The Cinque Terre (5T) is made up of 5 towns clinging to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, you can walk from town to town along the coastal tracks (unless closed due to bad weather). We stayed in Riomaggiore the first town of the 5T north of Pisa. The 5 towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. (Pronunciation)
We met an English family travelling around Italy as well; they were spending one night in Riomaggiore before heading back to Pisa to catch the flight to London. It was wonderful meeting another English speaking family on our adventure. We decided to travel the rest of the way to Riomaggiore together. We hopped off at Sarzana to change trains and found out that we had missed it because we didn’t know which line it was on to find out which platform to run to. So we had to wait a while for the next train to La Spezia then change to another train to go to Riomaggiore, making us 2 hours later than scheduled. ( see hints on trains).
Finally, we arrived in Riomaggiore and found our apartment easily thanks to great instructions provided by the owner. We were on the first floor on the main street with beautiful views, a large bathroom and a kitchenette (cooktop, microwave, sink). It was great to sit at the window with a cup of coffee and watch the locals and tourists in the street below, it was busy. Not busy with cars though, there are no cars in Riomaggiore, the locals and tourists park their cars in the car park up the hill, then walk to their accommodations. The only cars that come down the main street are the delivery trucks and the bus that takes people to the train station from the car park. Be prepared to walk up hills and many flights of stairs to find your apartment/hotel (there are no taxis). So try not to pack too many bags, only bring the essentials (they are very casual during the day and smart casual at night, make sure you bring a jumper or cardigan for the wind). The only way to arrive in Riomaggiore is by train, boat, bus or car. The train and boat disembark at the bottom of the hill and the bus and cars stop at the top of the hill, then you walk (this is unavoidable). I suggest packing only 3 days of clothing and utilizing the many Laundromats available they are cheap and they have dryers for fast clean clothes (this is what we did). You will also need some sport/hiking shoes for the some of the walks between towns.
Our first night in Riomaggiore we cooked dinner (money saving) and ate some delicious pastries from the Pasticceria downstairs.
Next morning we woke to semi overcast skies that soon brightened to a warm sunny day. We headed down to the train station to buy Cinque Terre tickets. You have to pay to use the walking paths between towns because Cinque Terre is a National Park and all proceeds go towards maintenance. You can buy just train tickets between towns for about €1.70 each trip, 1 day tickets from €7 for a single or €20 a family to 5 day tickets. We opted for the 3 day family ticket €50, this gave us use of the trains from La Spezia to Levanto and all the walking tracks and the green buses that stop in the town and at the train station. On our way to the walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola we ran into the English speaking family we met the day before, so they joined us for the walk.
The walkway from Riomaggiore to Manarola starts near the train station with about 20-30 steps up then you walk about 50 metres to come to the validation office. (When you start the walk you get a stamp on your ticket, you then have until midnight the next day to use the ticket as much as you can if you have a 1 day ticket and so on up to 7 days. I suggest starting early in the morning to get the most out of your tickets).
You then pass by and head on along a paved walkway that is on the cliffs. The views are amazing. On this stretch of the walk there is the “path of love” (del’amore) people have declared their love by leaving a padlock on the railings all along this pathway. Some people have left their marks on the rocks and even some of the plants.
There is a little cafe hanging onto the side of the cliffs between Riomaggiore and Manarola. You can sit on the edge of the cliffs and drink a cup of coffee mid journey. When you come into Manarola there is another validation office stamping fellow walkers from Manarola going to Riomaggiore.
Manarola is just as beautiful as Riomaggiore, it has a cove with large rocks in it that you can sunbake on. My sons decided they would like to swim in the cold water so we let them jump in. Levi climbed on the rocks in the centre and dove off enjoying himself.
Phoenix swam across to the rocks and climbed them and decided he was too scared to jump in and swim back. It took a while to convince him that he swam there so he would be able to swim back. We had a crowd of onlookers watching to see if Phoenix would swim back on his own or if Iain would have to brave the cool water and go rescue him. (how embarrassing).
After a few hours in Manarola we decided to go to check out the next town Corniglia so we headed to the train station (the walk was closed due to storm damage). We hopped on the next train and to our surprise we had hopped on the express to Monterosso, so not being worried we just went there instead.
Monterosso has a "proper" beach compared to the other towns that have coves. The beach has rocks and pebbles to sunbathe on but the water was lovely and the boys enjoyed it very much. I tried to get comfortable lying on the rocks in the hot sun (it was day 2 and we were happy to see the sun out). After soaking up some sun we headed to a restaurant on the beach for a coffee and gelati. To our surprise the restaurant was very affordable and we returned there a few days later to enjoy a lovely lunch on the beach.
On the way back to the apartment in Riomaggiore we stopped into the pastry shop downstairs and purchased some lemon tarts and chocolate muffins. YUMMO!
The next day we went to Corniglia. Corniglia is the one town of the 5T that you can't reach the beach easily from and the train does not stop in the town.
More to come... time for sleep... day 4 of jetlag.