A visit to the Cinque Terre had been on my bucket list for years. I’m not entirely sure when I first learned about these five small villages on the Ligurian coast of Italy – maybe a Rick Steves show? – but from that first moment I wanted to go.
These past two days my dream came true.
We were originally scheduled to go to the Cinque Terre last week, but after some bad storms and flooding we were warned to wait and go a bit later. After looking at the weather forecast we picked November 9 & 10 as the two days with the best weather we could hope for, and were thankfully allowed to change our train tickets for free to the new date. There was still a possibility of rain showers on the new dates, but nothing we felt we couldn’t deal with.
The train ride from Florence yesterday morning took around three hours because it turned out the train stopped at literally every station on the way to the Cinque Terre. One of the stops though was Carrara, where the fine, pure white marble that Michelangelo used came from, and is still being quarried today. We at first thought the white on the side of the mountains was snow until we realized that what we were seeing was marble.
Both Brett and I gasped like children when we finally stopped in Riomaggiore and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. We hadn’t realized until then how much we had missed seeing the ocean. Even with cloudy skies the water was a beautiful shade of blue that reminded us of Hawai’i.
We purchased our Cinque Terre park passes in Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages, and then hopped on the next train for Monterosso, the most northern village of the five. The passes allowed us to get off and on the trains at our own pace, a good thing as all the hiking trails through the Cinque Terre were closed due to storm damage. Our plan was to grab some lunch in Monterosso and then walk around for a bit, then go to the next village, Vernazza, and finally head to Manarola, where we we had a hotel reservation for the night.
Entering Monterosso was like entering a ghost town. It’s a true beach town, and the season had officially ended on November 1, so houses and stores were shuttered, restaurants were closed, and there were almost no people anywhere. We were hungry and eventually found one open restaurant and had a pretty nice lunch – fish-stuffed squid ink ravioli with shrimp for Brett, and a grilled vegetable pizza for me. It was also kind of sad though because we were the only diners in the restaurant.
After lunch we walked back along the beach to the train station to go to Vernazza. The train arrived and we climbed on and took our seats but then noticed that almost no one else had gotten on. Hmmm. As the train picked up speed we discovered that we had accidentally gotten on an express train which had been delayed by storm damage further north, and had ended up arriving at the Monterosso station at the same time as the scheduled local down to Vernazza. There had been an announcement, but as it was all in Italian we had no idea about the change in the train schedule. We watched forlornly out the window as we sped through the Cinque Terre and finally stopped at La Spezia, where after a short wait we caught the train back and eventually got off at Vernazza.
The little village of Vernazza was lovely and picturesque. We wandered around for a while, had some gelato, walked to the harbor to watch the sun set, and then hiked back up the hill to the station and headed for Manarola, where we had a hotel reservation for the night.
It was nearly dark when we got off the train in Manarola, and we were a little frightened when we realized we had absolutely no idea where the hotel was. We punched it in on our GPS, and headed off in what we thought was the right direction, but after walking down a street for a while and climbing several flights of stairs up the side of the hill we looked again at the GPS and discovered we were nowhere near the hotel! We climbed back down into town and asked at one of the restaurants for directions and got ourselves headed in the right way. We eventually found the hotel – the owner was looking for us out the window! We were the only guests that night, and were given an absolutely lovely room with a private terrace. To say we were exhausted at that point from all the train rides, hiking and climbing we had done that day would have been an understatement. We both quickly changed and climbed into bed and were asleep in moments!
We woke up this morning to sunshine and stunning views from our terrace, which made all that climbing in the dark the night before worthwhile. The hotel provided coffee and some biscotti in our room for breakfast, so we had those, then got dressed and headed back down the hill for some more coffee. The walk down was much nicer in the light and provided some stunning views. After our coffee we wandered through the village for awhile and walked along a path around one of the cliffs. We were able to see from the path how thoroughly damaged and in what dangerous condition the trail was in and why it had been closed.
Brett and I had originally planned to first visit the village of Corniglia, which sits between Vernazza and Manarola and then go to Riomaggiore. However, we realized neither of us wanted to do the 30-minute Stairmaster climb from the station up to Corniglia, nor did we want to wait anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half for a bus to take us up (and then wait as long for the bus to take us back down). So, it was straight on to Riomaggiore from Manarola. Since we never seem to do things the easy way, instead of turning to the right from the Riomaggiore station and walking through the tunnel over to the harbor and village center, we instead turned to the left and headed up a steep hill that wove through the village but eventually brought us down to the village center. We rewarded ourselves with a wonderful lunch of traditional Ligurian pasta (Brett’s with mixed seafood, mine with fresh pesto) and then wisely took the tunnel back to the Riomaggiore station where we caught the train back to Florence.
Although our first day turned out to be kind of crazy (and exhausting), the morning walks/hikes through Manarola and Riomaggiore were wonderful and both of us left Liguria feeling like our visit had been a success. It didn’t rain, we saw all the villages (if only from afar in the case of Corniglia), and we got to eat traditional Ligurian cuisine. Dreams really can come true!