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Introduction: Cinque Terre
Nestled along the north western coast of Italy is a group of five fishing villages known collectively as Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”. Their relative remoteness from other major cities in Italy has allowed the area to preserve its culture and authentic Italian feel. The dramatic scenery of the Italian coastline, along with the towns built up densely upon the steep cliffs makes it one of the most photographed locations in Italy, and is attracting more and more tourists every year.
After a week of exploring the crowded bustling cities, we wanted to get away from the city life and check out what the Italian countryside had to offer. Having seen some spectacular photos of Cinque Terre, we knew we had to go check it out. Luckily, it was pretty easy to get there, with many trains running to the nearby city of La Spezia. From there, you can take another train that stops in each of the five villages. While you can’t get direct vehicle access to the towns, the train rides between the villages takes only several minutes, so accessing each of the villages is simple and quick.
We decided to stay in the town of Riomaggiore, which is the southern most of the five towns. If you take the train from La Spezia, it is the first train stop. While it doesn’t really matter where you stay, we chose to stay in Riomaggiore for several reasons. Firstly, the train station is only several minutes walk from the main area of the town. The walk is through a covered walkway which is straight and flat, making it easy to wheel any luggage you may be carrying. In addition, the town is not as busy or noisy as other towns such as Vernazza or Monterosso, which we preferred. On the other hand, there are still plenty of decent restaurant selections in Riomaggiore.
We arrived by train in the afternoon, and checked in at the Il Boma Bed & Breakfast. It is located several minutes walk up the main street, after exiting the passageway from the train station. Unfortunately there were no lifts in the building, so we had to carry our suitcases up several flights of stairs to our room. Upon checking in and getting a short briefing from the owner of the B&B, we took a short walk around the center of town. Unfortunately Peterson wasn’t feeling well from the night before after catching a bad cold, so we headed back to the accommodations. In the end, we decided that he should rest up in the room until dinner time, so I went out to do some exploring myself for a couple hours.
That night we had dinner at Dau Cila, which was a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Riomaggiore. For such a highly rated restaurant, the food was alright, although the atmosphere was great, as we were able to secure a spot on the patio overlooking the sunset.
The next morning, we bought a ferry day pass for 30 euros, which gave us unlimited ferry rides between all the towns in the area (except Corniglia). While it’s definitely pricier and a bit more time consuming than travelling by train, it’s the only way you can see the whole town built up along the jagged coastline, which I thought was really unique. On top of that, we also saw dolphins swimming alongside our ferry, so I guess that makes up for the cost!
Our first stop was the town of Manarola. We got off here for about an hour to have a look around and take some photos. I thought Manarola was one of the more photogenic of the five towns. Often times this is the one you see on those Italian postcards.
The atmosphere of Vernazza seemed more lively than the other towns, and there were more restaurants with outdoor patios lining the main street. There was a much larger waterfront area, with a small sandy beach, which neither Riomaggiore nor Manarola had.
One downside to taking the ferry was that it doesn’t stop at Corniglia, which is built up high on the cliffs, so naturally it doesn’t have a port. Unfortunately that meant we were only able to observe it from afar as we passed it on the way to Monterosso.
Monterosso is the largest and northernmost of the five Cinque Terre towns, and is the only one that allows vehicle access all the way to the center of town. It has a more resort-like feel, with a sandy beach that stretches the length of the town, lined with restaurants and suntanning chairs. We had lunch here at one of the restaurants by the beach, before hopping back on the ferry.
Our last stop in our Cinque Terre day tour was Portovenere, which is a larger town south of Riomaggiore. While Portvenere is not actually part of the five towns of Cinque Terre, it still deserves a visit. Keep in mind that there is a cheaper version of the ferry ticket which excludes the ferry ride to Portovenere. Therefore, if you do get off at Portovenere with that ticket, you may have to top up your ticket to make the return trip to the Cinque Terre towns. Once at Portovenere, we walked along the boardwalk to a nice church (Church of Saint Peter) perched upon a rocky cliff at the end of the town. After spending an hour here, we took the ferry back to our accommodations on Riomaggiore.
Have you had the chance to visit Cinque Terre? Which town is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.