Italy in a hat. Cinque Terre
We didn’t know until the last minute whether or not we would go to Cinque Terre.
Of course, we wanted to go to the seaside, but we doubted for a long time.
We even did not book accommodation in advance.
We had a great weather in the Dolomites, thanks to which for three days we saw everything we wanted.
Then we visited Lake Garda, where we had a rest and we were full of energy.
– Shall we go to the Ligurian coast?
– Let’s go! I want to go to the sea so much!
And we opened the book.
When the thrifty tourist really wants to visit Cinque Terre, he chooses not one of the villages of the Five Terrains, but in the neighboring town, La Spezia.
So did we.
Apartment L’Etoile with a kitchen and a tiny balcony was booked for 2 nights at 50 euros.
Freshly renovated, free parking nearby, and most importantly, a good location: you can reach both the railway station and the coast in 15 minutes by slow walk.
I boldly recommend this option!
After checking in, we went for an evening walk around La Spezia.
Wikipedia tells us that La Spezia is one of Italy’s largest commercial and military harbors, as well as a center of military industry.
But for a tourist, as it seemed to us, the city is not of great interest: half an hour in the old town and the same in the port area, a few monuments and ancient churches, tall palm trees and pretty yachts. That’s it.
The streets, unfortunately, are dirty and not cleaned, at night and even filled with suspicious characters.
In reviews tourists, including on Tourist, highly recommended seafood restaurant “Dai Pescatori”, which we visited.
Of course, visually the institution was more like a canteen, and ordered dishes are not too impressed. The next day in Monterosso we dined on much tastier seafood.
But we’re on the coast of Italy, right? And, therefore, no reason to be sad.
A little later, we wanted to take pictures of the narrow streets of the old town, but we caught the gaze of a company of migrants. About five or seven young fellows were eyeing passers-by suspiciously.
Deciding not to take any chances, we stopped taking pictures and walked forward down the street. The company followed us.
I quickened my pace and looked back from time to time. The boys did not lag behind.
I suggested that Peter turn and stop. So we did.
Barely having seen the turn, we abruptly turned, and the guys walked forward. Whew!
Glad that our fears were unfounded, we found a store, bought groceries for tomorrow and headed to a cozy rented apartment.
Early in the morning, after having breakfast and studying the schedule of electric trains, we went to the train station.
Cinque Terre is a national park of Italy, listed as a World Heritage Site in 1997.
For those who can only count to three in Italian, here’s a hint: “cinque” translates to “five,” while “terre” means “land. Why this name? It’s simple: five villages (lands) are part of the national park: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Not only are the small towns incredibly bright and beautiful, but they are also connected by scenic trails. The most famous of these is the Road of Love, which will take you from Manarola to Riomaggiore.
But due to rockslides, some of them are closed, so before you go see the latest information.
Another nice bonus is the presence of beaches in Cinque Terre, albeit very small. The beach in Monterosso seems to be the largest and most comfortable for relaxing – clean sand and gentle waves.
Tip: To travel around Cinque Terre, I recommend buying the Cinque Terre Card. It gives you an unlimited number of rides (until the expiration of the Cinque Terre Card) from La Spezia (central station) to Levanto, in regional and intercity trains. It also includes the use of bus transportation. We bought the card at the box office at the train station in La Spezia. There is an option for 1 or 2 days.
After buying the card must be stamped.
You can get to the park by ferry or boat from the port of Genoa or La Spezia.
Leave your car in the parking lot in La Spezia.
I do not know if there is any trick to the order of visiting the villages of Cinque Terre, but we decided as follows: early in the morning we walk through Manarola and Vernazza, and spend the afternoon in Monterosso (setting aside a few hours on the beach). There were some doubts about Corniglia. We firstly thought about not visiting Riomaggiore, but we did see it
So the first was Manarola.
Bright colored cottages hamlet sheltered on the green terraces among vineyards, and on the cliffs of the Ligurian coast.
In the early morning the town still seems quite deserted and sleepy. In an hour or an hour and a half tourists from all over the world will come here in droves, but so far this fresh air and stunning views belong only to us …
Manarola is the oldest of the five towns of Cinque Terre. The picture shows the church of San Lorenzo, which was built in 1338!
Walking through the “Five Lands” – Italian Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands,” is an area on the coast of the Ligurian Sea in Northern Italy where the famous towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are located. You’ve probably seen photos of these places with comments like “the most beautiful place on earth,” “photographer’s paradise,” “ten places where it’s best to spend your honeymoon,” and so on. The popularity is so great that the local authorities are already thinking about limiting the tourist access to the area: during the summer months the infrastructure of Cinque Terre can’t cope with the influx of visitors. That’s why I came here in May, before the high tourist season began. And in order not to depend on transport problems, I decided to make the trip on foot. The more so because the trails laid over the sea promised unbelievable beauty.
Despite the terribly rugged terrain, Cinque Terre is very well connected to the “mainland. Most tourists come here by train, many by sightseeing boat, some by car or bus. But the most advanced travelers walk Cinque Terre. Let’s look briefly at all four ways to see why we settled on the last one.
