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Italy Travels: Cinque Terre Part II

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO world heritage park, and it’s easy to see why. The area is full of natural beauty that should be preserved. In 2011, Cinque Terre suffered from flash flooding and mudslides, and the area was massively devastated. It has since rebounded, and, as an outsider, I would have never guessed. With the exception that several of the hiking trails were still closed. The trailheads from Riomaggiore to Vernazza were closed, leaving only the Vernazza to Monterosso trail open – which is lucky for us because it’s the longest and hardest (!)

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy
The views are breathtaking from above. The Vernazza-Monterosso trail is the only one from which you can view all five villages. If you visit and do not hike in Cinque Terre, you are only getting half of the CT experience.

This hike is certainly not for the faint at heart. You are, quite literally, climbing a small mountain.

The trails are narrow and rocky – a far cry from the wide paved sidewalks you’ll see on the easier trails. Trail passes can be purchased at the trailhead for about 5 euro per person. They are good for 1 day. To purchase a trailpass that includes train passes, purchase your pass at the train station.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

I’d recommend hiking early in the morning. We waited until late morning and the trails were PACKED. And when you have a 12″ wide trail and a brigade of “older” German female hikers wielding sports bras and hiking sticks trying to pass you the opposite way…. well, you’ll be glad you decided to head out early. Otherwise you’ll have to watch them all get a hairy armpit in the face (not mine, obviously) as they clamber by.

Yes, the trails are narrow enough in certain spots that you have to touch strangers.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

While the hike took about 2 hours in the morning, we hiked back mid-afternoon in the height of the heat. It was HOT, but the trails were empty, and we did the hike in about 1 hour.

Both times were an amazing experience, but I’d certainly try to time it so you aren’t hiking with the masses.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is the largest and most resort-like of the five CT villages, and has the largest, sandiest beach.  As it’s the only village accessible by car, it is also significantly more populated.

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyYou can rent an umbrella and lounge cars and sit the day away in the sun. (We looked longingly at the beach, but failed to think to bring our swimsuits on the hike with us.)

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

There is a much larger town to explore. Italy has amazing old churches hidden in every town.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

And sleeping cats lie in patches of sunshine all over Monterosso.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

If shopping is your idea of vacation, Monterosso is your place. Of all the Cinque Terre villages, it has the largest number of shops to look through.   Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Overall, Monterosso was a colorful and fun place to spend an afternoon! A welcome distraction from a morning of hiking.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy


Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyOn our last afternoon we stopped by Manarola  on our way out of town. Looking down on the town of Manarola is the “classic” Cinque Terre photo opportunity you see all over Pinterest and covers of travel books.

Manarola is a bit larger than Vernazza and we walked through town, among the many boats that were pulled up on to the roads. If you’re looking for “deep water swimming”, this is your place. And, although we weren’t able to test the waters, it sure looked fun!

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Before we departed CT, we added fresh anchovies to the list of local specialties we tried. They were not bad, just really salty.

We absolutely loved our stay in Cinque Terre and hope to return again someday! While I had spent quite some time debating whether to visit the Amalfi Coast or CT, I don’t regret my decision one bit! It was beautiful and relaxing.

Next step, Firenze!

Read about how much we loved Vernazza and our Cinque Terre hotel experience here!

Italy Travels: Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

I have many happy places, and I’m officially adding Vernazza to that list.

I had heard so many wonderful things about Cinque Terre, I was starting to wonder if it could all possibly be true.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

And as we sat on the regional train from La Spezia, through tunnel after tunnel of the mountainous hillside, there was an audible gasp on our train. There she was, the Mediterranean Sea.

Cinque Terre is made up of five small villages built on the hillsides of the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean. We stayed in Vernazza during our three, too short, days we spent in Cinque Terre. Today I’ll post on Vernazza, and I’ll share later on the other towns we visited, as well as our hike.

Vernazza is the second-most northern of the five towns and has a rocky beach and calm harbor. It was a welcome retreat after the bustle of Rome.

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyVernazza is for relaxing. It’s a very small town, so there are only a few shops and restaurants.

Your itinerary should include:

Sunning on the rocks in the peaceful harbor. Bring a book and a snack!

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Maybe you’ll even fancy to have a swim.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

For a change of scenery, walk through the tunnel to the rocky beach. The water over there is much colder! But that is also where the waves are.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Walk  up and down the short beach and see how much seapottery and sea-terracotta you can find.

I even managed to bring home a handful of seaglass to add to my favorite collection.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

For a mid-day snack, try one of the area’s specialities: focaccia bread, pesto, or fresh anchovies.

Or there’s always the old stand by:

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyVernazza has two gelaterias – both are delicious. Just don’t wait too late in the evening or they will be closed! (We managed to grab a cone before she put the last two flavors away!)

While this may sound like an uneventful day, believe me, the day will be over before you know it. You can’t get lost in Vernazza, so climb the many, many, many narrow staircases and enjoy exploring the town.

As far as siteseeing, there is a small church right in town. Oyou can also climb to the top of the fort, where they used to keep watch for pirates. There is a small fee to visit the fort, and if you plan on hiking the next day you’ll see much better views from there, so we didn’t bother going in.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

While you are gallivanting about town in the afternoon, you had better scope out all the restaurants and make a reservation. Most places shut down from 5pm-7pm, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get into the restaurant of your choice without a reservation.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

We choose Ristorante Belforte, and it was possibly the best meal we had on our whole vacation! I strongly recommend making a reservation for 7:00pm and showing up right on time – otherwise you will miss out on the best tables!

