Cinque Terre: My Favorite Place in Italy
Written by Katie April 6, 2015
Every place I go somehow manages to become my new favorite. Ever since I first stumbled upon photos of colorful houses clinging to cliffs, I have dreamt of visiting the “five lands” of Cinque Terre. The five villages are precariously perched along the rocky coastline of Liguria, Italy.
I’m over two months into my travels and I’ve seen many incredible places, yet Cinque Terre felt like a dream. It was so piercingly beautiful and idyllic that it was hard to grasp it was real. The buildings splashed in bright colors beckoning boldly had me saying, “This is incredible,” over and over again.
The entire area of Cinque Terre, including the seaside villages, constitutes Italy’s first national park. The villages from north to south are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with their own unique flair. Riomaggiore is a bit rougher around the edges, Vernazza tailors more to tourists, while Monterosso is bordered by a sandy shoreline and caters to beach lovers. The train connects the five towns, but many people prefer to hike between them along the coast.
We arrived late Friday night in La Spezia and checked into our apartment before taking a walk down to the pier. Early the following morning, we took the regional train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore. The neighboring town of Manarola is normally accessible by walking along a small path known as Via del Amore. Unfortunately, this path was closed due to damage from flooding and landslides.
We decided to work backwards and began our journey in Levanto, which is considered to be the doorway to the Cinque Terre. Its long sandy beach drew in surfers as the waves collided into the rocks and huge white sprays of water dispersed into the salty air.
After an hour or so, we moved onto Monterosso, the largest and most resort-like of the five villages. We soaked up the sun on the beach and spent the remainder of our afternoon hiking the villages along the coast. The three-kilometer trail between Monterosso and Vernazza is the most challenging with its narrow passages and abundance of stairs. Nevertheless, hiking from town to town offers breathtaking views and is definitely worth the effort and sore knees!
I was told the views of Vernazza were stunning, but I was not expecting the hike itself to be so beautiful. There were more waterfalls, cliffs, stone bridges, mountain vineyards and greenery than I had seen in all of Europe. Along the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, we encountered the legendary ‘lemon guy’ who devotes his days to selling fresh homemade lemonade and limoncello to hikers passing through. After a great hike and even better views, we reached Vernazza and enjoyed a well-earned lunch overlooking the ocean (followed by gelato, of course).
In the evening we took the train to Manarola, my personal favorite of the five villages. It was smaller than the others and offered amazing views of the sea and sunset. The pastel painted houses accompanied by the vibrant sun setting in the distance merged into a thousand hues and colors. In the soft afterglow of dusk, the village lit up and was breathtakingly beautiful.
We wandered away from the water and found a seafood restaurant with a scenic overlook. I was told I couldn’t leave Cinque Terre without trying their renowned fresh pesto, so I ordered the Lingurian speciality, trofie al pesto, for my meal. The pasta was exceptional, bursting with flavor in every bite.
Cinque Terre was a great place to recharge after traveling for some time. With no museums or must-see sights, there isn’t much else to do other than relax. On Sunday afternoon, we soaked up the relaxed vibes in Monterosso. We happened to run into nearly 40 other CIMBA students on the beach. It was a nice surprise and an ideal way to conclude one of our last weekends together.
We left Cinque Terre feeling content, knowing that we saved some of the best for the end of our travels. As of now, I’m off to Greece for an adventure before final exams begin. Arrivederci!