Cinque Terre roughly means the 5 towns, which is exactly what it is: 5 towns on the Ligurian coast between Genoa and La Spezia. The towns are famous for being connected by a series of hikes ranging from the very intense to a mere stroll. It’s rocky, dramatic coastline, not unlike Amalfi, where the individual towns seem to rise up out of the sea level and the buildings appear to be stacked on top of each other.
Other than hiking between towns, they can also be reached via ferry, car, and train. But do your homework. I’m not sure how often the trains run at night and the ferries are sometimes canceled due to rough seas. Most, if not all of the towns, don’t allow you to bring a car inside of it: instead you have to park outside of town which can affect how much driving you want to do, especially at night as the roads are dark and winding and parking can be hard to find and a bit of a hike itself. In fact, I recommend just taking the train from La Spezia.
We stayed in Manarola, the fourth town down, at a really charming hotel called La Torrettas. The rooms were beautiful and modern and there was a patio area with a view of the surrounding terraced hills of grapevines where we ate breakfast and every afternoon they held a great cocktail hour. This was a wonderful place to meet travelers from around the world, some of whom I still keep in touch with to this day.
The town is small, with one main street, and a rocky area that is referred to as a beach. I remember the day we arrived there. It was the end of June, hot and humid, and I was worn out just from the walk from our car to lunch. I was looking longingly at the water as The Husband was trying to plan our activities for the afternoon, and I thought I had made my wishes clear when I walked into the sea up to my waist with my clothes still on. Still, he didn’t get it and I had to say, “I’m going to the hotel, putting on my bathing suit and coming back down here. You can do what you want.”
The cuisine here is mostly fish. Heads up, literally, your prawns will be served with heads and tails and legs and eyes still attached. (As is the custom in the rest of Italy, too.) In the interest of full disclosure, it’s not my favorite food in all of Italy: I found it a little bland at the time but that also may have been a product of it being high season. The seafood, however, was very fresh.
We had dinner at a fun place in town called Trattoria da Billy. Billy was like 80 years old and still waiting tables. Billy was his nickname or nicka-namay, as he put it, having been a fan of Billy the Kid as a child. He brought us a bottle of grappa after our meal to use as we saw fit and was all around delightful. We were there in 2009 so I hope he’s still around.
The major activity here is hiking and most people ask me, “Can you do all the hikes in one day?” to which I answer, ”Why would you want to?” You’re on vacation for fuck’s sake! The first hike alone is about an hour and 40 minutes, the first 40 minutes of which are just steps! The second hike is about the same length and the 3rd clocks in at a quick 60 minutes. The trails are littered with German hikers stripped down to their bras it’s so hot and I don’t think I need to tell you that as a race the Germans are tough, stoic motherfuckers. My advice, do one hike (if you must) have a two-hour lunch full of cold acqua frizzante and even colder white wine, and then go to the beach with a book and your thoughts. Do this for 3 days, or just do it for 2 and tell yourself you’ll get to the third hike next time.
(If you’re a math wiz, you’re thinking, “But aren’t there 4 hikes?” Technically, yes. But the last one between the bottom two towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore is a paved walkway that will take you 20 minutes. We walked it to and from dinner one night in sandals.)
Ask at your hotel about the Cinque Terre card. We purchased one which allowed us to both get on the train as well as the trails, which was convenient as we didn’t know we needed a pass to get on the trails. In trying to research that for this post, I found the actual website for the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre to be “non funzione” and another website that says you do not need the card to get on the trails.
The top town, Monte Rosso Al Mare, is a literal and figurative sea of James Bond movie type beach umbrellas, which look really tempting when you’re about to embark on a 100-minute hike in the humidity of June. In fact, there was an American couple who we met on the trail and who hiked up ahead of us at some point. Awhile later we met them as they were coming back down. They had given up. The woman looked at us and said, “I just really want a beach day.” I looked on in envy as they headed back down to their umbrellas and drinks. I wasn’t even through with the fucking steps yet. There should be a Grindr for couples on vacation to hook up men who want to torture themselves and women who just want to relax and swim in the sea.
My bitching aside, the hike was spectacular! The trail followed the water, which gave you a bird’s eye view of the coast and the sea. I had never seen water so blue and so many shades of it! We continued through grapevines, hills, and across stone bridges that went through trees and across creeks.
Eventually, we made it to Vernazza, the second town, where we ate at a restaurant called Gambero Rosso. (There’s those shrimp I was talking about) I remember the
waiter making fun of us that we had elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as our governor. I couldn’t argue with him.
Our second night we went to Ristorante Dau Cila in Riomaggiore for dinner. It was much more modern than the other places you’re going to get in town. I don’t remember much about it, I think I was trying to eat healthier and only got the tuna, which was fine, but it was certainly no pasta with truffles. In retrospect, I should have just gone for it. Regardless, The Husband remembers it as being very good.
We only stayed 2 nights in Cinque Terre. We could have easily stayed a third and always talk about going back, but we haven’t been able to do that yet. As much as I loved Manarola and La Torrettas, I think for a longer trip, I may try to stay in Monte Rosso al Mare as it’s bigger and may have more to do.