Monday, 14 May 2018

Cinque Terre - the perfect place to enjoy la dolce vita

The puzzled looks I got when I announced I was off to Cinque Terre made me convinced I had
unwittingly stumbled across Europe’s best kept secret. However arriving up to explore this
gorgeous spot nestled in the Italian Riviera with my friends, it was clear that the Brits are just a
bit late to the party as the word is most definitely out about this gorgeous wee travel gem.

As the literal translation of the name Cinque Terre (Five Lands) indicates there are five of these
centuries-old Italian fishing villages to visit and while it’s entirely possible to see all five in a day,
Cinque Terre rewards those who adopt a much more relaxed approach. This is a place to forget
your watch, throw away any schedules, adopt a much slower pace, soak in the atmosphere,
stop frequently for wine / coffee / pasta / cannolis and essentially enjoy la dolce vita.

Here’s is a snapshot of our recent visit -

Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is biggest of the villages and probably the one with the most seaside resort-like feel.
The pretty little castle at the end of Via Buranco, the oldest road in Monterosso overlooks a long
stretch of sandy beach - the only real proper stretch of beach in Cinque Terre. Visit here to fill up on
the pretty seaside views and mouthwatering gelato. You can either wile away the the hours in the
new town by grabbing a beach blanket and finding a spot on the beach amongst the crowds of
other sun-worshipers, or you can follow our approach and wander up the promenade to
explore the streets of the old town packed with its kaleidoscope of coloured houses. If you really
want to escape the crowds I would highly recommend continuing up the steep path, stopping to
admire the lemon trees and animals enroute, in order to get to the family-run vineyard,
Agriturismo Buranco, where you can sit back and enjoy the views while sipping on the locally
produced wine.

Our first go at visiting Vernazza ended up with us balking at the the mile long queue snaking
round the town to get back into the train station and deciding to jump right back on the train.
However not to be deterred we returned early the next day to try again. The bit of early morning
drizzle had clearly put the crowds off as we had the perfect chance to explore the village without
playing tourist ping-pong with crowds of other visitors.

The real selling point here is Piazza Marconi, the heart of the village - a small harbour nestled
under the shadows of a medieval castle which was built to protect the village from pirates, and
the gothic-style Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.  It’s incredible to imagine seeing this
sleepy little village, that several years ago the it had been a disaster zone, buried in over
13 feet of mud after it was hit by major flooding and mudslides.

If you visit in good weather arriving via boat is the best way to visit and you can  even dive into
the water from the pier and swim among the fishing boats. However when we visited the sea
was crashing ferociously into the harbour and all boat trips were firmly off the cards. Still even
without the chance to have a dip in the marina, Vernazza has charm aplenty, restaurants
serving fresh seafood and cafes serving steaming cups of Italian coffee line the main cobbled
street which leads to the main piazza allowing you time to put your feet up and simply enjoy
being in what in what is considered one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.

Corniglia is the baby sister of the crew. Perched atop a cliff, it’s a 382 step walk to reach the heart
of the village, but here are some pretty gorgeous picture-postcard views to enjoy enroute to reward
your efforts.

However I need to make a confession as Corniglia is the one village I didn’t technically actually
visit………………Let me explain, my friends decided to take the mini-bus up as they had little
kids and a buggy and I wanted to take the stairs, so we decided to split up and meet at the top. But
if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I have a pretty terrible sense of direction, and
somehow instead of following the sign into the village, I instead kept on walking…and walking………..
and walking………  As I continued on, well past the village, the steps became steeper and steeper
and then increasingly there were long walks between each ‘step’ and those ‘steps’ looked
strangely more like large rocks hat had just fallen on the ground.

Still I trundled on, panting and sweating and swearing like a trooper, through the forest and along a
narrow path next to hilltop vines where the paths were so narrow that only one person could pass
at a time and I refused to take any pictures in case I lost my balance and tumbled down the side of
the cliff, until I finally made it to a road, found a bus stop and jumped aboard. Meantime my friends
has searched the 382 step trail and the town several times and had been convinced that I had
fallen off a cliff by the time I finally managed to get some phone signal and get in touch. It became
a bit of a joke of the trip as a bit of detective work helped us piece together exactly how far off trail
I had gone. The red circle indicates where I should have turned off to get into the village. The pointer
at the end indicates where I eventually ended up!

