I more or less closed my eyes and just picked a random place to stay in Cinque Terre, as all the villages seem to have a singular charm of their own. I picked a hostel in Manarola, and so that was the first of the villages that I walked into and saw – and man, that is lovely! Where I had thought Florence was, quite frankly, a little bit ugly, this was the opposite. Lovely painted houses, cute little side streets, fantastic views of the city easily accessible and to my surprise, not that many people. Turned out they were all in Vernazza..
When you walk up the road in Manarola to the hostel which lies fairly high up you come upon a piazza in front of a little church. Walk back down and you’ve basically seen most of the village. I continued from the harbour out to the small sanctuary off to the side, which is the main view point belonging to this village. As you may be able to tell from the picture, the main street in Manarola is steep – it won’t be your average sightseeing stroll!
I got lunch at one of the small stores selling cheap breads of various kinds: a focaccia genovese (super simple and tasty bread), and a sort of mozzarella-and-potatoes on-a-stick kind of thing which wasn’t bad at all.
For dinner I had spotted some restaurants with very accommodating prices and interesting looking menus, and ended up on Marina Piccola which lies right on the harbour and has a view to the sea. The service was somewhat slow, with the waitress walking up to take orders from couples arriving after me despite my best efforts at politely attracting her attention, but I definitely liked the food when it finally arrived. I had ordered spaghetti with mussels, clams and cheese since I figured the seafood would be locally sourced here, and to try something new – I’ve never eaten neither mussels nor clams before!
I also had the greatest pizza slice in my entire stay in Italy at this little place called La Cambusa in Manarola. Go there and get some if you get the chance.
When I felt I had seen what I could in Manarola I was off with the train to Vernazza, as I had read in my guide book that that was the quaintest of the 5 villages. I thought the town was perhaps even prettier than Manarola with its little harbour – loving the beautiful hills filled with grape plants surrounding the villages. But – this little town was clearly far busier than Manarola, a lot more people here and as a result the city seemed to be more geared for tourists.
Had a lovely ice cream at Gelateria Vernazza – ‘Crema Vernazza’ and a divine chocolate. There was a bit more to explore here, some back roads, but I failed to find what I was looking for, which was the sanctuary view point. I did find a place to get up high and get some nice pictures, but it’s not the same.
I absolutely fell for Riomaggiore. It doesn’t look like much when you arrive at the station, but simply follow the broad walking path up and suddenly the city will open up in front of you. First thing you’ll see is the mandatory church with a small piazza in front of it, and then you walk past it and into the city proper. It is bigger than the others, meaning more to explore – and in my opinion up there with the prettiest. The streets are so cute, many narrow sidestreets here and there and a wonderful little harbour with a lot of colored boats lying around both on land and in water.
The city felt lively without actually feeling overly touristy. And the best part – still not a whole lot of people! I could sit down with a cappuccino on the main street and just relax and not feel like I should hurry up so that somebody else could have a seat, which was ever so nice in this busy country.
Riomaggiore is known for its’ many great murals, which are found throughout the city.
I spent a couple of hours here just mooching about – went up to the castle for more views, had fun looking at Asians taking pictures – they seem to be able to make a whole sport out of it, the photographer striking poses almost as imaginative as the photographee. Saw a couple sitting on a bench in what I assume must have been some sort of wedding attire – looking their very best, and now sitting deflated on a bench looking at the results of their hard labor. I wonder if they travelled all the way here for just one particular set of photos.
I had actually thought about skipping Corniglia because I couldn’t face having to walk all the way up from the station to the city – it’s a staircase with 377 steps mind you. Then I read that there would be coaches taking you up for just 2,5 Euro and I thought, okay I’ll do it. Of course there was no coach – or, I didn’t see one until I reached the city after having walked all the way up those darn stairs. My calves were burning. The only thing I wanted was an ice cream and a nice view, so I bought a (surprisingly for Italy) forgettable ice cream at Gelateria Corniglia, and went in search of a view.
I had read that Corniglia is the only one of the villages offering views of all 5 villages in one panorama. This may be true from the elusive sanctuary (which I never found) – when I finally found a place where you could see something I couldn’t see all of the villages – Riomaggiore is hidden behind a mountain. My first impression of the city as one may be able to tell wasn’t too favorable, but that was just until I thought to walk into that narrow little street behind the guitar wielding street artist (freewheeling it to Stairway to Heaven, anyone?).
What Corniglia lacked in views it had in cosyness in that one little street. Very narrow, cobbled (sort of), tons of little stores and cafes that looked genuinely nice and non touristy. The street opened up into a small square in front of the church with big trees and restaurants. I thought it was very nice, and definitely made the trip to the village worth it. Wouldn’t mind going back to that place to try out one of the little cafes.
A few helpful words
One thing, and one thing only disappointed me about Cinque Terre, and that was the fact that the walking tracks that I had planned on walking were both closed. I wanted to take the easy coastal tracks between Manarola and Riomaggiore (this one better known as Via Amore) and between Manarola and Corniglia, but they had been closed for a good while now because of some land slides. Quite a bummer – you could have walked the harder tracks that would take you up and over the mountains on each crossing, but let me say this exactly as it is: I didn’t feel like it. I met a very nice Canadian woman in my hostel who had done the whole thing from Monterosso to Manarola and she said it had been lovely. She did look rather fit though.
On the Cinque Terre Card: I thought I could just buy some unlimited train travel for the 2 days I would be there, but in fact you could only buy the full package with all kinds of transportation and access to the walking tracks, at a whopping 29 Euro. Each trip from one city to another within the five costs 4 Euro, so for me who just wanted to see the villages, not walk or travel extensively between them, I was absolutely fine without the card. I think I spent 20 Euros traveling between the villages in those 2 days.
I slept at Ostello Manarola. It was cheap, the staff was nice and the rooms and bathrooms were clean. They close for lunch between 12 and 4 PM, but you simply get the code for the door so you can go right in and put your luggage in a closet until they come back, which I thought was very handy.
Riomaggiore probably was my favourite village of them all, if just by a slight. Which village is your favorite in Cinque Terre? Comment below.
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