Why I went here? I wanted to experience “dolce far niente” and this was just the place to do that. I did not want the glamour that was the Amalfi or the somewhat surreal cousin towns north in the Italian Riviera. Here at the Cinque Terre, the villages were said to be like being transported back in time and if not for mobile phones and wifi spots, I would most definitely agree. It had just the right balance of charm, isolation, and beauty that I was looking for. Oh, and I wanted to hike.
Best time to visit? Late April to September is your best bet. Late fall and winter will see you with rough seas and gusty winds, not to mention the closure of most businesses catering to tourists. Those are the seasons when locals make repairs and upgrades in preparation for the upcoming summer season.
Best way to get there? From Florence, take a train to La Spezia and from La Spezia, connect to the local trains servicing the five towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. The trains within the Cinque Terre can be a bit tricky so mind the schedules very carefully. Some trains do NOT stop at the town you want to get off on despite passing it on its way to its destination and if you miss your schedule it can take another 30-40 minutes before the next one arrives. In other words, do not be late. You can find up to date train schedules on their website.
What to see/do? Wander the towns themselves and hike the adjacent wilderness collectively referred to as “Parco Nazionale Delle Cinque Terre”. The Cinque Terre is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997 and the best way to see and experience the towns is by foot. The labeling of the area as a national park allows for it to charge a small fee upon entering. Rates start at 5 euros for a one day park entrance, and 10 euros for combination of one day entrance and train ticket.
Food and drinks: Almost any restaurant you venture into will likely have exceptional food quality. Seafood, anchovies in particular, are a must try. Pesto is also known around this region and is served traditionally with spaghetti liked pasta made specifically for that sauce, with potatoes and green beans. It is as local as you can get. The Cinque Terre, with its miles and miles of vineyards, offers particularly great wine. Every town has their own unique offering. Some trattorias will have a sampling menu available. Try it and you will not be disappointed. If you’re not much into wine, at least taste the area’s dessert wine, Sciacchetra. It is a refreshing accompaniment after a long day of hiking.
Where to sleep? It is quite difficult to make a decision on where to stay. Each village has its own charm; therefore decide upon what you intend to do while here to aid your decision making. If your intention is mainly to lounge around the beaches sipping some form of cold alcoholic beverage, then look around Monteresso al Mare. If you come to find yourself merely sprawling from your bedroom window hoping to get inspired by jaw dropping views of the Ligurian Sea, look into the town of Corniglia. Tripadvisor provides a list of accommodation names and recommendations divided into categories. The prices can range anywhere from $50 a night for a standard double to $250 during the summer peak seasons.
Why I would go back? This was the bit of my Italian trip that I was looking forward to the most. The towns and the whole experience did not disappoint despite my high expectations caused by the countless videos I’ve seen in preparation for my visit here. The people are friendly, fascinating, and thoroughly welcoming. The hike from town to town was corporeal. I was able to inhale, taste and view all that nature had to offer: fresh flowers, organic fruits, and some of the most undisturbed cliffs and terraces that I have seen with my own eyes. And did I mention the food? The lunch I had here was one of the best meals of my entire trip. Really, what is there not to love?