Everyone said to spend 24 hours in Cinque Terre, but I needed a week and here's why:
It’s one of those places in the world that looks just like the postcards; so perfectly picturesque you’ll want to pinch yourself. A quirky rainbow of swollen Italian buildings perched on a ragged cliff surrounded by mermaid water. I'm talking about water that looks so magical it's hard to believe there isn't an entire utopia beneath its surface. It's fair to say the love factor was pretty instant upon arriving in Vernazza, a tiny town on the west coast of Italy within the Cinque Terre region.
This photo was taken on our afternoon in Manorla, just a ten minute train ride from our accomodation in Vernazza.
Cinque Terre (meaning “Five Lands”) comprises of five small villages that are perched on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline within the Liguria region. As if the beautiful rustic towns weren’t enough, their naturally beautiful surroundings might just tip you over. The stunning green hillsides that engulf the five little villages make up the Cinque Terre National Park, which is now a world heritage site making for some brilliant hikes between the towns.
The best thing about this region is that you don’t necessarily have to hop between accommodation. Regardless of which town you stay in, commuting between them all is easy thanks to the local train line that runs for that exact purpose. The small train that runs from La Spezia through the region totals about 20 minutes from the start to the end of the line, running backwards and forwards all day at the price of next to nothing. It’s the easiest, and sometimes the only way to get between the villages, as the roads are often closed for cars. The small proximity between the villages means that its easy to dart between them as we did in our whirlwind of a 24 hours – however it was no where near long enough for me. Here’s why:
#1 It was hard to get to
Now coming from Venice we probably hadn't picked the easiest starting point, but our route included four separate trains. We were lucky with our timing in that we never had longer than a forty-minute stopover. However, all up it was still a good seven hours of travel. Ultimately the best major city to come from would probably be Milan; or better yet, Pisa, depending on where you want to spend your time. From Pisa you have to catch a train to La Spezia, and from there you hop on a much smaller train that runs between the towns of Cinque Terre. So, in hindsight it really isn't that hard to get to; just make sure you start at the right spot, and you won't lose time you could spend floating with the fishes.
After arriving at about 2pm to our little BnB in Vernazza (which may I say couldn't have been more perfect and I'll definitely be recommending later), we dumped our bags and ran off exploring before we’d even got a good look at the place. We did have five towns to get under our belt in less than 24 hours after all.
#2 Five villages means FIVE villages
Now admittedly we aren’t particularly fast walkers and we do spend too long sitting looking at views and strolling along the seaside- but seriously who can get a good taste of five villages in less than 48 hours? North to South the towns are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorla, and finally Riomaggiore, and from the snippets we saw – they are ALL worth exploring.
That’s at the very least five picturesque villages to stroll through. Each with their own cute restaurants and cafes pumping out the freshest seafood you’ll find (before tourism, the Cinque Terre regions essentially survived off their fishing trade). That’s five scenic places to soak up some sunshine on the rocks (or sand, village depending), before swanning into a new inlet of mermaid water, and five different places to discover a quaint little Italian bar to watch the sun go down.
This was taken in Manorla, which was where we decided to watch the sunset.
So if you’re anything like me – you’ll need at least a half day to explore each town. Our 24 hours was torture. It was just enough to step foot into each town, grab a coffee or a bite to eat, take a decent photo, and jump on the train to the next one. With at least a half day you can stroll amidst the rainbow streets, have a meal (after perusing your options and struggling to decide between a thousand cute cafes for a good twenty minutes), lie in the sun, and have a dip in the villages’ offering of enchanted water.
The beauty of the region being preserved as a national park besides the visual splendour, is that the parks make for some brilliant hikes between the villages. They could easily fill in a day or two depending how active you like to be. Each village has an easy to find and follow walking track that sends you off towards the next little piece of paradise – but don’t be fooled, they’re each worthy of having a day dedicated to them. The hike between Monterosso and Vernazza for example is a little over 13 kilometres and would take about 4 hours. We ran a small snippet of it the morning we had there and it’s a serious workout! But in saying that – totally worth it, the views were AMAZING.
This was taken on our morning run up in the hills above Vernazza.
Now, I’m sure most travellers can appreciate; there’s a big difference between 2 and 3 nights somewhere. I don’t like staying put for too long as much as the next person, but if I can stay somewhere an extra night and still see a new place, I’d never say no.
So here’s another reason why Cinque Terre is worthy of at least another night:
#3 Day trips to Tuscany
One of the best things about Cinque Terre (which I didn’t know at the time), is that because of its amazing location, it’s so easy to day trip to some of the big cities throughout the Tuscan region, like Florence and Pisa. You can either catch the train back to La Spezia (max 20 minutes depending which village you’re in) and then catch a bigger train to your chosen destination. Why not make your way into Pisa to join an afternoon wine tour? You get to see the leaning tower, the beautiful Tuscan countryside and make your way back to your little piece of paradise on the Mediterranean coast to sleep in the same bed without the hassle of having to relocate. Sounds like a great idea to me! And really, what’s the fuss about an ‘‘exhausting’’ day trip when you know the next day you can stroll through a different little village and re-coop on a rock somewhere sipping a cocktail? This brings me to my final reason Cinque Terre is worth the extra sleeps:
#4 The lifestyle there is SO relaxing
If I haven’t already overstated the obvious, it’s that the Cinque Terre is not a hectic place to visit. Your days don’t have to be jam-packed if you don’t want them to be. You’re not going to spend your time darting between museums and cathedrals or making sure you cover every square inch of a massively elegant shopping mall. You’re going to spend them very chilled out (unless you brave a hike which I do highly recommend). The food there isn’t expensive by the most part and the seafood is fresh, with just enough quirky little cafes and solid bar views to get you through a couple of days.
This was taken on our afternoon stroll through Manorla, before catching the train to Riomaggiore for a tasty seafood dinner.
The sheer ambiance of Cinque Terre inspires lying by the seaside, wandering through the villages, and floundering in mermaid territory, all before stumbling into a cute little Italian bar to admire the sunset. Why go somewhere so charming and try to see it in a day? It wouldn’t do it justice. Spend a little longer there and take the excuse to rejuvenate and recharge before rushing off to the next busy city on your list – trust me its not a bad place to do it.
So there; that’s my four reasons why this heaven on earth is worthy of a couple more sleeps. Our twenty-four hours was as memorable and magical as it was a tease – putting it very high up on my list of places to return to. One night just didn’t do it justice despite our best efforts see as much as possible.
This was taken at about 10pm in Vernazza. Once the sun went down each of the villages lit up like a Christmas tree.
So when you go, make sure you make enough time for the journey there (strategically plan your starting point, I can’t stress this enough); a hike (it’s a worthy challenge), and just do everything else in slow motion. Stare too long at the views, stroll the streets like an old man in a grocery store, and bask in the ambiance like a snake on a rock. You wont regret it.