Visiting Cinque Terre

February 24, 2013, In: Travel Near & Far

The third leg of our 2012 European adventure had us visiting Cinque Terre, Italy. Our trip began with a long layover in London, England and ended in Paris, France. This is a recap from our third stop. You can find the other posts here.

I was pretty excited for this stop as we has heard amazing things about the Italian Riviera, on the northwest coast. Cinque Terre translates to the “five lands” in Italian because it is comprised of 5 separate small towns.

The 5 towns, from the south, are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. These quaint towns are located on the beautiful Italian Riviera coast, but boast some of the most rugged terrain making it a haven for hikers and travelers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the larger cities.

Cinque Terre Map

Map of Cinque Terre

The Italian government has made it a point to keep these lands preserved and not allow any modern building to take place. That is why you will not find any large “Americanized” hotels here. Most of the rentals are small buildings with just a few private rooms for rent.

To get to Cinque Terre from Rome, we decided to rent a car and drive through the Tuscan landscape. That idea ended up being much more romantic than the reality, but we were very happy to have the car in Cinque Terre (read on to find out why as cars are generally difficult there). After a drive that was supposed to be 4.5 hours according to Google Maps, took us more like 8 hours, we finally arrived after dark and had to hike down into town.

None of the towns allow you to drive in them so you have to park on top of the hill and walk the rest of the way. The streets are cobbled or brick too so be prepared to pull your wheeled suitcase across that for a while and up stairs. Another perk of packing light!

Manarola, Cinque Terre Hotel Room

Here is the view from our hotel room.

We had chosen to stay in Manarola, the second town from the south as we wanted something a bit smaller and the “hotel” we found looked amazing. After putting our bags in our room we headed out for dinner. Thankfully at 10:00pm there was one restaurant open. I chose the pesto ravioli since pesto is one of the specialities of the region. It was delish!

Since nightlife is pretty non-existent here and we were exhausted from another looooong day, we turned in after dinner. Our plan the next day was to take a boat to the norhtern most town of Monterosso and hike the easy route from there to Vernazza. From there we planned to take a boat or train to Riomaggiore and finish with the short walk along “Lover’s Lane” back to Manarola.

Traveling by boat, train or hiking are the main ways between the towns. There are two hiking options – the red trail for serious trekkers, or the paid blue trail for the casual hiker.

Manarola - Cinque Terre

The walk leading up to our hotel room with the town of Manarola in the back

Everything started off perfectly! It was a beautiful day and we easily caught the boat to Monterosso. After touring the town and grabbing a gelato along the shore, we headed to buy our Cinque Terre Card – the pass necessary to hike the blue trail. Unfortunately, they were no longer selling the card after the summer season ended so they could continue on trail reconstruction.

The beach in Monterosso

The beach in Monterosso

In October, 2011 there was a major flood that damaged many of the towns and closed the hiking trails. The government has done a lot of work to repair the damage, but the work is not complete.

Well, there went out Plan A. Oh well, on to Plan B…

We headed to the boat doc to catch a ride to Vernazza only to find out that the wind and choppy sea has caused them to cancel all boats for the afternoon. Oh well, we’ll just catch the train then…

Ummm, maybe not. The trains were on strike! Wait, wha?!?! How are we supposed to get back to our hotel if we cannot hike, boat or take the train?

Turns out, strikes are pretty common in Italy. After returning to the train station a second time, we discovered a glimmer of hope. There are two political parties in Italy and the strikes are often confined to one of the parties. So, there was a chance that one political party might still be working that day, but no one could give us a definitive answer. Our best option was to buy a ticket and hope the train showed up. So that’s what we did.

Thankfully, 20 minutes later a train pulled up and we were leaving Monterosso al Mare. However, instead of stopping in Vernazza, we decided to ride it all the way back to “our” town, Manarola, so that we would not get stranded again. This is where our car came into play…

Cinque Terre Grape Train

Playing on a grape harvest train on the side of the road

I still really wanted to see more of Cinque Terre so we decided to drive to Vernazza. Boy oh boy are those roads narrow and curvy! Several nauseating turns later we sideswiped our car along the guardrail and were so thankful we had purchased the full insurance coverage!

The Vernazza Harbor

Brett in front of the Vernazza Harbor

Vernazza is a beautiful town and I was happy we got to see it. We snacked on fresh focaccia and meandered through the town taking pictures. It’s a smaller town than Manarola, but it was also where the cruise ships make a stop so it can get a bit touristy. At this point we knew we has chosen the right place to stay.

Vernazza Clock Tower

The clock tower in Vernazza Harbor

The driving trip was a great idea. Not only did we get to see more of the land, but we got back to Manarola in time to take this picture. I think it might be my favorite from the trip!

Manarola - Cinque Terre

We turned in pretty early again with plans to stop in Riomaggiore in the morning on our way to Venice, but that was not how our Cinque Terre adventure would end.

At 1:20 in the morning, Brett woke up to water running in the bathroom. He had taken a shower before bed and thought I was taking my turn in the shower…nope! I was sleeping soundly next to him. Turns out there was water pouring in through the light fixtures!

Our hotel was new and under renovation. They had not completed the upper floor and a “small” mudslide from a heavy rain storm caused water to flood the third floor and come into our room. Since there was not a desk clerk I called our contact (her husband was not happy about being woken up at 1:30 am, but neither were we). As we stood there watching the drywall bubble above our bed, we decided the best course of action was to leave and find another hotel.

Here is where the car was really a life-saver. We were able to pack up everything and find a hotel in La Spezia in the middle of the night. Thankfully we had not paid for our room yet, so it was easy to leave and not need a refund. I just wish we had taken a photo of the water pouring into the room, but we just wanted to get out of there before the ceiling caved in.

Well, we had wanted an adventure…

Overall, I definitely recommend Cinque Terre as a beautiful place to visit and maybe we will be able to return one day for a bit more leisurely visit.

Next stop – Venice!

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