One of Italy's coastal gems, The Cinque Terre is a gorgeous holiday spot made up of five little villages which are connected by mountain trails. It is a great place to visit if you are an avid hiker, and even if you're not and unfit, there are easier trails you can opt to take.
Part of the charm of the Cinque Terre is it's less than easy to reach location. There are a few airports you can choose to fly into. We flew into Pisa with two of our friends and made a quick visit to the leaning tower while we were there. From Pisa we took a train to La Spezia which is the last big town. From there we took another train arriving in our chosen village Riomaggiore. It was a little bit of a mission to reach but in that way we were able to see so much of the charming Tuscany in one afternoon.
By the time we reached Riomaggiore it was already around 6pm and our accommodation was apparently only able to be reached by a small village bus which made it's last rounds at 8. Exhausted from the journey, we were all pretty keen to get to the room and finally unload our bags that we'd been lugging around with us all day. (I'm a backpack person all the way and you cannot visit Cinque Terre with a rolling bag).
We were a little unsure about where the bus stop was. The little street we were on which we assumed was the main road of the village was so narrow and quiet that it seemed implausible that any vehicles would appear. But we were in the right spot and the little van bus pulled up at the right time with a friendly, charasmatic driver who while driving up the road stopped at least 3 times to high five friends and chat. He also carried on a lively conversation with the other Italian passengers. The road wound up and around and gave us the most stunning views of the setting sun, the ocean and the jutting cliffs. Our stop was so high up that there was absolute silence. It was so serene and peaceful and I felt as though I hadn't been treated to so much silence in the longest time.
The hotel consisted of a series of independent bungalows all dotted along the levels of the gardens and stairways that led down from the restaurant. The bungalows were surrounded by olive trees, orange trees, lavender bushes and other beautiful flowers and plants and they all looked out onto the blue ocean below, which looked so still from the height we were at.
Dinner that night was easy, at the restaurant which again, had the most amazing view. Sitting outside at our table with the golden glow of the sunset bouncing off the yellow walls of the building, created the most ambient setting.
Paired with good beer and delicious cheese and bread, we were having a perfect evening. The food was fantastic. Dion ordered fish which was so buttery and soft and soaking in garlic with potatoes and vegetables. I tried the “Trofie” style pasta with pesto, which was nice but a little too al dente for my liking.
Day two, our first full day we woke up early and prepared for a day of hiking. The thing about Cinque Terre is no matter what fitness level or age you are, there will be some trail that will suit you. We had spoken to our super friendly and helpful waiter the night before who recommended a couple of trails for us.
So we headed down to Riomaggiore to grab a hot breakfast and coffee and then we jumped on the train heading to the next village over, Manerola. The train ride was one minute and we had just gotten ourselves comfortable that we nearly missed jumping off. We took a little time to explore this village and unanimously agreed that Riomaggiore was nicer. From here we walked along the Lovers Path up until a certain point where it was gated. It seemed as though if it were to be opened, it would be a truly beautiful trail to take, as it was winding all the way along the coast.
We jumped on another little bus which took us up and up and up through endless vineyards and olive trees towards Volastra. Once we jumped out of the bus we were in the first layer of clouds and looking far down below to the ocean. The hike was mostly steady and downhill, along vineyards and olive trees and luscious looking vegetable crops. There were several other hikers along the way heading in both directions and everyone was pleasant and courteous, giving way and greeting us as we passed by. At some points the trail went through the backyards of private houses. Parts of the trail went deeper into the canopies and it reminded me so much of New Zealand bush, but then again we would peek back out into the sunshine and see the ocean. I felt like I'd never enjoyed hiking so much. I wish I could just do that every weekend.
It was probably about an hour and we arrived at the third Terre, Coniglia. Our waiter had told us that this was the smallest village and there wasn't much to see here. It was really lovely and not too busy and had a beautiful position on the cliff. We ate gelato and sat in the sunshine. Unfortunately, Dion had brought the wrong kind of footwear for hiking and was being tortured by his Chucks. We tried to find some plasters for his forming blisters but they didn't stock them anywhere. Luckily, our friend had packed his jandals (flipflops) and Dion figured it was worth seeing how his feet held up hiking the next part of the trail in these rather than suffer from the blisters.
So we began the next hike from Coniglia to Vernazza. Almost immediately, it appeared to be more difficult than the first one. There was a lot of up hill and unsteady ground. I was quite worried about Dion walking along this ground in jandals, but he seemed to be managing quite well. We soon lost sight of our friends as they blazed ahead of us but we took our time and enjoyed the stunning views. After a while the hardest parts seemed to be over and from there it was coastal views all the way. When we finally began to descend we caught a glimpse of the fourth village jutting out into the water.
It was the most spectacular sight to greet us as we walked down from a rather difficult walk. We found our friends waiting for us on some steps down in the village and sat a while with them while we caught our breath.
We were all pretty hungry by this point and meandered through the little streets until we found a seaside restaurant. We had the most delicious capriciosa pizza I think I've ever had. The crust was so delectable, it seemed more like focaccia than usual pizza crust. I had some rather disappointing gnocchi but the pizza made up for it.
Our plan was to take the train to Monterosso the final village, but once again we had just missed it and would have to wait for another hour or so for the next one to arrive. So we had some coffees and walked around, and skimmed stones in the sea.
Monterosso was different from all the other villages in that it was spread out along the shore and on flat and level ground. We arrived at a strange time, between the restaurants closing their late lunch services and setting up for dinner which wouldn't begin for another couple of hours. We spent some time on the beach before coming to a consensus about dinner. We would take the train back to Riomaggiore and collect supplies to take back to our balcony and catch the last of the sunset.
Sometimes the best holiday evenings are spent in a secluded location, with good friends, wine, cheese and cards. The villa was so perfect for this type of holiday and the limited bus service really meant that staying in the towns any later wouldn't have been possible unless your accommodation was there.
The next day's stop was Portovenere. But that's another blog post!