Cinque Terre means ‘Five Lands’ and is a National Park, covering five small and charming villages on Italian North coastline (often referred to as Italian Riviera), Liguria region. One can find a bunch of other picturesque villages and small towns close to the region (Portofino, La Spezia, Levanto, etc.) worth a visit, however my target was Cinque Terre villages themselves (well, I did spent several hours in La Spezia, as it took me just three minutes by train from Cinque Terre village Riomaggiore).
Getting to Cinque Terre is an adventure itself
The closest airports to Cinque Terre are in Florence, Pisa and Genoa. However, we have a very limited flights choice from Lithuania airports. Therefore, the cheapest and the fastest way to get to Italy from Lithuania is actually to fly to Milan (direct flight of a little bit more than 2 hours) or Milano Bergamo, if to be precise, which is a small town about an hour away from Milan.
The apartment description clearly stated that arriving after 6:00 pm will be subject to fine fee of 10 EUR, while arriving after 10:00 pm was not allowed at all. As long as we were supposed to spend over four hours on the road from Milan Bergamo to Manarola and our flight was supposed to be a pretty late one, we had no chance to arrive before 6:00 pm, thus we strived to make it at least before 10:00 pm. This meant an hour by bus from the Milano Bergamo airport to Milano Centrale (Milan Central Station) and then – about three and a half hours by train with 2 exchanges! We accepted the challenge and prayed for one thing, only – not to be late at any point of our journey as all three trains we needed to take departed barely 15 min apart between the arrival of the one and the departure of the other!
I use to travel by trains in Italy quite a deal, and this always used to be a pleasant experience before, but not that time. The train departing from Milano Centrale was in delay for about an hour because someone had suddenly decided to detach the half-empty carriages from the train…
This was enough for us to miss the other two trains and start thinking of an open air sleeping experience on Manarola beach. Fortunately, we were able to re-arrange the tickets in a way we managed to arrive at about 9:30 pm, which was very appreciated, as Manarola appeared to have no beach, whatsoever..
Note: Cinque Terre is not about the beaches. The only one is in Monterosso, but this village seemed having no unique charm to me, as was of a pretty much flat landscape (as opposed to Manarola, which is all about hills and steep cliffs) and had lots of fashionable villas and hotels.
Simply no Wi-Fi and no TV
I was excited to spend a week in relative isolation from the ‘tangible’ world (after all, the Cinque Terre villages are protected by hills and are not easily accessible by car) and the virtual one: the apartment we stayed in in the village Manarola had no Wi-Fi or TV set, whatsoever. Not even a radio. My phone stayed perfectly charged for pretty much all the period of our stay. And our apartment was literally built into the rock, against which the sea waves kept crashing like every night… We were lucky I guess to arrive at the moment of sea storm, which made the experience a bit extreme and unusual (previous trips to Italy were all sun); though it rained pretty much all the time, we came there for trekking, relax and Italian cuisine and none of these actually disappointed us.
It was the first trekking experience for us and I believe Cinque Terre is one of the easiest paths for this (though I might be wrong, as have not tried anything else), as long as did not cost us an exceptional effort (and we are not into fitness in general, if you know what I mean). All villages are interconnected by a trekking path, which goes above the sea along the coastline or very near to it. Also, it offers a network of smaller paths deeper into the hills and forests, and offers views of olive gardens, really small villages high above the shore and vineyards. Those not experienced in trekking or preferring the sea views normally choose the ‘official’ route, which is partly chargeable (for example the route between Monterosso and Vernazza), while other paths might not be accessible. For example, the path Manarola – Corniglia is closed due to falling rocks for an undisclosed period of time, thus thealternative path, which takes you up to hills and olive gardens, is a pretty much challenging one (hundreds of really steep steps up and down!) and is free of charge.
So is the steep path from Manarola to Riomaggiore, which is also the shortest one (about an hour without a longer stop). A very pleasant surprise was the weather, though – we travelled at the end of May-beginning of June, and that week was a rainy one, except… on the tracking paths! We found it slightly weird (having in mind the smoky gray clouds hanging over the high hills all the time), but we managed to even tan a bit while walking back and forth the cliffs! Also, it was a relief that once we felt really tired of walking, we could take a train back to Manarola or any other Cinque Terre village (also, to La Spezia, Levanto, etc), as regional trains depart every 15 minutes and it only takes about 2-4 minutes to get to the next station.
Note: the villages have small stores with trekking clothes and equipment should a need arise. To save on trekking paths costs, you might want to buy a trekking pass at the travel information kiosk, which will also allow you to travel free on regional train and will offer some free entertainment.
Before the trip I surveyed some popular travelling portals for ‘where to eat at Cinque Terre’ and we tried out pretty much entire ‘Top 5’ listed there. I must admit now that only one place made our stay a real Italian experience, while others offered ‘just food’ – Italian, yes, but not the one we would normally look for in Italy (simple and abundant, ‘family’ style). We spent four evenings in a raw in Tratorria da Billy for that matter and left there from 70 to 90 EUR per two each evening with no regret: pasta, fresh sea food, homemade cheese (gorgonzola, pecorino, parmigiano), local wines, and Limoncello on the house made our evenings from 9:00 p.m to 1:00 a.m. perfect. We also enjoyed the sea view and the sunset from our table at the terrace.
Important note about the place: the tables need to be booked in advance (could be done via phone). The dinner normally happens in two ‘sessions’: from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, after which you will be asked to leave for the second ‘session’ to begin, which is from 9:00 pm till…the dawn (if you can make it, as the hosts joke about it). Not bad cuisine experience was also at Aristide restaurant, while Pizzeria La Cambusa was a perfect take-away spot for various Italian snacks, like small pizza, foccacia, etc. And the best sea food take-away was found in La Spezia (all over the place!), offering a huge paper cone full of fried calamari and famous local anchovies, perfect street food with a cold Peroni beer!
The grocery stores are rare in Cinque Terre and seemed too expensive to us – eating out was of pretty much of the same cost and surely required much less effort, while overall experience was incomparably better (talking about real Italian cuisine!)
Wine is something worth tasting in Cinque Terre. It is a light one with a unique rich flavor, though I’m not an expert, by no means. However, I believe one of those smelled of cheese (gorgonzola most probably)…
The vineyards are located simply on the rocks of the cliffs above the sea, which makes an impression of ‘hanging gardens’; the trekking paths lay right through some of them – a fabulous experience!
We personally did not book any guided tours to the vineyards, whatsoever, and tasted some wine in local wine shops, restaurants and ‘trattorias’, but I would recommend to book one, if you are passionate about this kind of experience.
Would I like to come back? Certainly. Anyway, it already was not the first time I have travelled to Cinque Terre!