Arriving in Cinque Terre

01 January 2011

Day 31: Cinque Terre - Friday, July 2nd
If I can encourage you to do any one thing in Italy, it would be to travel or hike through these five connecting cities. Cinque Terre is a national park on the northwest coast of Italy, and it is named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I would have loved to vacation there longer. Our stay was just too brief.

The three of us took a two-hour train ride from Florence to La Spezia. We grabbed a map from the tourist center at the La Spezia train station and quickly made our way to Monterosso via the train.

Monterosso is the north most town of the five. It was gorgeous! There were so many people enjoying the beach and the sea under the ungodly hot, Italian sun. There were tons of Americans! I think it's safe to thank Rick Steves and his Cinque Terre tourist surge for that.

We had some ice cappuccinos and walked along the beach before continuing on to the next town, Vernazza. This was my favorite town! It was very small and had excellent views. We walked around the town and then took the 4km hike (mostly uphill) to Corniglia. Heather and Holly could hardly handle the first 10 minutes, and I thought we would be at each others' throats before the halfway mark. I have to admit, the heat was horrible. It was nearly 105 degrees without the slightest breeze. We trekked up a steep, narrow path while dodging branches and avoiding the edges of the trails. One misstep and we would have been rolling through brush, heading straight for the ocean.

Regardless of the challenges, I loved the hike, the outstanding views and the refreshing beauty of the Italian coastline. We were soaking with sweat by the time we reached a small shop. Tired and thirsty, we each downed three bottles of cold water before finishing the hike.

We finally reached Corniglia, and the views continued to amaze us. Later in the day, we returned to Corniglia to swim within the large pocket of water among giant rock formations. The water was chilly, but very refreshing.

Following our strenuous hike, I agreed to take the train to the next town before walking to the south-most town. The trains were always packed with tourists, and even two months before our trip we couldn't secure any hotel reservations in any of the towns. Cinque Terre is a pretty big hot spot in the summer!

The town of Manarola was very enjoyable. There were lots of shops offering handmade crafts and souvenirs. The restaurants were nice, but most of the food in Cinque Terre was over-priced. Additionally, there was a seating charge if you planned to eat at the restaurant. We curbed our hunger with gelato in Manarola and puff pastries in Riomaggiore. However, we didn't find the customer service to be anything exceptional. In fact, it was quite obvious they weren't interested in serving the non-Italian tourists.

We walked to the final city, Riomaggiore. It was a simple, painless walk. Along the way we snapped pictures of the bag locks hanging from the gates and fence lines. It is said that couples will visit the national park, bringing with them their suitcase locks and a marker. They'll initialize the lock before securing it to the fences. And as we witnessed, it will remain there for time to come. None of us brought locks along, but we thought the tradition brought a lot of character to the town.

Riomaggiore had the best deals on kayak (!) and snorkel gear rentals. We were tempted to head out on the water for a few hours before catching the latest train back to Florence, but the skies were looking weary. There was a lot of conversation about stopping in Pisa on the way home, but we decided to swim for a bit instead. We were pretty exhausted from our day in Cinque Terre and thought that an additional trip to Pisa would really wipe us out. We wanted to enjoy another evening in Florence and not cash in too early. 

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