As a result I haven’t got anything I can tell you about Corniglia, other than it offers some very
pretty hiking trails. Oh and my friends tell me the village itself is pretty nice too (as you can see from
their pictures).

My bus ended up chucking me off at Manorola where I eventually met up with my friends again,
and after my mini-adventure and my friends’ search party efforts we were all pretty hungry so the
only thing on our mind was food, in my case a tasty spot of seafood lunch.

Bellies full we then set about exploring Manorola. With its mix of brightly coloured houses and its main
street lined with fishing boats, Manorola is the oldest of villages in Cinque Terre. There is a pretty
harbour and some nice walking trails and it’s a nice spot just to explore at a gentle place. Oh and if
you like your wine, Manarola is famous for its sweet Sciacchetra wine, so if you're feeling lazy
the best bet is just to order a glass of wine, sit out in the sun with a good book and spend a few
hours in peace, chilling out and watching the world go by.

This was probably my favourite of the villages. The multicoloured houses crowd up against each
other jostling for attention and there is tiny harbour piled up with fishing boats and fishing nets.

From the harbour you’ll need to  muster every ounce of your energy and head on up the very steep
incline towards the top end of the village, stopping off enroute to replenish your energy stores with a
biteto eat or a steaming cup of Italian coffee from one of the many roadside eateries, to buy a
souvenir or stop by one of the lovely little churches enroute and light a
candle for loved ones.

Don’t miss the castle that stands on top of a hill overlooking the village. Not much is known about it
but it’s undeniably pretty and the views make the visit worthwhile.


Accommodation in Cinque Terre itself is limited and therefore tends to favour those with
deeper pockets - however all five villages are easily accessible via train from La Spezia where
accommodation is more plentiful and as a result is far cheaper if you’re simply looking for
somewhere to rest your head for the night

During the summer months Cinque Terre is rammed so early May is probably your best bet if you
want to beat the crowds and still see a bit of sun - at this time of year play it safe and pack both
t-shirts and a rain jacket as you may need to use both!

As our little group included small kids, we decided one night to grab a takeaway from a place a
round the corner. I ordered a seafood risotto and we were handed a microwave meal and met
with looks of utter bewilderment when we questioned it. By the reaction we still can’t be sure if
t was just that particular restaurant whose head chef was obviously Senor Microwave or if
that’s standard for takeaways in the area, but I wanted to give you fair warning just in case!

To be really honest, even this hilarious meal aside, the food was a real mixed bag. I’m not sure if
it was due to the fact that budget constraints meant we missed some of the best places, or if the
flood of tourists mean that restaurants don’t really have to worry about trying that hard. That said
being close to the sea, the seafood always tastes great and in Italy you can’t go too far wrong
with pizza. Also I don’t even like ice-cream that and even I was won over by the gelato which
is amazing!

Queues to get into the train stations are long and painfully slow so avoid the hassle and buy a
CinqueTerre pass which enables you hop on and off trains at you wish throughout the day without
a care in the world

There are two airports you can fly into to access the region - Genoa or Pisa, both a train ride
away from Cinque Terre. I picked Pisa and recommend it as there is an airport shuttle which
takes you into Pisa Centrale station from where you can get onward connections or grab a bus
to see the Leaning Tower (a 2 euro, 10 minute bus ride from stop no.1 directly outside the station).
Even if you’ve only got half an hour to spare it’s worth the detour just to see it and to grab your
obligatory picture of the famous tilted tower. As you can see below I just went for the classic
leaning tower shot, but feel free to get creative and line up a  perspective shot of you leaning
against the tower, holding the top or the classic Leaning Tower ice-cream cone shot, safe in
the knowledge that millions of other tourists before you have done the same.

So there it is, Cinque Terre -  Italy’s worst kept secret and a UNESCO world heritage site that
is definitely worth shouting about.

Ciao! xx

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