Thursday, 23 March 2017

What to do in Cinque Terre - a two day travel guide

If you have ever searched for photos of the Italian coast on Instagram you are guaranteed to find endless photos of the colourful coastal buildings of Cinque Terre. Back in 2014 we were doing a tour of Italy so we added it to our list and it is definitely worth the hype. If you're planning a trip to the area here's a quick travel guide to help you decide where to go, what to do, where to stay and where to eat in Cinque Terre.



Cinque Terre is actually the name of the national park that runs along the coast line, north of Pisa. It consists of five small villages all built on one hell of a steep hill (basically cliff faces). Each village has its own train station and the train just cuts right through tunnels in the mountains opening up in to each village as you arrive, its very impressive. The villages are only a couple of minutes apart so don't restrict yourself to just seeing one. You can get a day ticket here for 7.50€ which lets you hop on and off the train all day, it's extremely easy.

Where to stay in Cinque Terre?

We based ourselves in the city of La Spezia and for good reason - it costs a fortune to stay in the villages themselves during summer but if you stay in nearby La Spezia you can get a cheaper hotel right next to the main train station giving you easy daily access to the national park. The Hotel Mary was perfect, it was directly opposite the station entrance (literally a two minute walk) meaning that it only took us around 15 minutes to get in to get from our room at the hotel to the first village.

It was super cheap and you get what you pay for - it was very basic. However, it was clean with comfortable beds and that's all you need for a trip like this because you're not going to be spending much time in the hotel anyway. You're going to want to spend as much time in the villages as possible and only use the hotel as a place to rest at the end of the day after all your exploring.


All the villages are different, one even has 365 steps to climb from the train station and if you like hiking then you can actually walk between the villages, click here for everything you need to know about hiking in Cinque Terre.

Manarola


Arriving quite late into La Spezia we dropped our bags and headed directly to Manarola, there were some great seafood restaurants and a cool bar on the cliff side. We spent most the night here drinking far too much of the incredible (and cheap) local wine and eating some of the freshest fish you can imagine. A short walk along a cliff side path leads you up to a cool beach bar on the cliff where we scoffed cocktails and admired the insane view of Manarola by night. A very surreal experience. The trains run quite late but make sure you don't miss the last one back to La Spezia and end up getting stuck. 



Riomaggiore


This was the first stop on our day trip the next morning, it's an ace little place with the best swimming opportunities of all the villages. The clear water in the port is full of people bobbing around cooling off in the hot weather - just look out for sea urchins! We loved it so much here that came back here at the end of the day to have some takeaway dinner (with yet more local wine, of course) by the sea while watching the sun set. It is so much quieter after 4pm in all the little towns. All the day trippers disappear and since the last train back to La Spezia is not until late you can have the whole place to yourself sometimes.



Corniglia


365 steps, one for each day of the year, is probably not the best activity just after lunch but so worth it once you reach the top.


Almost collapsing in a heap and dying of exhaustion we managed to reach the top. Stopping only to catch my breath and a snap a quick photo to make it look effortless.


Since this is the highest village the views were epic, you could see the next villages along and all the hill side vineyards in all their glory (would not like to be a grape picker here).



Monterosso


This little village was a great place to stop and grab a bottle of wine with some snacks and go for a swim. Watch out for the Sea Urchins though. Jess stepped on one, then proceeded to bash her knee of another one in her panic - true slapstick comedy style (she didn't find it so funny)! An hour of picking stingers out of her foot/leg and a trip to the pharmacy later we were back on track to the next village.


Vernazza


The last stop on the Cinque Terre trail - the biggest and busiest of them all, Vernazza. It was very crowded here since it is home to the largest beach of all the villages and several larger hotels so we just stoped for a quick look and then headed back to our favourite village, Riomaggiore.


Top Tips 

  • Watch out for Sea Urchins 
  • Get a takeaway lunch in any local bakery and eat it on the rocks
  • Drink lots of the local red wine, its sublime!
  • Stay later if you can as it gets much quieter after 4pm
  • Get a 1 or 2 day train ticket which lets you get on and off the train all day
  • Take the time to visit all 5 towns, they are all so different
  • Stay in La Spezia for a more affordable stay with easy access

Which village is best?

  1. Riomaggiore
  2. Monteroso
  3. Manarola 
  4. Corniglia 
  5. Vernazza 

If your planning on going to Pisa, Milan or Florence I highly recommend a trip to Cinque Terre, its not too far from each of these and 2 days is enough to explore the villages.
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