Picture this: You’re walking along a narrow dirt and rock trail several hundred feet above the blue, blue Mediterranean sea. You are surrounded by fig, lemon, and olive trees, flower gardens and vineyards. Several hundred feet up the slope is the road where, yes, there are cars, but you can’t see them and you can’t hear them. You’re following an old mule path that connects five towns, or Cinque Terre: Monterosso al mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You clamber over some rocks, hungry and hot, and see a small village ahead of you with an inviting sandy beach and some cozy sidewalk cafes.
I’ve been to the Cinque Terre many times, including when I worked as a guide for Butterfield & Robinson. The area is famous for views, hiking, small towns, and food. It’s not that easy to get to, but once you’re there you don’t really need more than a day or two.
Note: Many people would argue that the Cinque Terre is on the “obvious” list of things to do in Italy, and over the past few years the trails have become somewhat crowded in high season, so set expectations accordingly, or go in low season or a shoulder season like try April or October. Or hike other trails in the area for the same views but fewer crowds.
The train is the best way to get to the Cinque Terre, however fast trains don’t go there. You’ll likely get a train to La Spezia and change trains from there, which means that doing a day trip to the Cinque Terre is challenging, or, it’s a really long day. Trains do connect all five towns, and run frequently, so once you’re there, it’s easy to get around by train.
I don’t recommend having a car in the Cinque Terre. You don’t need one, and it will sit parked while you are there. But, if you must arrive by car, you’ll use the roads that are up the hill from the towns. If you’re staying in one of the five towns, you may not be able to drive right up to your accommodation: you may need to park and walk. If you must drive, ask your accommodation about where you’ll park.
There are boats that connect many towns along the coast in the summertime, so although this is the slowest way of getting around, it’s a very pretty way to arrive. There are a few different boat companies that run up and down the coast. Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti is a good place to start, and if you want to go up the coast to Portofino or Camogli, check Traghetti Portofino as well.
Photo of Vernazza by rayced
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