The five fishing villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) that make up Cinque Terre are on the bucket list of many travellers, and for good reason. The villages are picturesque and while yes, there are many tourists who visit, I felt like they still retained their laid back atmosphere. While I planned on going to take in and explore these beautiful villages, I got way more out of my visit to Cinque Terre than I initially thought I would.
We travelled towards Monterosso by train after a fun day of posing for photos with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We had been told by our Airbnb host in Florence that Cinque Terre was a bit empty and sad during off season (this was in November). But still, we headed towards Monterosso hopeful that we would see this UNESCO World Heritage Site in all its beauty.
Our plan was to stay the night in Monterosso, and then explore the other villages the next day before hopping onto the night train towards Naples. When we arrived in Monterosso it was raining hard and was very, very cold. We walked from the train station towards our hotel and only came across a handful of people. Most of the shops in the village were closed as well, so it seemed like a bit of a ghost town. We went to bed that night hoping that we would have good weather the next morning since we were planning to do some hiking. Luckily for us, the weather gods were on our side and we were able to head off on our hike in sunny weather!
When we were planning our trip, we had entertained the idea of hiking to all 5 villages in a day. Apparently, it is doable in 6 hours if you only take short breaks and don't really stop to explore each of the towns. But because we were only there for a day we decided against it. However, because we still wanted to try hiking part of it, we decided to hike from Monterosso to neighbouring Vernazza, since we had read that this stretch of the trail was the most beautiful!
The hike was a bit challenging at some parts where there were a lot of uphill steps that you had to climb. It would be easier to head the opposite direction from Vernazza towards Monterosso, which probably explains why the hikers we bumped into that day were mostly heading the other way. They were all smarter than us...! The trail is also very narrow at places so you have to be careful as you walk.
The internet wasn't wrong when they said this hike is stunning. The views of the cliffs and the ocean blew me away!
You know that feeling you get when you're simply elated, and just happy to be alive? It's not something that I feel very often. It's not that I'm unhappy about my life, but I'm a part-time traveler, and it could be just me, but I find that often I'm so caught up in the day-to-day routine of work that I just don't have the time to just appreciate being alive. It sounds so simple, but it's something that I overlook. Hiking at Cinque Terre reminded me that yes, I am alive, and that I'm lucky to be living the life that I have. I don't know exactly why I felt this way, but as I was hiking I told myself to try to always remember this feeling and as corny as it sounds, remember to appreciate the great things and people I have in my life. Maybe it was because I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, but I was just so grateful that I was healthy enough to hike and enjoy what this place had to offer. I felt pure joy in that moment... I was so happy to be alive and have the means to see phenomenal sights like these!
All in all, it took us around 1.5 hours to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and it was time well spent.
The view of Vernazza from the trail was picture perfect. We spent a good amount of time taking photos and just admiring it. Then we headed into the village and rewarded ourselves with some gelato. Honey and lemon gelato in hand, we headed towards the harbour to watch the waves crash into rocks. When we were ready to leave, we hopped onto the train towards Manarola.
Vernazza had a great atmosphere, but I found Manarola to be the most beautiful. When you arrive at the village, head towards the sea. When you're at the sea, take the path on the right towards Punta Bonfiglio. Here, you can take an amazing shot of Manarola.
We stopped for lunch at Ristorante Marino Piccola. It's in a great location, right by the sea, but it was packed full with tourists. The food was quite good and I enjoyed being able to watch the waves as I ate.
We checked out a few of the shops that were open before heading back to the station to head to Riomaggiore.
I would have liked to walk along Via dell'Amore, which is the famous trail connecting Manarola and Riomaggiore. The trail made it easier for people (and lovers, hence its name) from the two villages to meet, back in the day when the villages were otherwise very isolated. You can read more about this interesting history here. Unfortunately, it was still closed when I visited due to rockslides that occurred years ago. We still got to take a nice stroll in the village though.
We ended the day back in Monterosso. We didn't get to truly explore it the night before due to the bad weather, so I'm happy we got to see it when it was dry! Monterosso is home to the only stretch of sandy beach in Cinque Terre. In the summer months, the beach is popular with tourists. Maybe due to this, Monterosso feels more like a resort town than the others. To me, Vernazza and Manarola felt more quaint and personal.
We grabbed dinner in Monterosso before saying ciao to Cinque Terre. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit Corniglia because we had to pick up our bags from the hotel. At dinner, we struck up conversation with two brothers who had travelled to Cinque Terre from Ireland. They were there for a week, and were hoping to hike their way to each town. I wish I had more time there to do that too!
Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre
- If you want to visit all the villages but don't have much time, I would recommend hiking between 2 towns, like we did, just to experience it. The sights will be worth it! Then, you can take the train between the other towns to get a feel for what each of them are like.
- It only takes around 5 minutes on the train to get from one town to the next, but the trains don't come very often, so be sure to check the train schedule when you're there.
- If you're planning on hiking, try to find out beforehand whether the trail you want to hike is open or not.
- Visiting in the off season has its perks. There are less tourists, and the temperature (if it's sunny) is not too hot for hiking. But on the other hand, depending on your luck, it could be quite rainy. Also, many of the shops are closed.
And just for fun, and because I ran into a lot a number of cats in Cinque Terre, I present to you...
The Cats of Cinque Terre
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