Cinque Terre is made up of 5 coastal towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso and Corniglia) and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the ‘Cinque Terre National Park’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main way of transportation is by train, as the towns are too hard to reach by car and some having no roads at all. In October 2011, the villages were severely affected by torrential rains, which caused floods and mudslides. This killed 9 people and the damage to the villages (particularly Vernazza and Monterosso) was very extensive. It is believed that more than 850,000 international tourists visit the Cinque Terre region every year, whilst only housing 921 residents. Rick Steves (an American author and TV personality focusing on European travel) is to take most of the blame for the tourist influx, as he ranked it the number one place to go in Italy. Before this, the villages were avoiding a lot of the publicity they have today. It got me thinking and dreaming of how many impressively unique towns there would be without the crowds not only in Italy but the world, that no one has yet discovered. I’m quite certain that’s what I would do if I won the lottery, explore to find untouched hidden gems all over the world. Ah, one can only dream!
This was one of the places I was the most excited for on the trip (a hugeee bucketlist destination), and it didn’t quite go according to plan/what I expected. We had 4 nights and 3 full days to explore, thinking that was plenty of time. I’m so glad we allowed an extra day for circumstances that occurred which were out of our control. I had the idea in my head that Cinque Terre were these lovely towns very close together, with lots of locals, not too busy with tourists, easy public transport, beautiful swimming beaches and restaurants. Some of that is correct but in reality, walking between towns is over a 5 hour hike, not a short stroll, there are tourists absolutely everywhere, public transport is a nightmare (you have to literally push yourself onto the train to get on) and you have to go off the beaten path to find good beaches to swim at without having to pay for, or trying to find a small rectangle space of sand to lay on. Don’t get me wrong it is a spectacular place, but I wish I knew a bit more information before arriving, so keep reading below for some of the things I learnt on our trip to Cinque Terre!
Surprisingly, I didn’t take too many photos here, I think I was trying to soak up being in the moment as much as I could! But here of some of the few I took!
The biggest town of the 5 known for vineyards, and that picture perfect shot down by the marina of all of the colourful buildings. With heaps of restaurants and accommodation, a lot of people chose to base their stay in this town. It is also the first stop on the train coming from La Spezia.
Is supposedly the quietest town as it was the last to be discovered by tourists. There is a path that gives you an awesome view of the town that is not too far of a walk. It is nice to take the path to get away from the tourist crowded town centre, and to hunt for that perfect snap. Or, if taking a dip is on your mind, tempt yourself with some rock jumping to enjoy the cool waters.
Is known to be the fishing town with no car traffic on it’s streets. A natural harbor and castle apparently used to protect the village from pirates. Hiking back towards Monteresso about 15 minutes will provide you with the best view (up a few stairs in the back streets, then a bit of a hill). We didn’t buy a hiking pass as it had just stormed and trails were closed but we just asked the ticket officer if we could go a bit further up to take a photo, and he let us for free! It never hurts to ask, the worst thing we can say is no.
Is known as the beach town over run by tourists in the summer months! The place gets absolutely packed! It is the most resort like town with heaps of accommodation and is the only town accessable by car. This town is the furtherest stop of the terry’s from La Spezia by train.
Is unlike the other towns it is not directly adjacent to the sea. Instead it is on top of a promontory about 100 meters heigh. We didn’t find this town too interesting, although we did’t spend much time here at all. Maybe a bit more time to explore would have lead us to find an off the beaten path gem! Because we didn’t have the chance to hike the trails, we weren’t able to get a photo overlooking the town. But we did climb up the stairs from the bottom to the town (382 stairs) but it is the view from the distance that is the winner!
We arrived by bus to La Spezia in the afternoon, which is the main town before all of the coastal Terre’s start, to which we struggled to find how to get to our airbnb accommodation. It is a proven fact that Italy is one the worst countries for public transport, and let me tell you first hand we found it very very confusing!
Figure out transportation to your accommodation before arriving. We stood at the train station for over an hour with hundreds of other tourists barging through, it was a nightmare (oh and with 20+kgs backpacks). There is a tourist information office there, but they were very unhelpful to us, the lady who worked there basically said, “I don’t know, goodbye”. So before you arrive know what bus number to get, what train to get, directions to walk etc.
We woke the next morning to the worst weather probably in our whole 7 weeks of traveling so far. Heavy rain, lightening and thunder kept us inside all day. Touching on Italy’s terrible public transport again, there was also a train strike for the entire country on that day, my point proven (probably a good thing the weather was bad because we wouldn’t have been able to see the Terre’s anyway).
The second morning we woke up early and checked the weather to realise there was 100% chance of rain all morning. We waited a couple of hours and the weather ended up clear, so we walked to the train station at around 11am.
Here is where things can get tricky!
Depending how you want to see the towns, there are a few options.
- A Cinque Terre tourist card is 12 euro per person, which allows unlimited train travel to and between towns and buses within each town.
