The Cinque Terre is a very special part of Italy – laid back, casual and relaxing, it is a great place to have a holiday from your trip.
While many people visit the Cinque Terre for its reknowned hiking trails, there is plenty to offer any traveller looking to experience this different part of Italy.
You have a few different options for travel throughout the 5 villages. You can either hop on one of the many trains that link each village, take a ferry ride or hike the trails. There is also a taxi service in Monterosso, Vernazza and Manarola.
1. Don’t worry if you don’t get to do everything
The Cinque Terre is relaxed. It’s not the sort of place to race around with a checklist of sites and “must do” activities. Resist the temptation to set a cracking pace. Relax, breathe, rest, absorb and enjoy. Spend time seeking out and enjoying the little things – watching the ferries chugging from town to town, seagulls wheeling against the blue sky, or just enjoy the view.
3. Eat local
Cinque Terre food is a must. Carnivores need to forget the red meat – fresh local seafood rules here – and is cheap! Great local wines (especially the whites) are a definite to try and definitely don’t miss the chance to try the local dessert wine of the Cinque Terre, sciacchetra (shar-cat-TRA) – delicious! Other local treats to try: pesto (yes, it is a Ligurian treat, so eat away!), walnuts (delicious as a pasta sauce) and limoncello (lee-mon-chello) a strong lemon flavored after dinner drink.
2. Relax and accept that not everything will work
Trains between the towns will be late, buses up to the hilltop towns in the hinterland will not be running, or the ferries will be cancelled because of the weather. Expect loos at the train stations to be closed for refurbishment, restaurants to be closed unexpectedly. It’s OK though, it’s the Cinque Terre, take a chill pill, get with the dolce vita, relax and enjoy where you are.
4. Don’t expect five star luxury
If you want 5 star luxury head to Portofino.
The Cinque Terre is homely, small family hotel territory (there are a few bigger 4 starts in Monterosso if you are desperate.)
Private rooms (camere) to rent abound.
5. Pay attention when on the train
Local trains in the Cinque are long. Platforms are short. At many of the stations the train will stop and you will still be in one of the many tunnels. Pay attention, and if the train stops, and your town is the next scheduled stop, get off. Listen carefully to English language announcements at the stations. At some stations the platforms are actually shorter than the trains – the train doors will only open in the middle carriages, so listen, and congregate with all the other tourists in the middle of the train. Trains don’t run that frequently, so missing your stop and having to back track can waste a lot of your time.
In spring the trains disgorge what seem like hordes of tourists who look hellbent on ruining your enjoyment and tranquillity. Don’t despair – while the crowds may seem terrible leaving the station, people disperse pretty quickly and it is possible to find your own personal, private Cinque Terre.
7. Leave the main drag or main square
Regardless of what town you visit, head off into the quiet lanes and away from the main drag. You’ll find your own private fabulous views, interesting architecture and a very personal experience.
8. Catch a ferry
Do it first thing in the morning or later in the day and enjoy the lack of other tourists, the calm waters and the beautiful light. Late afternoon from the ferry is a perfect spot for some gorgeous photos as the light is just right to show the towns off at their best.
9. Pack light
I know I say this all the time, but really the Cinque Terre is one place where a small bag is a must. It’s hilly, there’s stairs everywhere. Smaller towns don’t have taxis and there are almost no lifts. You will be carrying your bag up stairs, and dragging/carrying it up steep hills regardless of where you stay. Trains are high and station platforms are low, so you need to plan to able to lift your bag up about a metre (3feet).
10. Walk, even if you are not a hiker
Not all of us are hikers – myself included. There are still plenty of opportunities for walking around the towns and their outskirts and country walks not on the hiking trails. As I write, a number of the easier paved walking paths remain closed due to the awful 2011 storms and other adverse weather events. Even so, a non-hiker like me still found plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views, the hillside terraces and the country side. I’ll be writing about walks for non-hikers in a future post.