The Cinque Terre trip actually happened by sheer chance. While browsing through day trips a few days before my trip to Florence, I stumbled upon a one day hiking tour of Cinque Terre fishing villages. This trek organized by Walkabout Tours seemed to be the perfect day trip to get a feel of this place.
A fair amount of preparation went into making the most of this trip - keeping myself fit for the hike, deciding on what color top would go with which shoes, and reading up on the history of the place. The day I landed in Florence, I happened to visit a thrift shop just outside Santa Maria Novella station. I picked up a lovely backpack from here with illustrations of the beach and a starfish that went perfectly with my outfit.
I could hardly sleep the night before the hike; damn! I was so excited. The next morning I joined a small group of fellow travelers at Santa Maria Novella station. From there, we had a two-hour coach ride to La Spezia train station and a quick train ride from La Spezia station into the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre national park. During our coach ride, our fantastic guides Marcel and Christian walked us through the entire day's activities and narrated many fascinating stories.
The Cinque Terre Treno card offers multiservices like access to all trekking trails, use of Cinque Terre park buses, wi-fi connection at hotspots in the park, and unlimited train travel on the Levanto - Cinque Terre - La Spezia line on regional trains in 2nd class.
About Cinque Terre
Cinque means Five and Terre means Lands. The Cinque Terre fishing villages, namely, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are all part of the rugged portion of the Italian Riviera. All five villages are renowned for their hiking trails. The ideal time for hiking is from April to September of which August is the peak season owing to holidays in Italy. An early morning start is highly recommended to avoid the crowd and to fully take in the charm of the place. Grab your comfortable shoes as there is a lot of uphill and downhill walking the entire day.
Alternatively, to plan a trip to Cinque Terre on your own, have a look at cinqueterre.eu.com. This website gives details on the five fishing villages, how to get to Cinque Terre from different Italian cities, about Cinque Terre card, train schedules, weather, and a lot more useful information in six different languages.
Stop 1 -Manarola
We got down at Manarola, the second station from La Spezia.
Click-clacking in a pair of kitten heels, it wasn't very difficult to spot Cathy. We bonded over a shared need for clicking pictures. This trip would definitely have been less colourful if not for this lovely girl.
I could have spent the entire day here in Manarola just soaking up the postcard scenery.
On the terraced hill overlooking Manarola, is a small nucleus of houses known for its winery and typical local products. Pay a visit if you have some spare time. Make sure you carry Cinque Terre card for access.
Manarola to Corniglia
We started the first part of our hike with a steep climb of 382 steps. Cathy made the hike so much more enjoyable and I still remember our constant chat throughout the hike.
Stopped by for lunch at a family run traditional Ligurian restaurant, Cecio Ristorante Camere - a culinary high point!
What you see in the picture above is a mixed seafood platter of anchovies, octopus & squid. Part of the course was a pesto pasta with green beans and potato, drizzled with homemade olive oil. Although it was a very simple dish with minimal ingredients, it was the perfect example of a classic Italian dish bursting with flavours.
Corniglia to Vernazza
After a lip smacking meal and a few burps of satisfaction, we set off to Vernazza. This was also to be the longest leg of our hike, covering approximately 2.6 miles. All along the hike, the views of the coastline were just awe-inspiring.
The steep climb certainly had its rewards. Once at the summit, i could literally see dots squiggling about below me. The climb had really drained me of energy. Thankfully, there was a quaint little shop at hand serving freshly squeezed orange juice. We rested for a while at the shop's outdoor patio while savouring the sights.
The trek was truly arduous, but two things kept me going. One, the view on my left which was almost like a composite of numerous unutterably stunning wall paintings. And two, Cathy. She kept talking throughout the hike.
We Reached Vernazza in 2 hours. Bravo! This was actually my second long hike. The first one was in Jeju Island, South Korea which literally began in the night and ended with a glorious sunrise.
This spectacular view of Vernazza was my grand prize for all the walking and climbing. A blissful setting, isn't it? I found this town the most beautiful of the five.
Vernazza is essentially a maze of streets where backpackers, trekkers and tourists hang out in various eateries, cafes and bars. It's the perfect place to grab a bite, shop, or just watch the world pass by.
Eateries are at every corner here, and with a quality of food that is sure to take you for the most satisfying gastronomic ride.
We lazed around the harbour for sometime, just in time to catch our train to Monterosso Al Mare.
Monterosso Al Mare
Apart from its beautiful beach, Monterosso is also famous for its many lemon trees, wine shops, olives, and artisan goods. I stocked up on homemade pesto sauce and a few knick-knacks. Take a dip, enjoy some local wine and shop for some souvenirs.
Drive me tasting!
The locals of Cinque terre take pride in their art of wine-making. According to our guide Christian, it takes great effort and labour to make wine in this rocky terrain - everything from cultivation to harvesting is done by hand.
Cathy and i got so lost in the sheer beauty of the place that we didn't notice when we got separated from the group. Our wonderful guides who were quite obviously used to such events here easily spotted us two lost kittens amongst the horde of tourists. We reunited with our group for the boat ride which was to culminate in the last stop for the day.
A dreamlike setting with candy colored houses, majestic sea views, and winding streets and alleyways garnished with shops selling local goodies.
I had seen stunning images of this place all over the internet and never thought I would be able to savor it this soon.
We ended our day with a shot of limoncino (you can't leave Cinque Terre without trying it), a liqueur made out of lemons, traditionally served as a digestive after dinner.
With loads of colourful memories, we said ciao and returned to Florence. Undoubtedly, one of my best day trips ever. Gosh, i really wish i could better articulate my experience-it was magical.
Cinque Terre will amaze you, no doubt.