- A 6 hour train pass one way from La Spezia (main town/where we stayed) to Lavanto (1 town past the last Terre) 3.5 euro per person. So there and back for the day would be 7 euro each.
- A boat tour which range from 30 to 50 euro per person, which is a ferry that drops you to each town and you have a time table of when you can get on the next boat. You get different views of the towns, which could be very cool for different photos, although can be quite pricey and if the weather isn’t great it will be cancelled.
- Or not paying for a ticket at all. NOT THAT I AM RECOMMENDING THIS AT ALL but there are that many tourists squished on every single train it would make it very difficult to check tickets. Not going to lie we did this on the second day after buying a tourist card on the first and realising there was no point. If you’re willing to take the risk, then ill leave it at that.
- There is also a hiking track between the towns that provide the best views of the coast line while being able to see the picturesque towns from a distance. Some of the hikes are closed due to the landslide in 2011 but you can still do them “at your own risk”. To do the hikes you have to purchase a National park hiking pass at the tourist office (at the train station) for 5-7 euros each daily. The hike between all 5 towns is about 12 kms. Because of the bad weather we weren’t able to do the hikes but photos I’ve seen look 100% worth the sore muscles, and I would definitely do it if I go back again.
Everything is expensive, food and accommodation especially! So I would recommend bringing your own food (making sandwiches for the day, snacks etc.) or eat at take away places instead of restaurants. The pizza pictured above, I got for around 5 euros, which was reasonable, Tyler’s nuggets and chips were 6 euro and gelato was the only other treat we bought. Accommodation can also be much cheaper if you stay in La Spezia, the town before the Terre’s, which you must book far in advance as the prices sky rocket! We stayed in an airbnb apartment reasonably priced about 15 minutes walk to the train station in La Spezia.
We made our way through, stopping at all 5 towns using the tourist train card on our second day. We were informed that the trains going from each town only come hourly, but we just walked to the station whenever we were ready to move on and didn’t have to wait more than 15/20 minutes for one to come. It was still very busy with tourists getting on and off trains but because they were frequent, it wasn’t much of an issue.
Even though we didn’t visit in peak summer season, there were still tourists everywhere which was to be expected (I would hate to see what summer is like though). But sometimes I feel like that can completely ruin exactly why you wanted to go there. I am constantly thinking, wow this place would be amazing if there were no tourists, but that is inevitable while travelling. For that exact reason, you MUST go off the beaten path to actually experience this unbelievable area and truly take everything all in. My tip is to look, see what’s around you and hike that hill, wander random streets, jump over that fence, climb across those rocks and set up a nice picnic with wine, pizza and treats to really take everything all in to try and avoid the inundation of people. I will never understand people that pay thousands of dollars to go somewhere to tick off their bucketlist, and then dull their senses to it when they arrive by spending their time in a bar all day doing nothing!
The third and last day, the weather was finally starting to clear up so we met up with friends and hung out with them going from town to town again. Thinking the trains would be fine, as they weren’t too bad the day before we got a rude shock. The trains new timetable had started for the off season, which caused the day to be dreadfully challenging. There were hardly any trains going from each town (we even had to wait over 2 hours for one) and they are so chock-a-block full of people squeezing in like sardines, we were all getting very over it!
Saving the most important tip for last, eat gelato. Not just any gelato, home made and home made only! And eat shit loads of it! Here’s the deal…If the shop says ‘antisani’ anywhere in the name it means that it’s home made, usually fresh at the shop. But if you can’t remember that then look at the banana and pistachio flavours, if they are bright yellow and bright green then they most probably are artificial, if they are a browny yellow and faint green (natural looking) then they probably are legit! You can also get a bit of an idea of the pricing. Home made is usually a little bit more but ALWAYS worth every cent! This is the same through all of Italy.
There is no denying that Cinque Terre is still a beautiful area, but my expectations were definitely let down. Even though the weather wasn’t on our side, we tried to make the most of the time we had. An absolutely beautiful part of Italy minus the crowds, but I am glad we went and saw the Cinque Terre region. The towns are really what you make of them! My goal when starting my blog was to be open and honest about my travelling experiences in the hope it would actually help people down the track. I never want to be the person that says, oh this place is just perfect, sweet talk things up so it looks like I live in a perfect travelling world and that nothing has ever gone wrong. All in all we had a great time, however the vision of our trip to Cinque Terre being faultless fell slightly short, although that might not be the case when you #nowgogetlost here for yourselves! I hope some of these tips give you more information and a bit of an idea of how things work before arriving and for visits in the future.
SECRET TIP!!!! – There is a town called Portovenere (not part of the 5 Terre’s) that is just as beautiful and you don’t have to battle the crowds with the hundreds of other tourists. We didn’t get time to go but had friends that did after we left and said we would have loved it, what a hidden gem so jealous!
NEXT UP – VIDEO OF OUR WEEK IN LAGOS !