I had been dreaming about La Cinque Terre for a long time. Little colorfoul towns, blue waters and green all the way. How can you not wish for such a magical mix. I saw lots of photos and I heard lots of reviews from my friends, but nothing compares to the real thing.
You hop on the train to La Spezia (that you can reach in about one hour from Pisa, passing by Cararra and it’s wonderful mountains of white marble) and then go under the mountain, in the darkness of the tunnels. About 10 minutes later you start to see, for short fleeting moments, the magical maritime sparkles. And then you are back out in the light, you step out onto the Riomaggiore platform and there’s the sea in all it’s beauty. It’s an incredible sensation. It’s like when I was just a kid and went to the seaside with my parents, and after hours of driving, when we were getting close, we would each try and focus to catch that first glance of the sea. The only difference is you reach Cinque Terre in a couple of minutes and the scenery strikes you in all its splendour right away. That’s the first impression. That you jumped into the rabbit whole and stepped out in a fantastic world.
Then starts the heavy part. The stairs. The stairs! I have never in my life went up and down so many stairs. There is no car access in the area, except somewhere up on top of the mountain where there are some parking lots, and that’s part of the charm of the place, but it also involves a slightly more difficult accessibility for those less accustomed with physical activity or elder, or accompanied by big heavy luggage.
We stayed in Riomaggiore, la Ciao Bella, a nice bed & breakfast. The rooms are big enough, airy, nicely decorated, the bathroom is shared, but that’s not a problem, the lemons are waiting to be picked from the trees in the back yard, so you can prepare a lemonade any time, and breakfast is served at the owners coffee place and is made up of pizza or focaccia, which i discovered on this occasion, works just fine in the morning as well. Riomaggiore is the first of the five ligurian towns, starting from La Spezia, and is followed by Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The train in between each of them takes from 2 to 5 minutes (and costs in between 1,8 and 2,1 euro). A stone’s throw away. Or a boat ride away, because there is that option too, but it’s more expensive. Or, alternatively a one or two hours picturesque mountain hike. Initially we thought about walking from one place to the other, but we were thrown off by some apparently serious, but fleeting, clouds, and a burning sun that followed. Anyway, if you do visit the area, you must check out all these five little gems, because each one is special in it’s own way.
Riomaggiore has a beach with nicely polished round shaped pebbles, tucked away from the crowds and a bit isolated from the actual town. (You need special shoes to access it at ease.) It also has a nice little golf where at night people gather to drink, sing, and should the case arise, take a night swim. It also has a clock tower, that strikes every hour, half hour and, sometimes, in between. Light sleepers that visit in the summer time and wish to keep the windows open at night be advised. I managed quite well, with earplugs.
Manarola has this tall rock that is used by the brave ones for crazy jumps in the sea. It also has the nicest hill top terrace, where you can eat some wonderful bruschette and an equally nice lemon tarte, while you admire the sun skin lazily into the sea. It’s called Nessun Dorma and should they also play the song it’s named after while you sit there and enjoy the sunset, I’m pretty sure things would be right out epic.
Corniglia has the absolute loooongest road, and the moooost stairs that lead the way from the train station and into town. I would definitely advise against choosing this as spot for accommodation, since I cannot imagine what it would be like to haul all your luggage up the hill. It also has the most picturesque blue watered marina, because we cannot call it a beach, where we didn’t get a chance to take a swim because we were interrupted by the rain. And, last bun not least, it has gelateria Alberto where I had the best biscuit ice cream sandwich.
Vernazza has the nicest square with a view to the gold and the coolest rock you can sit on and admire the sea, lower if you want to be splashed by the waves, or higher if you just want to watch them. It also has the funniest showers I’ve ever seen, tucked away in a little grotto under the church, that you must absolutely try out if you go there in the summer time.
Monterosso has the only classical sandy beach, complete with lounge chairs and umbrellas, but also the most turquoise water and the most impressive open view to the Mediterranean . The day we were there at least, the whole ensemble of mountains, clouds and sea made me feel like I was actually on some exotic island in South America or Asia, and, pretty soon, I’m going to see the ships appear far away on the horizon. It also has a nice old town, where we had a wonderful lunch at Da Eraldo. A nice plateau with prosciutto, parmigiano, pesto and other traditional goodies, plus some absolutely delicious home made bread.
All five towns have cheerful colourful houses, lemon, orange and mandarin gardens, huge shrubs of oleander and other beautiful flowers, narrow shady streets that you can hide from the heat when it’s too strong, cafes and bar where you can eat all sorts of yummy stuff, locals that sit on benches and enjoy the calm life, lazy cats lying around all over the place and such a relaxed and carefree vibe, that you completely loose sight of who you are and, as cheesy as it sound, you just do whatever your heart tells you to. It’s absolutely wonderful. You get to disconnect completely from the daily mundane life, and that’s quite an accomplishment when you’re coming from a noisy stressful city and work place. All you have to do here is sip a frappe, take in the view and, every now and then, chill with a swim. A paradise. So if you ever want to fell like you’re on some island, without wasting days on planes and roads and spending tons of money, this is the place for you.
I would have never left the place, but I had to get it together and move along to magnificent Siena.