The Why: Italy has been on my bucket list for ages. Before moving to the South of France, a trip to Italy seemed to be a far off dream. Living a mere 40 minutes from the border helped make that dream a reality. So why Cinque Terre? Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest, and…more Pinterest. Thanks to this wonderful site I had seen photos of Cinque Terre long before I knew anyone that had travelled there, or even thought that my own trip to these beautiful Italian villages was a legitimate possibility.
Two other assistants, a friend of one of the assistants, and I decided to set off for Cinque Terre during our winter break. The first order of business when planning our trip was determining how long we wanted to stay. After speaking to a native Italian about our trip we decided to stay for three nights, with the arrival (Thursday) and departure (Sunday) days being mainly travel days. This gave us one afternoon and two full days in Cinque Terre. For those of you travelling in summer or early fall, a longer stay would allow for a beach day and more hiking.
The How: Traveling to Cinque Terre by train made the most sense for us coming from Southeast France; though flying to Pisa will get you there as well. There are several different options for train travel between France and Italy, and again throughout Italy. We took a regional SNCF train from France to Ventimiglia, then regional Trenitalia trains from Ventimiglia to Genova, Genova to La Spezia. Train travel in Europe can be very cheap – the more flexible your days and times of travel are, the better chance you have of saving money.
The Where: We opted to stay in La Spezia and found an apartment on Airbnb. I recommend looking into staying in La Spezia or another town in the Italian Riviera with a train station, particularly if you’re visiting during the offseason. Many of the shops and restaurants in the villages were closed for renovations/winter maintenance during our visit. If eating out some nights is something you’re interested in, staying in La Spezia is much more practical, as you’ll likely have to travel there to find a variety of open restaurants. It is quick and easy to get to any of the five villages by train, and much easier to find affordable accommodations outside of the five. Visiting in the off season is great for budget travel as well. If you want to stay in one of the five, I recommend Riomaggiore, as it is the largest and seemed to have the most in terms of shops and restaurants.
The Five Villages:
Cinque Terre is made up of five picturesque fishing villages on the coast of the Ligurian Sea. Hiking/walking paths and train lines connect each village. In 1997, Cinque Terre was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Riomaggiori – The southernmost town is a 7 minute train ride from La Spezia. At approximately 2km (20-30 minutes), the Via dell’Amore, the walk between Riomaggiori and Manarola, is the shortest, easiest, and most popular.
Manarola – Located 2 minutes north of Riomaggiore by train. The walk from Manarola to Corniglia also clocks in at 2 km, but takes around an hour to complete.
Corniglia – Located 2 minutes north of Manarola by train. Nearly 400 steps from the train to the village, and worth every one. The 4km hike from Corniglia to Vernazza will take around 2 hours from start to finish.
Vernazza – Located 3 minutes north of Corniglia by train. The 3km hike from Vernazza to Monterosso is the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, and takes around 2 hours as well.
Monterosso – Located 3 minutes north of Vernazza by train. Remember that potential beach day I mentioned earlier? That’s about the only thing Monterosso is good for, in my opinion.
These footpaths make up Sentiero No. 2, a hiking trail, and connect each of the five villages to each other. You can walk the entire Sentiero No. 2 at once if you wish. At a total of approximately 11 km, this hike takes 5 – 7 hours. If you do travel during the offseason, before mid-March, the control points at the start and end of the hiking trails aren’t manned. This means you don’t need to purchase the Cinque Terre Pass, which includes unlimited train travel and trail access for one or two days, depending on which package you buy. The Cinque Terre National Park website provides real time updates on the status of the hiking paths, which are subject to closure due to rains and landslides.
Stay tuned for my next post: Day 1 in Cinque Terre !