One more to tick off from the bucket list: Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was another one of my bucket list to do’s. It’s a well known hike in Italy that links 5 extremely picturesque towns together along the northern coast. Tiny towns of colorful buildings perched on the edge of cliffsides and rugged coastline, these images have surely been featured in every travel magazine multiple times. 

A view of Manarola from Corniglia

We did a bit of research before heading in and decided that parking would make most sense for us in La Spezia, a mid sized town just south of the southernmost town, Riomaggiore. We found a nice lot that happened to be free in the off season (yay for off-season!) and left the van there while we went on our mini-vacation from our vacation. 

Research told us that some of the trails along this famed hike were now closed due to landslides that happened a few years ago. Many posters had commented that the lower coastal trails didn’t seem to be undergoing any reconstruction (sadly) any time soon, so we made the decision to purchase the hiking pass the also included unlimited rail use in Cinque Terre. (Side note: there is also a higher mountain trail throughout that exists and remains open, but is significantly longer and harder). We also decided we wanted to spend a little more time in the area and opted for the 2 day pass (hiking pass only: 1 day=7.5 euros, 2 days=14.50 euros, with unlimited rail: 1 day=13 euros, 2 days=23 euros). As an overnight trip, we booked an air bnb in the central town, Corniglia. 

Map of Cinque Terre witth the various hiking trails

We left in the late morning and took the 11:15 am train into Cinque Terre. We arrived in Corniglia after a mere 15 minute ride (the entire ride from La Spezia to Monterosso takes only 30 minutes), took a tiny shuttle from the station to the town center and checked into our air bnb to leave our backpacks before heading out to hike.

Our AirBnB
We headed out of town following arrows directing us northwest to Vernazza, on a path that led directly into a terraced vineyard. The next 2 hours of hiking continued in much the same vein, with a variety of cobbled steps and dirt trails, along houses, farms, vineyards and rugged coastal vegetation, all the while with increasingly spectacular views of Corniglia growing smaller behind us.

Corniglia in the distance

We rounded a corner and saw Vernazza come into view. Another beautiful little town. As we descended into the town, it was apparent this one was much larger than Corniglia. However, again, most everything was closed. Thankfully, a small gelaterie was open and we got to eat our first gelato in Italy! (Nothing beats real Italian gelato! Even Phil likes it, and he normally hates gelato). 

The view as we got to Vernazza

First Italian gelato! Strawberry and lemon mmmm...

After a few pictures of the tiny harbor, we continued on our way.. the best photos were always from up higher on the path anyway. This second leg took us around 2.5 hours to hike. It was a bit longer as it followed the coastline with a few inlets and small bays. It was still a very nice hike and we even passed a “cat homeless shelter” with cat houses built and signs suggesting we cuddle the cats and feed them liberally. The single cat we saw there, happily lying in his sun patch, was pretty fat, so we were quite certain many tourists had happily fulfilled these requests. As we neared Monterosso, we encountered a decently long staircase… which made me glad we hadn’t done the trail North to South as some suggest. 

Monterosso was also a bit of a larger town, though we mostly spent the time at the beach, which the other 4 towns don’t have. It was a nice long stretch of sand, with few people bothering to do much on it as it was still too cold for beach activities. Finally, as it was nearing sunset and we were getting tired, we caught the next train back to Corniglia.

The beach at Monterosso/Fegina

Corniglia is one of the smaller of the 5 towns, and consisted mostly of a T intersection (the main street), and a few branching off alleyways to the surrounding houses. It was quaint and quiet, as you would expect in off-season. So it was with some dubiousness that we went off in search of the restaurant our host had recommended to us and had made reservations for. It wasn’t difficult to find, but it looked suspiciously dark. We tried the door and it opened to reveal a man eating some supper on one of the two tiny tables in front of a bar. We looked hesitantly at him and he (I believe he was the barman) gestured for us to go upstairs, where the restaurant was. We were the only people there. It made me wonder if they had just opened this place just for us. Thankfully, after putting in our orders of pasta and grilled shrimp (our first Italian meal!), the restaurant started to fill up with other travelers. After we had left and wandered around a little, it was clear this was one of the only restaurants that was open in Corniglia in off season. At least it was good! 

We were pretty happy we had booked the airbnb as the weather forecast predicted a chilly minus degree night. We blasted the heater and made the most of our internet access. Unexpectedly, our water pipes froze so we were without water for a large part of the evening... another adventure of being off season I guess!

The next day, we headed back on the train to the town of Manarola. This is the most photographed of the 5 towns, with the picturesque tall colorful buildings sitting on a cliffside and harbour. It was also where most of bus tours seem to be... but, at this time in the season, that meant only a few bus loads of tourists. It was amazing to be able to spend time to enjoy the view without too many others around us.

The pastel colors of the buildings in Manarola main street

The famous harbour of Manarola
 Our last and final stop was the town of Riomaggiore. This town was a bit more difficult to photograph as it's fame came from it's narrow harbour, as seen from the water rather than the town itself. We took a bit of a risk and clambered our way out along the rocks that acted as a surf break to get our postcard picture view.

The view from the surf break. Totally worth it. 

We took the train back to La Spezia and returned to find our van safe and sound. This concluded our little vacation from our vacation to Cinque Terre! Beautiful and definitely worth the detour! :)

For the video version of events and a top 5 discussion on the biggest differences of vanlife in Australia, USA and Europe.. check out the following vid!


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