On our second day in Italy, we rose with the sun and headed to the train station. Three trains (and about two hours) later, we arrived in Cinque Terre. These five cities have become famous around the world for their stunningly beautiful buildings perched on Italy’s steep and rocky Northwestern coastline.
We started in the most Northern city, Monterosso al Mare. From there, we hiked rigorous and sometimes treacherous path to Vernazza. The trail starts from the Old Town, at the Southern side of the city. We started by climbing hundreds of steep, rocky stairs and continued to wind our way up and down the trail. Fortunately our efforts were rewarded with breathtaking views (and a gelato at the end). While I do recommend this hike, it’s best for people with some level of physical fitness. If you go, be sure to wear proper shoes (not sandals), and bring water. Much of the trail is narrow with a steep drop-off on one side, so it’s definitely not suited for young children. These narrow passages made it difficult to cross paths with people traveling in the opposite direction, but most people were kind and would step to the side when possible to allow each other to pass. It takes most people about two hours to make it from one city to the next.
For those not wanting to arrive sweaty and breathless in Vernazza, there are two other options: the train or a ferry. I hear the ferry offers its own lovely views, but here is what you’re greeted with from the hike:
We found lunch in Vernazza at a little place near the square. I enjoyed ravioli with shrimp scampi sauce, but my Dad’s potato pasta with basil sauce really stole the show.
After lunch, I went to fetch some gelato while my parents and brother hiked another hour to the next town, Corniglia. They told me that this section of trail was a little shorter and less difficult, but I opted to take the train instead.
Arriving in the Corniglia train station, there’s a steep climb of 300+ steps to the town itself. Alternately, there’s a shuttle that will take you up and back. The shuttle is a very popular option and people are not shy about swarming its doors. In the same vein, the driver isn’t shy about shutting the doors on people when the bus has reached capacity. To increase your chances of boarding, wait on the far side of the road from the train station just about 10 feet up the hill (maybe 100 feet from the bus shelter). Corniglia itself is very charming. It has a more medieval feel than some of it’s other painted sisters.
We wound through some of the passageways, coincidentally reunited with the rest of my family, and all took the train to Manarola. The hiking trail does continue farther South to the other cities, but it’s currently closed down.
Manarola is one of the more quiet cities, existing mainly of just one thoroughfare. We walked down to the water where there is a swimming hole. From there, we got to see them lift one of the boats out of the water. It was quite amazing to see the fisherman tie his boat to the pulley, which then lifted the boat about three stories up and into storage. It was lovely, but if you find yourself pressed for time, it’s probably the one I would skip. I didn’t feel like there was much to see or do there that set it apart from the other cities we visited that day.
Last, we took the train to the southernmost city of Riomaggiore. In my opinion, this city offered some of the most beautiful photo opportunities.
Tired from a very long day, we found an outdoor bar perched high on the cliff and settled in to watch the sunset.
As dark approached, we headed back to the train station to start our voyage home. It was a long, taxing, but enjoyable day.
If you’re planning a visit, I recommend staying in one of the cities overnight and spending at least a day and a half in the area so that you get to fully enjoy all that each town has to offer. I also highly recommend purchasing the unlimited train pass. You only need to use it three times for it to pay for itself, and it also includes the shuttle in Corniglia and the hike between the first two cities.