Cinque Terre, the string of five villages perched along Italy’s rugged Ligurian coast, deserves more attention than just one day. But if you’re a traveler who’s pressed for time, even one day spent exploring the trails that wind beside pastel-colored buildings, rocky outcroppings and secluded beaches that hug the Mediterranean coast will convince you the area is a worthy addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list. And, it’s better than not having visited at all.
When Alan and I toured northern Italy with Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy Tours, we requested to stop by Cinque Terre on the drive from La Tavola Rotonda in Chiavenna Landi to Lucca. Yes, it was a bit out of our way, but oh so worth it.
From the moment Claudio parked the van in the public parking garage at Riomaggiore, we were smitten. Alan and I daydreamed with travel companions, Jack and Sue, about someday spending a month here in a rental villa. Our baby boomer travel fantasy revolved around hiking the trails, visiting the vineyards and living like a local in one of the cliff-side villages.
Although Cinque Terre is famous for its coastal hiking trails, our means of transportation included a train ride with return by boat. Starting at the station in Riomaggiore, after drinking yet another cappuccino in exchange for the use of a restaurant’s water closet, we boarded the train carriage with fellow tourists—many of them hikers—for the ride through tunnels gouged out of the rock interspersed with views out the window of craggy coastal scenery. One by one, the train stopped at Manarola, Corniglia and Veranzza before we disembarked at Monterosso al Mare, the last of the five Cinque Terre villages.
Reported to be a bit more touristy than the others, Monterosso’s paved beach walk was sparsely populated during our sunny, October visit. But it wasn’t hard to imagine that travelers arriving in the summer would find themselves mingling with a crowd of tourists as they strolled the beach or frequented souvenir shops.
We veered off the pavement to find a restaurant for lunch as the path made its way to the railway station. Seated on the patio of Barabba in White, a clear plastic covering pulled down to protect us from a slight chill, our group enjoyed fresh seafood with a glass of local Vino Bianco. The surf lapped at the sand, a seagull cried and Neptune’s statue, projecting from the rocky cliff, warned off any pirates plying the Mediterranean. A month in Cinque Terre? Where do we sign up?
Later, on the slow ferry ride back along the coast to Riomaggiore, we sat on the open deck watching those same pastel villages passing by in progression as our daydream continued. Which village should be the location for a month-long stay. Did you see that trail leading to the village on top of the mountain? Let’s make that our first adventure.
Cinque Terre offers many options for active travelers. Although I can’t advise boomers on the ins and outs of hiking the blue path, Barbara Weibel at Hole in the Donut, offers a first-hand look in her report on Cinque Terre. And once you read Mark’s Cinque Tere hiking article at Travel Wonders, you’ll be hooked too. For more research, check out My Melange’s description of the five towns of Cinque Terre. And Why Go Italy offers a comprehensive guide including things you should know about Cinque Terre.
On October 25, 2011, heavy rains created flash floods and landslides that devastated Monterosso. Rick Steves reports that much of the village has been rebuilt. To learn the latest news of trail openings and construction updates, check out Rebuild Monterosso.
Click road trip in Northern Italy to read more about our 10-day journey. Use our suggestions to plan your own Italian road trip!