Dana Mladin

CINQUE TERRE – a 5 star land

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It was love at first sight. On Facebook, this is how I got to know it…

Some picturesque photos and… that was is. I was blown away!

And when you think that I do not speak about a man, but about a place in Italy…J

I had not heard before about Cinque Terre, so I started looking for it. It sounded Italian, but that was all I knew about it. And I had no idea I would come here two years in a row, charmed by these places. (First time was in June, when temperatures had not reached the discomfort level. The second time, at the end of October, when I was shocked to live a late summer, appropriate even for some swimming in the sea!)

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Autumn in Monterosso al Mare

The first “guide” I found when looking on the Internet was an Italian girl – Bianca Gignac. Resident in the area for many years and even a guide for the ones who want, she made me read all the info. I even remembered some of the advice – especially the food chapter. Because I always appreciate the local people recommendations.

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What is “Cinque Terre” in fact? It is five fishermen’s villages, wild, high on Italy’s Riviera, in the Liguria Region (in the North-Western part of the country), villages connected until recently only by mule trails.

The people of the place have built, over the years, terraces on the abrupt and rocky terrain, in order to be able to plant vine and olive trees.

The villages were discovered late, especially because, until de ’60s, you could not get to them. Then the railroad and the roads got to these places and, with them, the tourists…

And this way, the mule trails became touristic trails, hiking being one of the attractions of the area. (“Sentiero azzuro” is the trail that connects all five villages).

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.

In 1997, Cinque Terre became part of the UNESCO World Patrimony. This way, the coast, all the five villages, the marine area and the hills around became the Cinque Terre National Park.

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You know how we usually do when we get to a place: we look for nice angles to take wonderful photos to brag with them on the social media. Well, this is the place where you can take photos from any angle, because everything looks fabulous, and if not fabulous, then at least picturesque, unexpected, wow, cool, wonderful, fuck this is so beautiful and so on…

I organized myself in a hurry, left without knowing too much, but I let myself go and discovered Cinque Terre step by step.

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HOW TO GET TO CINQUE TERRE. HOW TO TRAVEL FROM ONE VILLAGE TO ANOTHER.

Cinque Terre is in the northern part of Tuscany. You can get here from Pisa, from Florence or, if you come from the other side, from Genoa.

I got here from Florence each time. By train. It take about 2 hours and a half. And passing through Carrara, looking from the train window at the white mountains, I imagined how Michelangelo used to come here to choose the piece of marble that hid the masterpiece. That is it, I had the cultural thought of the day… J)

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I bought the train ticket online – trenitalia.it. For 17 Euros.

There is no direct train to Cinque Terre. You have to change in La Spezia Centrale (pay attention, there is another La Spezia, that is not “central”!), where I got off the regional train and got on another… even more regional.

There are several trains every hour, so there is no problem if you miss one, others will come… And what is so cool, is that, usually, the two trains – the one you get off and the one you have to get in – are on close rails. So as soon as you get off the Florence train, on the same platform, on the other rail, you have the Cinque Terre train.

From La Spezia Centrale to the first village, Riomaggiore, we got in 7 minutes. It is a trip many tourist take, some of them exclaiming a “wow” here and there, when the train would get out of the tunnel and we could see the sea.

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Pay attention, there are regional trains that are a bit faster, that go directly to one of the villages. So decide where you want to get off and check the stations. Most of them, however, stop in all the 5 stations.

If you have a longer transfer in La Spezia, you can buy from the station, from a sort of a tourism bureau (that I found in other stations too, later), Cinque Terre Train Card – a pass that gives you the possibility to free, unlimited travel in the Cinque Terre area (between La Spezia and Levanto, that includes all five villages), a pass that gives you free access to trekking on the trails between villages (as some have a fee), free access to the minibuses inside the villages, free wi-fi and that, more importantly, allows free access to the station toilets! It is important, believe me! (You have to pay 1 euro to pee. On the bright side, however, it is very clean inside the station toilets and there’s always a cleaning person present there).

