2 and half days in Cinque Terre, a collection dreamy multicolored towns along the Ligurian coast. Part of my Two Months in Europe series!
So our first day in Cinque Terre was very much a “take two” kinda day.
We woke up in Nice around 7am to catch our 8am train. The train ride between Nice and Genoa was beautiful but due to an accident on the track ran about 45 minutes late giving us just enough time to make our connection to La Spezia.
Our train into La Spezia was supposed to arrive at 1:15 and meet our Airbnb host at 1:45. But we ended up arriving later and just missing the train into Monterosso so we had to wait half and hour for the 1:55 train. This train was then super late so we didn’t get into Monterosso until like 2:30. We didn’t have internet for any of this time so were unable to contact our host and of course when we got off the train station in Monterosso it was crazy busy and our host was no where to be found. After finally finding wifi we were able to contact him and meet ( a full hour after we were supposed to). He was very understanding about how late we were which was super nice. And then we made the surprisingly long walk to our Airbnb. Because Cinque Terre is all built into hills Google Maps doesn’t do the best job showing distance between locations. This roughly 15 minute walk was also turned into like a 25 minute walk as it was 30 degrees and we were carrying all of our bags on a very skinny path with stairs.
Second hiccup of the trip was when we arrived and realized the Airbnb didn’t have air conditioning after we were 99% sure we had booked one with air conditioning. But alas we opened windows and dealt with it.
After finally settling in and putting on more weather appropriate clothing we decided to head to the beach to relax for a bit before exploring town. Pretty much just as we had settled in at the beach there was a huge commotion and I looked up to see a bunch of people standing and yelling as one guy ran away and another guy WITH A HAMMER ran after him. There ended up being a huge brawl on the beach with people either running to stop it or running away and protecting their children. As we are not strong enough by any standards to stop a brawl we took the second route and left the beach. From what we gathered one guy maybe tried to steal something and then the guy with the wooden hammer ran after him. But anyways this was quite traumatic so we walked away from the big beach area of Monterosso to Old Town where we found a quiet beach in the harbour where we sat for a little bit before wandering through town.
We had heard mixed things about eating in Cinque Terre. The food is amazing but supposedly really expensive because the towns are small so there isn’t much choice. Thankfully this assumption was most wrong. We had some of the best and most affordable food to date in Cinque Terre. For starters when we first got off the train and were starving we grabbed the largest slices of Focaccia from a Focacceria just down from the train station for like 3EU each. This tided us over from 3pm until dinner at 7pm, not having eaten anything earlier for lunch.
For dinner we went to Gastronomica San Martino in Monterosso Old Town. THIS WAS AMAZING. I capitalize this because it was amazing and so unbelievably affordable. This tiny pasta place run by a husband and wife serves up local Ligurian pasta dishes for 8EU with very generous portions and incredible sauces. The first night we got Trofe with Pesto ( Pesto was invented in the area and they make the best pesto I have ever had) and then Linguine with Seafood Sauce. Both were amazing! The pesto is so much lighter, fresher and more creamy than oily compared to anything I have ever had before. The seafood sauce came with so much seafood and a good mix of clams, mussels and squid. And of course the pasta was perfectly al dente. Wine was 5EU for a small bottle. This place is very small but we didn’t wait long for an outside table and if you are in a rush you can get it to go.
Seriously best meal, we ended up going back tomorrow because we couldn’t bear paying more for food we knew would just barely compare.
Step Count: 17,588.
So today we woke up at 6am to start the hike along the Cinque Terre trails. The trails from Cornglia to Riomaggiore were closed but we still wanted an early start so we could do the trails from Monterosso to Cornglia before it got super hot and sunny. While we were obviously sad not all the trails were open I was happy at least that these trails were open as the descent into Vernazza is supposed to the best part and both these paths were the longest/hardest so we would still feel like we got a good hike in.
We got on the trail in Monterosso just after 7am and pretty much had the trail to ourselves. The first part of this trail is pretty much just straight up the mountain on stairs so we were very happy to be doing it in the morning. After a long ascent the path finally flatten out and we began to run into some other hikers.