Trains run with enviable regularity, both local (from La Spezia and Genoa) and inter-regional (from Milan and Pisa). There are tunnels built through the impassable steeps, and 80% of the time the train goes through them, only for a second to emerge from the mountain strata to drop off tourists at the stations. The interval between trains no more than half an hour, from one town to another – five to seven minutes, almost like the subway. So it’s the most convenient way to see all of the Five Lands, even in one day. Minus: Italian railmen often announce unexpected strikes, and you may find yourself in the middle of the night at a completely empty station.
Boat More expensive than the train, but you can admire the views. And that’s what you came here for. There are boats from La Spezia, Lerici, Levanto, Monterosso, and many other places. The departure is about once an hour. You can buy a so-called single ticket, get off at any marina, walk there as much as you want, and then continue sailing. Minus: water traffic stops around 7 p.m.
Wheeled transport The least convenient way to travel. Serpentine roads in the local mountains are terrible: if you rent a car, you will go gray.
On foot So, we stopped on our own. What a great choice! Firstly, you’ll avoid the crowds, and secondly, you’ll see Cinque Terre from unusual angles. It wouldn’t hurt to have a telephoto lens here, because you’ll most often be looking at the sights from afar. But that’s the beauty of it. Up close, you’ll see them when you come down from the mountains to the valley and mingle with the crowds of organized tourists. Cons: It’s hard in places, and hot in the summer. There are very few places where you can go to the sea and cool off. You also need to carry water with you. To spend the night outdoors is officially forbidden, but to find a secluded place is not a problem. It is possible to spend the night and in five-earth towns, but prepare for the category “from 100 euros” for a rather modest room.
There is also a fifth option. From almost any nearby major city – from Milan to Florence – you can book a Full-Day Tour for only 60-70 euros. For a superficial acquaintance with Cinque Terre it will be quite enough.
Trekking in Cinque Terre
I want to say right away: this is not a guide to the towns of Cinque Terre. There are hundreds of guidebooks written about where to sleep, what to see, and what to eat. We walk around Cinque Terre on foot, which means we stop by all these decorative towns only to take a few pictures, buy a new bottle of water, and head further into the mountains. There are many trails along Cinque Terre, all marked. It is impossible to get lost here. Sooner or later you will come out somewhere: either to one of the five towns, or to some village, where buses go to the nearest center of civilization, or at least to the highway, which you can walk to the bus stop or the village. In general, this is not Siberia, the Gobi Desert, or even the Crimea. This is Europe, so you are not threatened with anything here. Except a fine for unauthorized visit to the nature reserve. Yes, yes, you have to pay to enter it. Payment is flexible: from five euros for a simple admission for one day to 15 for entrance for several days and with the ability to move by any means of transport. To be honest, I was ready to pay that money, but I never found where to do it. If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you’ll probably come across this office sooner or later. I know for sure that there are branches at railway stations and tourist centers, but their working hours remained a mystery to me.
So, what is the Cinque Terre trekking? There are two main trails: Azure (along the sea) and High (through the mountains), between which there are about two dozen less important trails. As I said before, you can’t get lost, so it’s not worth sticking to the exact route.
The Azure Trail links all five main towns in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. It is 12 kilometers long and can be walked in six to nine hours. Note that the flat walking speed from the physics textbooks (5 km/h) does not work here. It is best to divide the route into several days with stops for overnight stays. All villages-towns at night, when the flow of day sightseers disappear, take on a special charm. By the way, the famous Trail of Love that links Riomaggiore and Manarola is also part of the Azure Trail.
The High Trail, or trail number one, is for real backpackers with hiking experience. It runs away from the coast and you will not be able to go down to the sea, but the best views are guaranteed. It is 35 kilometers long and can take several days to hike. The high track starts in Portovenere and ends in Levante. Its highest point is Mount Malpertuso (812 meters above sea level).
As for the author of this article, in May 2016 he walked from Portovenere to Monterosso, combining the Azure and High Trail. The route took four days. Perhaps that’s the optimal amount of time for a hiking trip in Cinque Terre.
Let’s talk more about what we’ll encounter along the way.
The starting point of our journey will be the town of Portovenere. Officially it does not belong to the Cinque Terre National Park, but this is the starting point of the hike. The best way to get here is by bus (half an hour and 1.5 euros) from La Spezia, a major railway hub and port. Despite the fact that Portovenere is not on the list of pentagrada, it is probably the most beautiful of all the local towns. Lord Byron and Percy of Bishee Shelley are the chief geniuses of the area, and the promontory on which Portovenere sits closes what is known as the Bay of Poets. Byron swam across it jokingly (the Byron Swim is held here in his honor in mid-August), and his friend Shelley, also a poet, drowned in the same bay (and, alas, nothing is held in his honor). Not only is Portovenere itself fascinating, there are many attractions in its immediate vicinity: