If the port of La Spezia is one of your cruise stop-offs, put the Cinque Terre on your must-see list. Here’s how to tick off Italy’s ‘five lands’ in a day…
The Cinque Terre is an 18-kilometre stretch of scalloped coast just north of La Spezia, on the Italian Riviera. The name translates to ‘five lands’, which refers to the postcard-pretty fishing villages that cling to the cliffs here. They’re linked together by a railway line and a network of hiking paths.
If you’re going to tick off all 5 in one day, get yourself a copy of the train timetable (you can download a printable pdf here) and work out which services you’ll need to catch – you don’t want to waste time hanging around the train station when you could be slurping gelato or sipping a second glass of the local vino, after all.
When you come out of Riomaggiore station, it’s a few minutes’ walk through a tunnel to get to the main street. Have a wander up the hill – it’s lined with fruit shops, gelaterias and cafés, which is perfect if you’ve not had time for breakfast. Then head back down towards the sea. There’s no beach here, but you can clamber down on to the sun-warmed rocks for a bit of tanning time and a swim.
Ready to move on? Make for Manarola. You could make a beeline for the rocks again, but my advice is to wander up the path that snakes along the right side of the cliff. You’ll get views like this…
This one’s the only village that’s not on the seafront – you can catch a shuttle bus up to it (it’s free if you show your train ticket) or you can tackle the switchback stairs on foot. I’d suggest saving your energy and taking the bus – there’s a more scenic walk you can do later.
Because it’s not as easy to get to as the others, Corniglia has a more peaceful feel. The main street – Via Fieschi – snakes through the village, edged with restaurants and little shops selling ceramics and paintings. At the end of it, you’ll come to Santa Maria Belvedere, a lookout point with fantastic views up and down the coast.
Next up is Vernazza – and lunch. Follow the main street from the station down to Piazza Marconi. It’s the village’s main square and looks out across the harbour towards Monterosso. You’ve got restaurants on three sides of the piazza, so there’s plenty to choose from. Anchovies are a local speciality, and make an appearance on most menus. Cinque Terre wine is worth a taste, too – half-litre carafes usually cost less than 5 euros.
Just as you enter the piazza, there’s a little lane on the left with signs to the torre. You’ll have to climb some steep steps to get up to it…
But this old watchtower gives you a great overview of the village.
If you’re not one for walking, you’ll be heading back to the station to catch the next service to Monterosso. But if you’re up for a not-too-energetic hike, follow the signs for the Monterosso path. This is part of the Cinque Terre’s famous blue path, a route that follows the coast and connects all 5 villages. You’ll need to buy a ticket to access it – you can get one at the train station or the hut at the start of the path.
The first section is pretty tough going, but you’ll get a great aerial view of Vernazza.
The path takes you through woodland and past vineyards and citrus orchards, before starting its descent into Monterosso. The last part takes you down a seemingly endless staircase – I defy you not to feel smug when you realise how much easier your climb was.
Monterosso is split into 2 parts, connected by a cliff tunnel. The hiking path emerges in the old town, while the train station is in the new town. Have a quick meander around the old town, then make your way to the new town for an icy Nastro Azzuro and a well-earned rest on the beach, before hopping on the train back to La Spezia.
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Author: Laura Weeden
Published: August 14, 2014
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