After looking at the pictures of the beautiful, flamboyant Cinque Terre villages built on rugged and steep terrain, this place ranked high on our to-do list while planning our trip to Italy.
A day-trip from Florence to Cinque Terre seemed doable and it involved changing a number of trains and buses to get there. While doing further research, we learned about a guided tour offered by Walkabout. We normally don’t prefer to take tours because of the inflexibility to do what we like. And we always feel the tours are rushed to cover a lot of places, whereas we like to thoroughly enjoy each place with no intention of crossing a check mark against our dream destinations.
With the Walkabout tour, the tour bus would take us directly to Cinque Terre, so that we would spend sufficient time in the villages rather than just traveling to the place itself. The itinerary looked great; very similar to what we would have planned had we done it by ourselves. As an exception, we booked the tour online in advance.
On our fifth day in Italia, we met our tour group and the tour guides at 8am in the Firenze train station. With a ton of excitement, we began the bus journey to Cinque Terre. The drive was fantastic, via Sienna, Lucca and the rolling meadows of Tuscany. Sienna and Lucca were places that we wanted to visit, but unfortunately 10 days was not sufficient to see everything that we wanted to.
On the way to Cinque Terre, we stopped for a few seconds at a scenic viewpoint to see a panoramic view of La Spezia, one of the main Italian military harbors.
Cinque Terre literally means “The Five Lands” and has five coastal villages:
Monterosso Al Mare
After about 2 hours of bus journey, we reached Manarola, the second smallest village of Cinque Terre. We walked along a torrent that has a number of stone bridges running across it. All along the way, the vibrantly colored buildings on the beautiful terraces looked very pretty.
From Manarola, we climbed 382 stairs to reach Corniglia, the smallest of the Cinque Terre. Food was the only motivation to climb so many stairs! By the time we reached Corniglia, I was sweating like a pig and was ravenous. So ready for lunch! We had a so-so lunch at a restaurant – seafood for appetizers and pesto pasta for main dish.
The next was Vernazza. The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza is 2.5 miles and the trail was a bit rough. I am kind of glad we were in a group, because we walked faster along with the rest of the folks. Before I started the hike, little did I know that this was going to be one of the most scenic hikes I have been on. Although the hike was coarse, the views were absolutely worth it! With beautiful shades of blue capturing our eyes, we enjoyed every bit of the hike.
During the hike, as we turned around the corner of a mountain, the most breathtaking view stood in front of our eyes – the beautiful village of Vernazza. With the Doria tower standing tall amongst the beautiful buildings and next to the blue waters, this was really how I had envisioned towers where princesses were captured in fairytales. It was like a dream come reality. I just sat there on the trail to admire this beautiful view.
We ambled in Vernazza for a while, looking at the beautiful shops and restaurants. The tour guide recommended a specific gelato place and who would say “No” to gelatos? After the long and intense hike, the gelato was very refreshing.
Vernazza seems to be popular among tourists; we noticed a number of people sunbathing along the coast and swimming in the beach.
From Vernazza, we took a train to the next village, Monterosso Al Mare. We wandered aimlessly in this village, had pan frito (fried bread) and farinata (a snack made from chickpea flour).
Cinque Terre seemed like a place where people peacefully retire. A good number of old people were living there. It has also become very touristy and apparently, the locals hate Rick Steve because he helped promote tourism in Cinque Terre, thereby making it very expensive for the locals.
From Monterosso Al Mare, we took a boat to Riomaggiore, the southern-most Cinque Terre village, passing through all the other villages. I was totally exhausted and think I dozed off in the boat. But whenever I opened my eyes in between my disturbed sleep, I did notice that the views were stunning.
Like the other villages, Riomaggiore was touristy as well with a number of gelato joints, restaurants, shops, artisan stands. Via Del Amore, the trail that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed due to a landslide in November 2012. But we went to the trailhead to see hundreds of locks around the closed gate. Apparently, it is common for lovers to lock the gates of Via Del Amore and throw away the keys inside the ocean, symbolizing their love to be locked forever. This was something new that I learned.
From Riomaggiore, we took a train to La Spezia, a nearby town and from there took a bus to Firenze train station. We reached the hotel very late in the night and just crashed for the night.