a single day pass. The day passes are well worth the money. They offer you the luxury of hopping on the train at a whim and go anywhere along the Cinque Terre to where your heart desires as well as access to all of the trails. Without the passes, one way train tickets cost €4 each to any town, so if you do the maths you’ll realise quickly that the passes are well worth investing in at the very start of your trip.
You can purchase the passes at La Spezia’s train station, though you can’t buy the Day Passes from the machines or from the ticket booths. Only from the registered sellers within the train station. Just validate the passes as soon as you buy them with the validation machine, and then have it on your person for whenever you’re asked to randomly present it by a conductor.
How Did I Get to the Cinque Terre:
I flew in to Pisa Airport and then went from there to Pisa’s train station to catch the train to La Spezia, which is where I stayed. Because the Cinque Terre’s famous five are tucked away on the Italian Riviera, it can be quite challenging to reach by car. Ferries are an option but I kept to the train as it’s relatively a straightforward journey.
At Pisa Airport, take the Pisamover to travel to the Pisa’s train station. The Pisamover is a monorail that directly connects the airport to Pisa’s train station and it’s such a convenient mode of transport with the whole journey taking a mere 5 minutes.
What Do I Regret Most?
I regret very little about my trip to the Cinque Terre. However, I do wish I’d given myself more time to enjoy this tranquil destination. I was there for two nights only and two more nights would have been ideal as it’s just a place that you want to immerse yourself within. It would have been great to see all five towns, but I don’t feel I missed out because I wouldn’t replace anything that I did do. I just needed more time.
To get the most out of your last day, there’s a baggage storage service at La Spezia’s train station. You can store your luggage there for the day. They open from 8am and it costs €5 per piece of luggage per day.
Whether I was sitting on rock with a gelato in hand as the sea lapped at my feet or taking in the vibrancy of the buildings perched along the rugged Italian coastline, the magic of the Cinque Terre swept me away. Each town was remarkable and it’s hard to pick a favourite, so for anyone who’s been, do leave a comment and let me know which town stole your heart because I’d love to hear.
After this joyous holiday, I will forever be in love with the Cinque Terre. This trip was simply one of the highlight trips of the year for me and it’s somewhere that I recommend young or old to visit as there’s something for everyone along the Italian Riviera’s mystical coast.