The Cinque Terre is a series of five villages perched on the Italian riviera coastline southeast of Genoa. The villages are, for the most part, only accessible by boat/ferry or the regional trains that run through them, connected from Pisa to Genoa. The first time I heard about them was reading a Rick Steve’s guide book on Italy. We visited in 2012 as part of our Italy trip. After spending a few days in the beautiful Tuscany countryside, we realized we missed seeing the ocean.
The train ride to CT was an adventure. The high speed trains in Italy and across Europe are fast and efficient. But the slower, local trains are so interesting. Perhaps because they provide a taste for slow travel and what feels like a more authentic experience, traveling almost like a local. We caught a train from Siena that was destined for La Spezia with a switch at Empoli. Once in La Spezia, we needed to catch a local train for CT. A map here if you are interested. On the Empoli to La Spezia leg, we stopped at Pisa station for a very long time. At first I didn’t notice because I was enthralled by my book of choice for that trip: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But then Mike pointed out we’d been sitting there for 20 minutes. There hadn’t been any announcements, not even in Italian. No train conductors appeared to tell us what was going on. A few minutes after, some of the locals started to get off. I asked one person if he knew what was happening, and he said no one knows. Then I saw across the platform, there was a train coming into the station in 5 minutes that was headed to La Spezia. I told Mike we should just get off our train and hop on that one since our ticket brings us to the same destination. When the new train arrived, our original train was still sitting there. That experience reminded me a lot of taking the trains in China as a child. The disorganized nature and lack of information.
So, a note about taking regional trains in Italy, if your train stops for a long time for no reason, don’t panic! The CT train from La Spezia spent much of its first 5 minutes passing through mountain tunnels, then suddenly, we are out of it, and you just see emerald green and blue waters of the Ligurian sea, it was a sight that caused the whole train to go “wow!”
Favourite things about the Cinque Terre:
– The natural stunning scenery
– You get a bit of both: mountains & ocean
– Hiking between the villages: though when were there in 2012, a couple of them were still closed as a result of the landslides that happened in fall of 2011.
– The amazing seafood in the area
– Amazing gelato! (although really, gelato is amazing everywhere in Italy I’m sure)
– The indescribable old-world charm of the villages. You know the saying about a slower paced life in more remote areas of the world, and here, even though it’s not that remote, you feel it. Even as travellers, you feel more relaxed
– How despite the increasing crowds visiting the region, it still retains its charm and authenticity. At night, when the day trippers have gone, the streets are filled with mostly locals (lots of Nonna’s) and it feels like time has not touched this place much in the past fifty years.
There is a tunnel on the walkway from Riomaggiore to Manarola (affectionately dubbed as Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s Walk), and it is filled with graffiti and writings.
Train station with a view :)
Vernazza. It’s the favourite village of a lot of people. We bought pizza from a pizza place just up the street from the harbour.
We sat down by the seawall, in the shade, ate delicious pizza (probably one of the best I’ve ever had);
drank Italian lemon soda (my fave!);
watched the comings and goings at the harbour and in the square;
And then sat on the rocks and watched the sun dip below the next town and the curve in the landscape.
It was one of my favourite days from that trip.
(Sorry, no photo of the pizza, you’ll just have to take my word for it).
This last photo makes me think of Old Man and the Sea.
Except it’s more like Old Men here…although they were kind of far, so not sure if they are even old! :D
Where to stay:
Aria di Mare in Manarola – lovely place, definitely rooms with a view
Where to eat:
Trattoria dal Billy (Manarola) – awesome view, amazing seafood!
Il Porticciolo (Manarola) – yummy seafood pasta