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyThe entire restaurant has sweeping views of the sea. Bring a sweater!

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Dip into the fresh local foods! If you’re a seafood-junkie like myself, this will be a heavenly experience. If you’re less adventurous, there are options for you too.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

While I’d recommend not missing the Ristorante Belforte experience, to anyone who is going to Vernazza, you certainly don’t have to spend a lot of money for a delicious dinner with a seaside view.

Case in point, our dinner the next evening:

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyStop at the local market and pick up some fresh tomatoes, cheese, focaccia bread and salami. Find a nearby terrace and bon appetit.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

The town definitely fills up in the daytime with people who are hiking or training through the five towns.

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyBut the evenings are blissfully quiet. Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy


There aren’t any real hotels in Vernazza. You’ll need to rent a room from a small operation. We booked a room at Affittacamere Rollando. It was a simple room on the main street in town.

Check-in is only from 3-5pm. Pay with cash and they’ll take about 10 euro off the bill.

The power situation in Vernazza is tenuous, which we had read about, but also experienced! Only having plugged in an electric kettle for tea, we blew the fuse – so when the hostess shows you where the fuse box, you’ll know why!

While Affittacamere Rollando was perfectly fine, I think we would have preferred staying off the main street. The morning market traffic brought a lot of noise.

Getting to Cinque Terre

From nearly any main train station, you’ll need to switch at La Spezia to get to Cinque Terre. There is a regional train between the five towns every 1-2 hours. We missed the first regional train because we weren’t sure what to do when we got to La Spezia – look at the posting on the boards when you get out of the train! Or else you can sit in a fancy Italian McDonalds for an hour. 🙂

Vernazza was amazing! Truly a vacation destination. I think we could have stayed there for a month.

Have you been to Cinque Terre?

Ciao Italia

2 weeks in Italy vacation  Essa è viva! She is alive!

I’m current riding the simultaneous waves of post-vacation euphoria, jet lag stupor, and grapefruit gelato withdrawal. In a word, our trip to Italy was dreamy.

Caffe, espresso, americano, cappucino, latte, and caffe granita con panna. We tried them all.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

Chocolate, strawberry, lemon, nutella, melon, grapefruit, mandarin, passion fruit, hazelnut, chocolate orange, raspberry, caramel, caffe… gelato that is. We tried all those too.

Friends, there was much rejoicing to be had in Italia. I’m not sure if I can yet articulate how much I enjoyed this vacation.

There was art in glorious abundance.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

The lands were in full bloom and the weather was beautiful – Italy in May is quite the showstopper.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

We split our trip between the big cities (Rome and Florence):

2 weeks in Italy vacation

And the bucolic countryside (Cinque Terre and Chianti, Tuscany).

I’m quite convinced the only reason my clothes still fit is that we walked at least 10 miles a day.

We even managed to squeeze in a Mediterranean evening swim.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

In the weeks to come I will further detail our days in Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Tuscany. I also plan to share my packing strategy for those of you looking to backpack for your next vacation – I have received a number of requests for that information!

2 weeks in Italy vacation

Overall, a few things I learned about traveling in Italy:

On eating in restaurants: You have to pay for drinking water in restaurants (about 2 euro per person). Yes, I’m used to free water and it feels lame. The sooner you get over it, the more you’ll enjoy your meals.

Nearly every restaurant has a “coperto”, or cover charge for sitting. Check it out before you sit down. But Italians don’t really tip, so consider this the 20% extra you’re already accustomed to putting down and it will seem less annoying.

Make a dinner reservation in the afternoon. Most places don’t serve dinner before 7pm at all and are closed between 5pm and 7pm. If you don’t make a reservation, try to show up as close to 7pm as possible.

And some of the best meals are from the market. : )

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On the language barrier (or lack there of)

I don’t know any Italian. I learned a few key words (“thank you”, “two, please”, “how much?” etc.) and got by just fine. The cities are full of people who speak perfectly good English. The countryside is less so, but we managed to do just fine getting by!

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On travel

Fellow Bostonians can fly direct to Roma through Alitalia. Or, like us, you can save $1000 by flying AerLingus and taking a measly 2 hour layover in Dublin. Totally worth it.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On what to wear
If you’re touring through one of the many hundreds of beautiful Italian churches, dress with respect. Typically tourists with exposed shoulders or knees are asked to cover up. (Although I did see a few of those mulling around).

I came across a lot of traveling tips that said don’t wear baseball caps or sneakers. I’m not sure why, because I saw loads of men wearing both. Maybe it’s to look less like a tourist, which was pointless for us. We’re as American-looking as Apple Pie, and were easy identified as Americans everywhere we went.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On bathrooms

If you are in the vicinity of a restroom, use it. They are few and far between.

On vanity

The only part of me that didn’t love Italy was my hair. I have naturally poufy/messy hair as it is, but the water there had my hair in tangles. I was already traveling without hairdryer or a real brush, and the water there didn’t do me any favors.

It’s good to be back! Ciao!