On Saturday Austin and I left the villa at 6:30 am to catch our train towards Milan, Italy. From there we caught another train to Cinque Terre, a series of “Five Towns” that line the west coast of Italy. You may have heard of it or seen the famous picture of Manarola (above) where the bright colored buildings squeeze together on the edge of a cliff that drops to the Mediterranean Sea.
We got to La Spezia (a big town just south of Cinque Terre) around noon, checked into our hotel, and immediately took the local train to the second town of Cinque Terre: Manarola. Right once we de-boarded the train, it started to rain. We sighed, but continued on our way nonetheless. We walked towards the water until we found a narrow path along the edge of the steep hillside. The led us to a garden and a cemetery, that gave us the view-point from which the famous picture is taken. We were surprised to find this so quickly and unexpectedly, as we didn’t really know where it was! From there we walked up the trail even more until we got to the top of the hill overlooking the coast. It was so beautiful and the rain was beginning to stop! The trail led us back down to the town where we walked around a little more until going to the next town.
Off a side street, we saw a sign that said “Riomaggiore 1 km” and figured we would take the trail to our next destination instead of training. We climbed through the pedestrian streets of the small town, weaving up staircases and through steep alleys. Once we got over the town, we were surprised to see the trail still weaving up at almost a vertical pathway through the trees and farm land. We climbed makeshift stone steps for over half an hour until finally reaching the top of the mountain. We laughed when we saw a sign, at the top of the mountain, that read “experienced hikers only.” The view from way up there was worth it, though! It began to sprinkle on us again on the way down, which was just as steep as the way up. The whole hike took less than an hour by the time we finally reached Riomaggiore. This tiny town was almost completely empty, probably because of the rain. We found an adorable coffee shop restaurant nestled against the side of a cliff where we took shelter from the oncoming rain while we had a couple lattes. Even though it was not great weather, the first two towns were beautiful and we made the most of them!
When we were finished, we headed back to La Spezia. We set our bags down at the hotel and headed out to dinner. We ate much earlier than is traditional for Italy, so we were the only people in the restaurant. We ended up getting personal service from the chef who gave us a complementary appetizer and later came out to check on us. It was so lovely! After dinner we walked down to the water, a huge harbor including a yacht club. It was a gorgeous evening and the rain had stopped. We wandered down the pedestrian street until deciding to call it a night.
Sunday Austin and I were pleased to leave the hotel to sunshine and warmer weather. We got some breakfast at a piazza nearby before going to the train station. We started our day in the third town, Corniglia. Right once we stepped off the train, we were presented with a steep cliff with a staircase winding up its surface. They sure do embrace their steep inclines here! When we reached the town, we wandered through the tight streets occasionally stopping for pictures or just to look out. This town was much higher than the two yesterday, offering higher perspectives. We decided to hike to the next town, the trail promising to be longer but less steep. The trail itself was gorgeous, weaving through the private properties of the local farms and wineries. It also gave us multiple viewpoints of the adjacent towns.
We reached Vernazza around 12:30, about an hour later. We were starving and found an outstanding place for lunch that overlooked the rocky peninsula of Vernazza. We sat there and enjoyed the view and our food before heading down into the fourth town. Vernazza was bigger than all the previous towns and there were people everywhere. We headed straight to the castle, a small brick cylinder and base crowning the top of the town. It was neat, but very small and we didn’t stay for long before heading back into the town. There was a small harbor at the bottom where many people were enjoying the sun. We waited for a ferry to go to the last town, but it never came so we ended up taking the train. On our way to the train we saw a cave that led to a beach. We decided to go past the signs, despite their warnings for entering. It was so cool! The cave was huge and we emerged to find a wonderful rocky beach where we walked around for a litte while before going to the train.
The last and most northern town of Cinque Terre is Monterosso, which is also the largest town of the five. The town was big and stretched out along the coastline. There was a long beach lining the town that was full of people. We walked around and got some gelato, occasionally popping into some little local shops. We walked around the historic district for a while until we finished walking through the town.
We decided to hike the mountain trail from Monterosso to Vernazza because we heard it was a beautiful trail. It was steeper, but shorter than the one earlier that day, but I didn’t really like it any more or less. The trail was very steep in the beginning, but leveled out pretty quickly. From there we mostly were walking through thick forest, and some wineries. When we finally were getting close to Vernazza, the views started to get a little better and we could see the town from above. The hike ended at the back of the town, and we hurried onto the train to head towards Manarola to catch dinner before sunset.
Back in Manarola, Austin and I ate a small dinner at yet another restaurant with a gorgeous view of the famous corner of Manarola. We finished before sunset and were able to watch it from the park at the top of the mountain. It was a lovely sunset over the Mediterranean Sea, and the sky was perfect for it. We stayed up there until it was starting to get dark, to see what the town looked like at dusk. It was beautiful!
I absolutely loved Cinque Terre. It definitely makes it into the top few of my favorite places I’ve been this semester. The colors of the buildings, the pedestrian-only lifestyle and the dramatic cliff coastlines were stunning in every town. Unfortunately, my studio’s France trip was cancelled a couple of weeks ago, and this was my last overnight trip of the semester. But it was absolutely a wonderful way to end my extended travel trips, and indeed a nice getaway before wrapping up my work for classes. My studio will still be taking some day trips to places nearby, including a trip to Verona tomorrow, so be sure to stay tuned for them!