Bonjour à tous!
Cinque Terre (chink-weh terr-eh) has the ability to amaze its visitors with every step. It is, I’m not going to lie, VERY popular with the tourists. However, these gorgeous little towns nestled into the seaside are well worth the visit, no matter how many other people are around. I don’t say that about every place I visit, believe me! If you go to Italy, GO to Cinque Terre. You won’t regret it.
Cinque Terre actually means “five lands”, and the five different towns are named Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. There are little trains that run every half hour or so between the towns. This may seem excessive, but seriously, it comes in really handy with the volume of tourists. Now, let’s get into my experience and what things I recommend to see and do once you’re there, shall we?
Stay in nearby La Spezia
Or as the German tourists like to call it “La Schpezia”. This was honestly quite hilarious. The little tourist towns are fantastic to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay over in one of them. There are so many people who take the trains back and forth between the towns, and I can’t imagine trying to get my suitcase or backpack into the cabins.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Cinque Terre are by the seaside: they also lie on rolling hills. This also means: not fun if you want to bring your luggage with you and stay there. La Spezia, on the other hand, is only 10 minutes on the train from the closest town within Cinque Terre. The most important reason for staying in La Spezia though: it was so much quieter and less rampant with tourists than the Cinque Terre!
Mr Czech and I really enjoyed a local pizza there in a tiny little shop where the shopkeeper only spoke Italian. I got a chance to practice a bit with him and it was so much fun. There seemed to be a lot of locals around, and most of the people in the little shops only spoke Italian (a good sign when avoiding tourist traps). Our apartment was fantastic; clean, beautiful decor, and a stunning view to boot. Definitely recommend!
Take at least two days to see the towns properly
There are five whole towns to see! You definitely need more than one day. Once you arrive at the first town closest to La Spezia, Riomaggiore, you will be AWED by the beauty of the ocean. And this is coming from an Australian. The colour of the ocean is so bright and sparkling. I hadn’t seen the sea for about seven months at this point (I was living in the Czech Republic) so it was a special moment for me to see my beauty the ocean again. You’ll also fall in love with the stunning pastel houses dotted all over the countryside.
Arriving in Riomaggiore, we took a moment to take in the town’s surroundings. It is actually quite easy to get lost amongst the streets – the towns are bigger than you think! We started hiking up the hill traipsing around the stunning historical buildings. The history of the town dates back to the 8th Century, and it is the largest of all five villages.
One of the churches, the Church of San Giovanni Battista, was MASSIVE. We were on such a hill and the streets were so small, we didn’t expect such a large church to be lurking round the corner. In fact, it is actually located on one of the highest points in Riomaggiore, and it dates back to 1340. It truly is a sight to see.
The oldest of the five town, magnificent Manarola boasts priceless Medieval relics and a stunning quay. When we had a stroll around this town, we headed out to the waterfront. People were splashing around swimming, and there were really big waves splashing onto the boat ramp. We didn’t really feel safe swimming in this area due the strength of the waves. I recommend swimming at the beaches in Monterosso- more on this later.
Mr Czech and I didn’t spend a really long time in Manarola, but there are lots of fun historical activities you can do there. You could visit the remains of the Bastion, Manarola’s Castle from the 13th Century. You can also check out the Church of San Lorenzo or Sciacchetrá museum. The name of the town likely comes from the Latin “magna rota” meaning Big Wheel. In the lower part of the city you can still see the recently restored old mill.
Corniglia is situated at the top of a hill. When you leave the train station, you have to hike up the Lardarina – a staircase that feels like it has 1000 steps (it’s actually 377). This was actually (oddly enough) a really fun experience. There was this guy who sells beautiful jewellery on the steps on your way up to the town. I bought a cute little blue and silver bracelet from him for only about 6 Euro.
Once you reach the town, you can see lots of tiny winding roads and quaint little shops around. Now, I don’t actually like shopping all that much, but I loved looking in these tiny stores. Many of the goods were hand-crafted and locally-made. You can visit the Old Gothic Church of San Pietro, or check out the little beach called Spiaggione (literally meaning wide beach).
Do the hike between Vernazza and Monterosso
Vernazza is a gorgeous town situated on a cliff, and was once the harbor of boats in charge of protecting the coast from the Saracens (Arabs at the time of the Crusades). It is now a peaceful seaside village, where one can enjoy a tasty meal and stroll through the stunning coloured buildings in the tiny alleyways.
In Vernazza you can visit the Church of Santa Margherita di Antochia, or head over to the sneaky hidden tower of the Doria Castle. I say sneaky and hidden because it actually took us a while to find it! We had to go through a restaurant and up through these staircases in tiny ancient buildings – but – it was worth it! The view from the tower is AMAZING, and so of course it is also really great for photo opportunities.
This hike was one of the most scenic moments of my life. I’ve always said ever since that this is the place where I’d want to be proposed to. It was perfect. Now, that may not be everyone’s opinion – I’m more of a private love scene gal than a public family + friends huge all-out Hollywood-style proposal gal, I must admit. But whether it is perfection for one’s imagined love scenes or not, you need to do this hike, even if you don’t like hiking. The view and ambiance are SO, SO worth it.
You begin the hike from a tiny little doorway that says something like “Monterosso”. It leads up some ancient stairway through tiny little shops and houses, and furthers onto a path. It all feels incredibly exciting-adventure-like. After this, you make it further up out into nature and onto the hills. And once you’re in the hills, it is time to enjoy the utterly gorgeous view.
I had to put in three photos for you so that you’d get more of an idea of the beautiful ambiance that I experienced on the hike. Pro tip: wear comfortable shoes!
And finally – the perfect place to hit the beach and soak up some of that Italian sun! Once you arrive at Monterosso from your hike, you’ll love the idea of laying down that towel and getting some well-deserved rest. I was a little bit intrigued about Monterosso, as it means “red mountain” in Italian, but I must admit I didn’t see any red mountains around!
This was the first time that I swam in the ocean in many months, and it was glorious! As an Aussie though (from the land of white-sand beaches) I must warn you: the beach was quite pebbly! However, the pebbles weren’t too big so it was fine to lay your towel down on.
There are some other cool sites that you can see in this maritime village. These include the San Giovanni Church, and the Aurora tower. Both of these are surviving pieces of history from medieval times.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading a little bit about Cinque Terre, and are now armed with some ideas and inspiration for your future holidays! If you’d like to me write more about my experiences and tips for Italy, let me know in the comments below.
A bientôt – or should I say – Ciao!