Take five small fishing villages along the coast, add some rocky beaches, some lemon trees, limoncello and a couple of hundred Aussies – this is Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre (literal translation being five villages) is sprawled along the north west coast of Italy just passed the French border. The five villages named Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corneglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are all beautifully perched upon a jagged and mountainous landscape – creating the most picturesque images you will ever see.
We had decided to stay at the first village Riomaggiore. Our B&B, which was quite the hike up a hill, required us to take the bus up to the house. The instructions to get to the bus stop were simple:
“Turn right from the exit of the train station, go through the tunnel, walk about 50 metres out of the tunnel and it’s on your left, in front of the pizza shop”.
Usually it wouldn’t be a problem, with the exception that there were about five pizza shops within those first 50 metres. However, working out where it was, wasn’t too much of an ordeal with the locals being so friendly and welcoming. Asking where we were going and advising us of the stops along the way so we would know when to get off – lovely people.
It didn’t take us long to get to the beach. We left our bags at the B&B and went down to our beach at Riomaggiore. Like most beaches in Europe the sand is replaced by massive black rocks, making the walk down to the shore a bit awkward. For those of us that can swan dive (i.e Gus) the entrance was spectacular. The rest of us had to settle for the all safe belly flop – at least when we got in, the water was warm and pleasantly calm. Absolute bliss.
The next day we set out to see the villages. We bought a Cinque Terre card for 20 euro each, which allowed you to travel on the buses and trains for two days. It also allows you entry to walk along the coast of the villages which is named the Cinque Terre National park. We were set to start our adventures at the furthest village called Monterosso and work our way down back to Riomaggiore. However, the trains ran rather infrequently – one every hour. So, once we got to Monterosso, we found some sun beds, got an umbrella and hit the beach – the total cost was 15 euro. Not bad for a day at the beach!
Vernazza and Corniglia were on the itinerary for the next day. We took the train to Vernazza the following day and explored this lovely little village. There was no beach in this village, but the town was gorgeous. An old church overlooking the ocean, lots of colourful homes again perched up on the side of the mountain. We had some lunch here, before heading to Corniglia for the afternoon. Corniglia was a funny one, it has a ramp leading you up to a staircase claiming the village is at the top of the 380 odd steps that lay in front of you. Most tourists look at the sign, turn back and look for another sign hoping that there is maybe another way of getting up there. There isn’t. We soon found ourselves trekking up the 380 stairs. You do get a congratulations sign at the end of it though – makes it all the more worth it! Here in Corniglia, we stopped off for (one of many) gelato and took in the breathtaking view from the top of the hills. It was a good rest before making our way back down the stairs again.
That night we were having a lovely dinner in Riomaggiore, when we noticed a couple sending their dessert around the room for a taste. It was so good, they had decided the entire restaurant had to try it. This was how we met the first of our many dinner friends in Italy. The Norwegian couple told us about the walk through “Via dell’amore” or Lovers lane. A walk from the village of Riomaggiore to Manarola, in which superstition says if you write your name on a padlock and clip it somewhere along this lane your love is never lost. After several bottles of wines, some grappa and limoncello we decided it would be something we had to do the next day.
We (slowly, and fairly hungover) headed up to lovers lane the following day, armed with Gus’ padlock from his luggage. It’s quite amazing how many padlocks there are here, we saw thousands upon thousands of padlocks of all shapes and sizes. There were also people proclaiming their love by writing their names on the cactus plants along the path and sitting in the Lover’s Chair. This lane lead us to the second and last town for us to discover called Manarola. Much like Riomaggiore, it’s a lot smaller than Vernazza and Monterosso and has relatively more affordable cafes and restaurants. It was here that we saw people cliff jumping from gigantic rocks in the ocean. Still recovering from the Grappa and Limoncello shots the night before, we decided to take it easy and just enjoy the sights.
One thing we did do was try the gelati from each of the villages and the gelati shop in Riomaggiore was by far the best. Rated number #1 on tripadvisor for a reason. All their gelato is homemade with the freshest home grown fruit. Next time we probably won’t bother getting the Cinque Terra card, it’s not worth it unless you plan on doing the walks along the coast on one day and then use the trains the following days. You’re better off buying train tickets on the days you want to head to the next village.
Cinque Terra was simply stunning. It was our first stop in Italy and we definitely recommend to anyone who may find himself or herself this way. Each village is unique in it’s own way and although they were flooded with tourist for most of the time we were there, the locals loved it. It’s a town full of colourful locals, beautiful beaches and just a great place to relax.