I bought a pass for three days and it cost 41 Euros. But you can buy one for one day – 16 Euros for adults/10 Euros for children.

If there is no point for you to buy a pass and you take, let’s say only one or two travels per day, it is best to buy a simple ticket. It costs 4 Euros. The ticket can be bought from any station, from the vending machines. It has to be validated in the yellow machines at the entrance on each platform. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay a fine!

The disadvantage of buying a ticket from the vending machines occurs when the station becomes crazily crowded and you have to wait in line for a very long time… I saw this especially during summer, when everybody leaves the beaches just in time to catch the last train. It is risky to wait for the last train, because there might be last minute changes, delays and you might be left there… So I chose from the timetable always the penultimate train.

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train timetable for Cinque Terre, that you can ask for in any station. On the other side you have the other direction, from La Spezia to Levanto.

The train seems the best solution to travel between villages and even further. The trains come at short intervals, the villages are close to each other (some at a 3 minute distance!) and the entire distance La Spezia-Levanto in such a train, with stops in all the villages you can do in only 30 minutes!

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There are minibuses inside the villages. They go on the main street, as that is almost everything there for them… I saw them in Riomaggiore, where, if you have luggage and you have to go up the hill, such a minibus is God-sent! (I did not know about them when I went up the hill for the first time).

I discovered the minibus in Corniglia too. I will speak about this in the right section, as it is important to know… These minibuses are free of charge if you have a pass, but, do not forget, they don’t go from one village to another!

By car in Cinque Terre? I don’t know… I’d leave the car in La Spezia or Genoa and take the train. You cannot drive the car into the villages, as the traffic is restricted in the area, as this is a protected area. You have to leave the car somewhere above the village, at some distance (sometimes even 1 kilometer away!). And you have to pay for the parking. Even the residents leave their cars in the parking lot at the entrance of the village.

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The boat? Very good, pleasant, relaxing, you get info, you can take pictures, it stops in all the villages, except Corniglia, which is up on a rock and it has no harbor. And you can go to Portovenere by boat too.

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So that you get an idea about the timings

For the boat you have to pay 35 euros for a ticket that is valid for the entire day. Or 25 euros if you get on the boat in the afternoon.

With such a ticket you can travel as much as you want, you can get off anywhere you want. All that counts is not to miss the last boat. Or if you miss the boat, don’t miss the last train. If you miss that too, that is it, you have to walk J).

WHERE TO STAY IN CINQUE TERRE

You can choose any of the five villages, according to your needs, wishes, who you go with, how many days you’ll be staying and other reasons…

For instance, if you want to go to a beach that has everything and have a dynamic evening, then Monterosso al Mare is the place! It has the largest sand beach in the area. If you want to be away from the world, go to Corniglia.

There are towns too – like Levanto and Portovenere – which, although not a part of “Cinque Terre”, are worth visiting or even being chosen as the “base camp”.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR LUGGAGE!

I had a large suitcase and a very heavy backpack and I thought I would die going up the main street in Riomaggiore, which is too abrupt for my power to pull or push heavy things J). This is why, during the second visit, I looked for a room closer to the base of the hill… I found one at the middle of the distance up and I still felt my lungs would explode…

In Corniglia, there’s no way you can take a suitcase with you, unless you are certain that you’ll take the minibus from the station. And not the stairs. I will tell you more about this when I write about the village.

In Monterosso, big trouble J: the station is 1 km away from the old town and if you have booked a room there, be prepared to pull the luggage…

Vernazza has abrupt and narrow streets between the houses, with hundreds of steps. If you have booked a room there, throw away the suitcase and buy a backpack!

Without knowing all these from the beginning (I have discovered these during my walks), I chose Riomaggiore as my base camp – the first village on my way from Florence.

So, my adventure in Cinque Terre starts with Riomaggiore! Right here.

Then, let’s go to Manarola.

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