The trail took us pretty much exactly an hour and a half to the viewing point over Vernazza, which is as mind blowing as the photos on Pinterest. NOTE: The viewing point isn’t actually an official viewing but a part of the fence is dug out so you kinda half to crawl under to get to it but it is so worth it. We got some funny looks from other hikers but hey you gotta do what you gotta do. Of course we stayed here to snap some pictures before making the final descent into the actual town. The trail spills into the harbour of Vernazza and it was here we started our food tour of Cinque Terre.
We figured that since we were walking up mountains we could at least sample different Ligurian specialties in each town. Since it was still quite early by the time we got into Vernazza we picked up a piece of Focaccia to split and some sweet cone pastries ( can’t remember what they are called). One of the cones was filled with cream and the other nutella, both were amazing. We ate these in the harbour and then wandered up a couple streets. We didn’t spend that long exploring Vernazza as we wanted to still get on the second trail pretty early and honestly not much was open.
The trail to Cornglia also starts with stairs going straight up the mountain. I have probably done more stairs the past week between Cinque Terre and Eze than I have in the past couple months. Most people said the path between Monterosso and Vernazza is the hardest but we found the trail from Vernazza to Cornglia harder. Not sure if it was because of the direction we went but even though the second path was slighter shorter it was definitely more strenuous. This path goes ascent, flat, descent, asset, flat descent over and over again as you wind through the hills to Cornglia. Cornglia is the only mountain top town of Cinque Terre and was one of our favourites. You descend into the town through vineyards and then there was a little market. Since we were here later in the day the town was more bustling but still not busy. We wandered through the brightly coloured backstreets with our lemon granitas and found a nice viewing point over the ocean point below. There are a ton of nice and affordable restaurants in Cornglia that we would have loved to come to for dinner but the train station ( where we walked next) is about 300 feet below the town so you have to ascent quite the staircase to get there, which we weren’t willing to do after a day of walking. According to our iPhones by the end of the day we climbed 191 flights of stairs.
So after we made the surprisingly long descent to the train station we took the train to Manarola. Manarola was I think our all time favourite town. It was bustling and busy without being overrun and the harbour was stunning and filled with people swimming off the rocks. We walked up and around to Nessum Dorma, a place made famous by Instagram for its stunning view of Manarola. I think I liked this view even better than the view of the Vernazza habour. We somehow walked straight in without waiting and got a table along the terrace. We felt a little funny in our sweaty hiking clothes as there were a lot of visitors dressed quite nicely here but honestly no one seemed to care and more hikers came in later. For a well known place the food here is also quite affordable, around 8-12EU per tapa esque dish. Because we didn’t know how big the portion sizes were ( and we were quite hungry) we ordered three for the two of us but you could easily get away with one per person. We got Tricolour Bruschetta, Caprese salad and Prosciutto with Melon. Everything was so so fresh and a nice break from pasta. After a nice leisurely lunch we pushed through the big line that had formed outside the restaurant ( go early!) and explored a bit more of Manarola before getting on the train to Riomaggiore.
We walked through the harbour to get around to the rocky beach. When people say rocky they mean very rocky beach. These weren’t the little rocks of Nice but rather quite large rocks. Not the best beach to sit on but we made ourselves little nests to sit in and leave our stuff before jumping in the ocean. Even if this beach wasn’t the best to sit on this may be the most magical beach to swim in. The water is so clear and has beautiful rolling waves. Plus the water is so salty it is so easy to just float. This is honestly the perfect way to end of day of hiking and walking around in the heat. After sufficiently cooled down we headed off to see more of town and grab a fried seafood cone. The town was pretty busy as it was late afternoon so we didn’t end up seeing as much as we liked but the seafood cones ( which Riomaggiore is quite famous for) were great! After about 10 hours of exploring ( in what was now quite hot weather) we finally headed down for much needed showers and some rest.
