Italy – Cinque Terre

Our next destination, Cinque Terre, is known as the “Five Lands”. This area is a UNESCO world heritage site and that honor is given to the towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. We pulled into the town of Vernazza around 3 pm on a train from Genoa.

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Our pre-booked accommodation was at the Affittacamere Rollando, which was a pricey place for us to rest our heads at 92 Euros a night (even in the off season!). We met the friendly owner and picked up our key at the Pathshop souvenir boutique, located behind the pharmacy on the main street. The owner threw in a free Cinque Terre guidebook as our welcome gift to Vernazza, and we happily discovered that our apartment was conveniently located across the street from the town’s only supermarket. We briefly debated whether or not to purchase the Cinque Terre Card and decided to head to the train station to get the low down on the card. There we found out that for 23 Euros each, we could get 2 days unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto and full access to all open hiking trails. Since our plan was to hop on – hop off between the five towns and hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, we figured that the unlimited 2 day card would be an OK buy.

After briefly exploring picturesque Vernazza’s harbor, we walked up to Doria Castle for a 360 degree view. Well worth the 2 Euro entrance fee. Dinner was a self catered menu of leftovers, accompanied by some of the beverages that Becky’s folks had bestowed upon us.

25 Oct: The next morning, we woke up early to check out the sunrise by the harbor. Along the way, we saw the marker indicating the start of the hiking trail in Vernazza toward Monterosso. Our plan was to hike in the opposite direction (Monterosso to Vernazza), so we caught an early morning train over to Monterosso. Barely remembering to validate our tickets before the ride, it took a few minutes to reach the least charming of the Cinque Terre towns (imagine big beach resorts, umbrella stands galore and you get the picture). Validating our tickets essentially meant that the countdown began now…we had unlimited access to all milk trains and open hiking trails from now until midnight tomorrow. From Monterosso’s train station, we exited and walked along a footpath leading back to Vernazza. The trail was pretty obvious. Super steep in some places but the path eventually leveled out, and it was a very pleasant 90 minute hike through some scenic terrain. Definitely worth the sweat and effort when we rounded the corner and caught our first glimpse of the view descending into Vernazza. It is simply unforgettable! Needless to say, we both took tons of photos before returning to our apartment to grab a late breakfast. After that, we hopped on a train over to Riomaggiore, where we followed the Rick Steve’s walking tour (a leisurely 30 minute stroll). Riomaggiore’s teeny tiny harbor front is the most impressive sight in this village, so more photos ensured. Then it was a hop on the train over to Manarola, which we quickly voted to be our favorite of the Cinque Terre…absolutely gorgeous! Becky’s dad called as we pulled into Manarola, worried that he couldn’t get ahold of one of her friends (Francisco) that he was linking up with. He requested an SOS and asked us to assist in a phone call to Barcelona. After sending off a text msg to Francisco that their cruise had been delayed by an hour, our duty was done, so we continued on our way to check out the cute village of Manarola. This town has got the “wow” factor, especially the view from the harbor looking back into town. Breathtaking! After checking out the phenomenal vista from this vantage point, we hiked through town up to the church, and then through the vineyards over to the cemetery before looping back down Via dei Bambini. Ah Manarola…the prettiest of the Cinque Terre! Next stop was Corniglia. The smallest of the five towns, the most memorable part of our visit here was the hike up the stairs to reach the hilltop village. Corniglia could definitely be given a pass…if short on time, this town can be skipped. It was late afternoon by the time we pulled up into Vernazza. We wanted to check out the watchtower of Vernazza’s castle so we hiked up to the lookout point and admired the vista overlooking Vernazza. Simply astounding. What a day! We had managed to squeeze in all 5 towns in an action packed day. Dinner was a well deserved meal at the Pizzeria Fratelli Basso where a takeaway pizza was only 7 Euros…score!

26 Oct: Since we had accomplished so much the day before, we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit on our last morning in Cinque Terre. Once we were up, we retraced our steps for a morning hike up the Vernazza trail leading to Monterosso. We simply couldn’t get enough of the view overlooking Vernazza! Afterwards, we revisted the Vernazza watch tower. Good thing we did repeat this sight because the sun was in the perfect location for photos. After lunch, we took an afternoon train back over to Riomaggiore, because we obviously didn’t get enough of it during our first visit, ha. Then the plan was to jet over to Manarola for sunset. Well we thought we were headed to Manarola. The train we hopped on was an express train and it finally stopped in Monterosso. Damn it! We had to wait another 45 minutes for a return train that did stop in Manarola and we barely made it there for sunset. Talk about popular…it felt like every single tourist in Cinque Terre had descended upon sleepy Manarola for sunset. There were dozens of tourists taking selfies as the sun set (annoying) but we managed to dodge all of them to secure our own spot along the waterfront. Sunset in Manarola did not disappoint with beautiful hues and shades of color. The return train back to Vernazza was packed but we managed to squeeze on. We had just enough time for one last stroll by the harbor before grabbing another pizza dinner. In retrospect, three nights in Cinque Terre was just right. We had time aplenty to hike, sightsee, relax and photograph to our hearts’ content.

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