After the amazing time we had staying in Siena and driving around Tuscany, we felt our Italy trip was going from strength to strength, and what was to come next would once again raise the experience to an even higher level. We left our car behind in Siena and took the train to La Spezia, and then took another train to one of the villages in Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is a Unesco World Heritage site made up of five fishing villages built along the sea. The five villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The image that you perhaps most associate with Cinque Terre is from Manarola.
Wanting to capture that same image and experience it for ourselves at sunrise and sunset were the reasons we decided to stay at an Airbnb in Manarola. While that was a great choice for our purpose, when we visit Cinque Terre again in the future, we’ll definitely stay in Riomaggiore as it had a much livelier vibe to it and more choices for food.
The food choices in Manarola were fairly limited, mostly due to there being so many tourists and every restaurant being fully booked. I’d highly recommend planning your meals and calling ahead to make a reservation. We did however manage to get a table twice at Aristide Restaurant and had two wonderful meals there, with excellent service.
One restaurant I would advise you stay far away from is Ristorante Marina Piccola; it has the best view in Manarola, but has the worst service I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant, anywhere. The food was not bad, but the service soured our experience. Based on what I’ve now read on Tripadvisor and other websites, our experience was sadly not an unusual one.
The vibe in Riomaggiore was great, with lots of bars and restaurants to check out. The view of the village is also fantastic, but also more challenging. To get the view dead centre, you need to make your way out into the sea on a line of pretty tall rocks. Slipping off one of those rocks in the dark could lead to a nasty outcome, so please be careful if you decide to stay out there for sunset and blue hour.
One of the best experiences we had was with Captain Cosimo of BB Cinque Terre Boat Tours. Captain Cosimo was a riot and made sure that we got all the pictures we wanted and visited all the villages we wanted. Throughout the boat trip, he kept us entertained and ensured there was an endless supply of Prosecco. He’s an expert diver too so you can really explore the beautiful waters with him. I’d highly recommend booking his boat if you choose to explore the villages by water.
We had read online about the Azure Trail that connects the five villages and had read that it was an easy walk. Unfortunately, the Azure Trail was closed from Manarola heading towards Corniglia due to damage from recent flooding. With that path closed, we decided, perhaps foolishly, to take the red or High Path trail. In the heat, the 800 meter climb up and down was a bit overwhelming and I wish we had planned our timing a bit better so that we could have taken a slower pace.
If you decide to take the High Trail, be sure to take plenty of water and have good shoes. There were places where the drop off was steep and the trail could be slippery in some spots. We saw many people trying their luck on the High Path with no water, the wrong clothing, and flip-flops. Taking the High Trail also puts you pretty deep into the mountain side so you won’t have sea views for the entire trail. Where possible, the Azure trail provides for better views, and is far less challenging.
Cinque Terre was awesome and we loved the three nights we spent there. I think that was the right amount of time to explore the villages. I should note that we did not visit Monterosso al Mare because it looked to be mostly newer resorts. If we were to go back again, and I’m sure we will go back again, we would stay in Riomaggiore and take the super convenient train between villages to capture different sunrise/sunset images.
Next stop is Milan
Next up on our trip will be two nights in Milan. At this stage of our Italy trip, we had completely fallen in love with Italy. I always wondered why people would keep going back to Italy year after year when there are so many different countries to explore in our huge world, but now I understand. I can see us travelling to Italy every year for the rest of our lives, visiting small villages and taking in all the amazing scenery, food, and enjoying the company of the wonderful Italian people.