I cannot even begin to describe the anticipation and excitement with which I began planning for Cinque Terre. Plenty of postcards and “10-places-you-need-to-visit” lists have taught me that the five lands are magical, magical places.
The Cinque Terre (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃiŋkwe ˈtɛrre]; Ligurian: Çinque Tære, meaning “Five Lands”) is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia, and comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. – Wikipedia.org
Today, we begin our story with the two travel buddies once again caught in a huge predicament…
After much deliberation over which of the five lands to stay in, I booked a hotel from booking.com for a nice little room in Vernazza. While Manarola was a hot favourite, it was quite impossible to find good and cheap accommodation there as it was in June, and travelers were arriving in swarms. Vernazza has been pretty highly-raved about as well, so we thought, why not?
Our trip to Rome and Venice went pretty well thus far, and we were in a good mood. There we were, finally! In the five famous, beautiful lands of Cinque Terre! The stuff postcards were made of!
The directions on booking.com said to ring the bell on door number xxx once we alighted at Vernazza. It was pretty easy to find the door, just a few steps away from the train station. What we weren’t expecting though, was that when we rang the bell… no one answered.
We stood there for a good half an hour, just ringing and knocking and ringing and knocking and still no one. Panic was setting in; where were we going to stay if this turned out to be a scam? We only had data then, and I could not call the number provided as I had no credit in my SIM. Tourists brushed past us in a hurry to get to the beach – no one stopped to ask why these two little girls had such dread written all over their faces. I decided to go round the back of the building to check if there was a way in, and to my horror, discovered that half the building was empty and under construction. My mind was whirring: I got scammed. It had to be a scam. I just got scammed. WHERE IS THE HOTEL???
That phone number was my last option.
With no friendly face in sight, I rushed back to the train station (just before the office closed!) and begged one of the officers on duty to please please help me call this number, I have no place to stay the night and I don’t know what to do.
He finally took out his mobile after minutes of pleading, and dialled. And omg the PURE UNADULTERATED RELIEF I felt when he started speaking to whoever was on the other line in Italian!!!
Turns out, the owner of the (sad excuse of a) hotel worked in a perfume shop about four doors down.
“I placed a sign outside the door telling people to find me in the perfume shop,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Must have got taken down.”
It wasn’t a very good “hotel”, to be honest. The fan did not work, although the owner got her boyfriend to replace it the night we told her about it. The adaptors provided did not fit into the sockets as well, so luckily we brought our own. There were no tables to put our things, only one decrepit chair in the corner, and the dusty, dusty floor. The only saving grace was that the bed was huge, and it was in the best location imaginable.
I’d never stay there again though. We ended up having to dry our laundry on top of our blankets as we slept under the covers.
ALRIGHT, enough about the sad beginnings of the Cinque Terre leg of our trip! I’ve been dreaming about this place since Cinyi sent me a postcard from Manarola in 2014, and I was not about to let it go to waste!!
After checking in, we changed into our swimwear and began exploring Vernazza’s beach. The next morning, we also did the only hiking trail open then (Monterosso to Vernazza or vice versa) – the hardest and longest of the lot – but that will be shared in another post 🙂
Here’s sharing some visuals of the Five Lands! 🙂 We arrived at La Spezia from Venice, and took the train to Vernazza to settle down, before taking the train up to Monterosso al Mare to begin our hiking/train exploration southwards. In similar fashion, we will begin our scenic recollection in the north, from Monterosso al Mare down to Riomaggiore.
Monterosso al Mare
I didn’t quite like the hustle and bustle there despite being a self-proclaimed “city girl” though. There was something about it that didn’t feel quite as organic as the other four.
Home for the three days we spent at Cinque Terre. It was beautiful and well-spaced out, with a decent sized beach (yes I’m looking at you Riomaggiore) and good eateries scattered everywhere. Here, I liked spending time by the beach the most. I really do think it’s visually the prettiest.
The only city without a beach, Corneglia was a torture to reach. After arriving at the Corneglia train station, you had to walk a good 5 – 10 minutes before you arrived at the foot of about a hundred over switchback stairs. And Corneglia is on top.
On we climbed.
We met painters along the way and I was so tempted to buy their works, but otherwise, Corneglia was pretty meh and we only spent a couple of hours there, admiring the hilly landscape (rather than the beachy view) before we descended the hundred over switchback stairs and left.
I have to say though, I met some of the nicest and friendliest people in Corneglia… there weren’t as many tourists there, so maybe that contributed to the warmth we received because we didn’t have to share it haha.
It quickly became my favourite. It’s the most romantic of all five, what with the lazy, laid-back atmosphere in this tiny little town. Restaurants lined the path to the beach (the… cliff thing..? There was no sand there) and the air smelled of freshly baked bread, and pasta, and seafood…
And there was even a baby cliff to jump from
(yessss activity at last) – not that I even dared to climb the damn “cliff”. I was way too chicken. I entered the COLD, COLD water though, so yay!! (That counts for something, right?)
If you only have time for one, go to Manarola.
By the time we got to Riomaggiore, it was close to sunset.
Riomaggiore felt absolutely TINY in comparison, although I think it’s just an impression and it might have something to do with the even tinier beach. Riomaggiore has the smallest of all (excluding Corneglia which is conveniently located ON TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN), although there seemed to be some kind of boat-renting service going on and we treated ourselves to lovely visuals of strong shirtless men towing their boats into the sheds. Hehe.
After visiting the Five Lands, I realised that Cinque Terre was simply not the place to go if you were looking for excitement and a plethora of activities.
Sure there are hikes and boat rentals and even that baby cliff dive at Manarola, but the vibe at Cinque Terre was so laidback and easygoing that you’d feel it was wrong to rush through the trip. Granted, there’s not much else to do there and we’d actually managed to cover four of the five (by train!) in a day, but to be really be at Cinque Terre, you have to be all there.
And that means possibly having more than one gelato in a day, sitting by the shore and watching the lulling waves crash against the rocks, and just generally taking life slowly. 🙂