Travel Log: Cinque Terre, Italy
I hope you had a great weekend! I spent some time this weekend going through the rest of our Italy photos and am very excited to share another travel log with you. This one is all about Cinque Terre, the five villages on the Ligurian Sea and the second stop on our recent trip. These villages and the surrounding area are a UNESCO World Heritage site, which has helped to retain their individuality and charm. You will not see any hotel or restaurant chains here! It is not possible to drive a car to all five picturesque villages, but you can travel between them by boat, by train, or by walking paths. Please read on for photos, details, and travel tips from our time in Cinque Terre.
We stayed in Riomaggiore, which is the first village you reach when driving in from Florence or Pisa like we did. There is a small paid parking garage in Riomaggiore as well as a limited amount of parking along the road on your way in, but there is no guarantee that you will find a spot if you choose to go that route. We did some research and learned that you can easily park a car in the garage under the central train station in La Spezia, the city right before Cinque Terre, and take a 7 minute train ride into Riomaggiore. These trains run frequently all day up until 11pm, so this option is much less stressful. The train ride cost was ~4 euros per person, and the daily cost to park the car in the garage was about 20 euros per day, but I am pretty sure that parking in Riomaggiore would have been more expensive. We parked our car, condensed our bags down to just we needed for a few days in Cinque Terre, and in less than ten minutes arrived at the Riomaggiore train station!
From the train station, you take a short walk through a tunnel and then you arrive on Riomaggiore's main street! We arrived in late afternoon since we stopped in Pisa on our way out, so we quickly dropped our bags and hit the street to explore before our dinner reservation. It was a chilly the afternoon we arrived, so I wore a lightweight down jacket with skinny jeans, Converse sneakers, and my favorite travel-friendly vegan leather cross body bag.
The prettiest views of Riomaggiore are from out by the ferry dock, where you can see the buildings spilling out from the rocks as well as the Ligurian Sea! The very first photo in this post was also taken from this area.
We had reservations at Dau Cila, a tiny restaurant next to the water with amazing seafood, pasta, and local wine! My fiancé picked it because it is in the Michelin guide and one of the best restaurants in Cinque Terre. During the summer they have additional seating on the patio, but indoors there are only about a dozen tables. The octopus and pesto pasta above are just two of the delicious dishes we shared, but everything was amazing.
When you visit Cinque Terre, you will see vineyards lining the hillsides of each of the villages and primarily white wine is made here that goes so nicely with all of the seafood dishes! This particular bottle was from a vineyard in Manarola, the next village up from Riomaggiore. We very much enjoyed our dinner at Dau Cila, and funny enough we met three other couples from Seattle at dinner the same evening! What a small world...
The next morning we purchased the Cinque Terre card at the Riomaggiore train station tourist office to travel between the five towns. The cost is 12 euros for one day, and you get unlimited train travel between the towns as well as access to the walking paths where open (there are booths where people will stop you to check your card). Be sure to ask for the train timetable so that you can plan out your day, since the trains run less frequently in the afternoon. We started our day by taking the train from Riomaggiore all the way up to Monterosso al Mare (the farthest town).
Monterosso al Mare has a large, gorgeous beach. It is actually the only sandy beach in Cinque Terre, and for that reason many tourists choose to stay in this town in July and August. I could see myself happily spending hours here in the summer, I totally get it. When you exit the train station you find yourself right on the boardwalk overlooking the beach--it doesn't get any closer than that!
When you walk farther up from the beach, there is a tunnel that takes you to the older side of Monterosso with another beach and more shops and restaurants. We spent some time browsing the shops on that side, and I bought a piece of artwork that I am looking forward to hanging in our house! After spending a couple of hours in Monterosso, we headed to the next town of Vernazza where we had a scheduled lunch reservation.
Vernazza can be reached by ferry boat, train, or walking trail from Monterosso al Mare. This photo was taken from the trail on the way in, and is one of the iconic Cinque Terre views. We were so lucky to have a beautiful sunny day! Our lunch reservation was at the Ristorante Belforte, which is located inside the old stone fort that you can see in the middle of this picture, right where the pier starts.
Vernazza has a small beach and harbor, where you can sit and enjoy the views from land or hire a small boat to take you out to enjoy the views from the water. Vernazza also has a beautiful town square right above the beach where you can enjoy a meal, drink, or good company. I can see why Rick Steves says that Vernazza is his favorite place to stay in Cinque Terre, it truly is a beautiful town.
Here you can see the inside of Ristorante Bellforte, where they have made good use of the small space inside of the fort! There were only about ten tables inside, but they also had an outdoor patio with seating for warmer weather.
This has a couple of delicious pasta dishes including the above paccheri with seafood in a tomato and olive sauce. We also enjoyed a salt-baked local white fish (like a sea bass). The staff brought out the fish on the pan to show us, then took it back to de-bone and serve. It was incredibly good with just the salt and lemon!
After lunch, we took the train from Vernazza to Corniglia. Corniglia is perched high above the sea, and cannot be accessed by boat. The walking path between these two villages is very long (about 2.5 hours, we were told), so we skipped that one.
We wandered the narrow streets in Corniglia for a bit, where there are plenty of shops and restaurants to see. There are also gorgeous views high above the sea! After we were finished exploring, we took the path down to the train station where the walking trail to the next town of Manarola began. Unfortunately, we must have missed a sign that the trail was closed because we got about ten minutes in and arrived at a roadblock stating that the trail had been washed out. Whoops - I guess the towns are not making enough money to keep up the trails! We turned around, went back to the train station, and caught the next train to Manarola instead.
When we arrived in Manarola, we found the other end of the walking trail and took it far enough out to get this postcard-worthy photo. This view is another one that is synonymous with Cinque Terre, and many people flock to this area at sunset to get the perfect shot. We tried to take the walking path from Manarola back to our home base of Riomaggiore--a short and pretty walk known as "Lover's Lane." However, we only were able to walk a short distance above the train station before hitting a another roadblock. This time, the trail was closed because of a rockslide. Hopefully we will have better luck the next time we visit!
We chose a restaurant named Marina Piccola for dinner that had a lovely view of the sea! After more fabulous seafood dishes and local wine, I was wishing we could spend another couple of weeks in these towns. I can only imagine how much more crowded Cinque Terre gets in the summer, but our April visit was a nice happy medium of sunny weather and fewer crowds. We definitely will be back at some point to spend more time here, but after just a few days we had to move on to Florence. Be sure to check back for more travel logs, and I hope this post helps beat the Monday blues!