We had had grand ambitions to go back to Manaralo for dinner because we liked the town so much but once we sat down at home and almost feel asleep we decided it was better to stay close. We ended up going back to San Martino for their amazing pasta. I cannot stress how great this place is. The owners remembered us from last night and were super chatty. The husband even had a Canadian pin on his apron which was given to him from previous visitors who like us had frequented this place. This couple are so sweet and make the best pasta sauce ever. Tonight we tried walnut sauce at the recommendation of the owners which is another local speciality and OMG it was amazing. It was super creamy without having any cream in it and still had a nutty taste and texture.
Step Count: 30,812( New record!!!)
We slept into 9am today after the behemoth of a day yesterday was and then checked out of our Airbnb at 10am. We dropped our bags off at the visitor centre by the train station in Monterosso so we wouldn’t have to lug them around all day.
We had initially planned to hang out at the beach but it was kinda raining by the time we got there so we headed to a bakery for cappuccinos and focaccia instead. We spent a couple hours reading and just soaking up Italian coffee culture. Cinque Terre is really nice in the sense that even though it is very touristy it still feels like people live here and a lot of locals popped in and out of the bakery chatting away in Italian. We then headed off to explore more of Old Town and pop into all the pesto shops. One cool thing about Monterosso because it is the biggest town there is still a lot of explore and we ended up finding a lot of old churches in Ligurian Gothic style in the town. These churches were more similar to Calonian gothic style on the outside as they were very understated architecturally but were painted in stripes and had very intricate insides. After church and store hopping it was finally time to say bye to Monterosso and hop on our train to La Spezia to head to Florence.
Step Count: 16,050
Favourite Food: Gastromica San Martino (of course) and Nessum Dorma for the fresh ( non-pasta) food and views.
Definitely definitely the hike. I really wish we could of done it all but both stretches we did were beautiful. The hike is not the easiest thing as there is a lot of ascent but it is also by no means difficult. As long as you bring lots of water, try to plan around the heat by leaving early and wear proper shoes it is a comfortable level of physical exertion. Also all the towns are beautiful and unique in their own way and the hike gives you the perfect way to see all of them.
Buy the 5Terre card that includes trails, trains, wifi and free bathrooms (more on this later). if you will take a couple trains in one day. The trains between town are expensive at 4EU each so this pass is definitely worth it if you want to take a couple and do some hikes. This was perfect for us as we wanted to hike but needed to take the train between the last couple. Also our Airbnb didn’t have wifi so it was nice being able to check in a couple times during the day and google restaurants. This pass can long be bought at train stations, the hiking passes can be bought on the trail but they don’t include anything but the trails.
Use your town’s visitor centre. This are amazing. The first day after arriving very late, not having wifi to contact our Airbnb host about our whereabouts we wandered in and found they had free wifi. We logged in to connect with out host and managed to stay logged in for the whole trip which meant whenever we wandered by we got wifi. They were also very helpful in figuring out where to buy our passes and you can pay to leave your luggage there all day which came in super handy on the last day.
Bring so much water on the trails. Yes it sucks carrying a heavy backpack but when your hiking in the heat water is so much more important. We had just under 2.5 litres and drank all of it. There are water fountains at each train stations and in many of the main town squares so you can fill up between towns instead of buying new. But you will probably drink about 2 litres on the paths we did and there is no place to find water in the mountain.
Also the trains tend to ran late so just be prepared and don’t take one that gets you in just before you need to be somewhere as you probably won’t be on time.
On bathrooms: Bathrooms pretty much all over Italy seem to cost money ( around 1EU) which can be super annoying. With the 5Terre card you get into the park’s bathrooms for free, which are usually around train stations. In terms of other bathrooms we found two that are free and sorta public. The first bathroom is behind the church beside the Focacceria San Antonio in New Town Monterosso. I’m pretty sure it is the bakery’s bathroom but it is open and doesn’t have a code so its a good place to go near the beach. The other one is by Nessum Dorma in Manarola. The bathrooms are above the restaurant in the little park there and also open.