Leaving Florence, we took the train to Riomaggiore, the first town in the region known as Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is on the Italian Riveria and is comprised of five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre translates to “Five Lands” and reflects the five main villages. We spent two nights in Riomaggiore, the town closest to La Spezia and considered to be one of the most developed. In the last few years, the number of visitors to Cinque Terre has exploded, and to me many of the places we went seemed way too touristy – kind of like what I imagine living on a cruise ship would be like. The majority of visitors seemed to be retirees, with a few backpacker/exchange-student types thrown in for good measure.
The towns all consist of brightly colored, square houses that seem to be built right into the side of the cliff. According to Wikipedia (so take it accordingly), “The variation of house colors is due to the fact that while fishermen were doing their jobs just offshore, they wanted to be able to see their house easily. This way, they could make sure their wives were still home doing the housework.” There is no doubt, however, that the array of colorful buildings makes for an amazing sight, especially when viewed from the sea. In addition to fishing, there is a surprising amount of crops grown here (especially grapes) considering that all of the plots for gardens/fields were literally hewn out of the rocky hills in order to create terraces.
Previously it was very easy to walk in between villages along a trail that connected the villages along the sea. However, a huge flood and ensuing mudslide in October 2011 knocked out a lot of the trail, much of which has not been totally rebuilt. Taking this into account, we went with the low-impact version of the Cinque Terre: a combination of ferry and train. With the exception of Corniglia, all five towns are accessible by ferry. Corniglia is not down on the sea, but on top of the cliff, but it is reachable by hiking or train.
We traveled by ferry from Riomaggiore to the second village of Manarola. Manarola is a beautiful town, and not quite as steep as Riomaggiore. In Manarola, Chelsey and I decided to take a hike up the side of one of the cliffs just to see what we could see. While it was a tough climb at moments, it was definitely worth it. Manarola seemed to be the headquarters for much of the grape growing. After hiking back down the cliff, we caught the ferry and headed to Monterosso al Mare, which is technically the fifth village.
Monterosso was my least favorite village. It is especially popular with tourists because it has a decent beach and plenty of restaurants. I found the town to be way overdone (you’re trying too hard, Monterosso!). I did manage to find a less-visited place in the Capuchin Monastery and Church of San Francesco (St. Francis of Assisi). Up here there was a statue of St. Francis, and a great view of the beach and town below.
Next we got back on the ferry and headed to Vernazza. This town was my favorite. It has the right mix of small-town feel with fewer tourists (this also may have been since it was later in the day). The beach here is way better than Monterosso, and far less crowded. I even got in the water! We found a great little bar on the cliffside and enjoyed a glass of wine while overlooking the town.
With one village remaining, we got on the train and went to Corniglia. This village was a trek to get to from the train station since it is so far up on the cliff and not right on the water like the other villages. After our hike from the train station, it was time for food. The main specialty in the area of Cinque Terre is pesto, which actually started here since the basil grows so abundantly (according to Rick Steeves anyway). Lots of pesto was consumed during the two days we were there, on pasta, on bread, and on pizza.
Having reached all five of the villages, we finally called it a day and headed back to our base at Riomaggiore on the train. The next morning we got up early and Chelsey and I caught the train and headed to Milan. Unfortunately, our time with Jake and Jules was over, but we still have another week left in Italy!
To see more photos from our time in Cinque Terre, check out this post.