Our final stop on our road trip was the stunning Cinque Terre!
Cinque Terre are five colourful towns located on the west coast of Italy. Each town has it’s own charm, history and unique layout!
If you’re travelling without a car I can recommend to stay in one of the towns but if you are traveling by car like we did then definitely stay in a bigger town like La Spezia and take the train to Cinque Terre as there are no car parks around the towns, and even in La Spezia, parking was very difficult!
We decided to stay in La Spezia for two nights and travel to the five towns during the day, which was definitely not enough time to see everything! If you do go there, I would plan for a minimum of 3 nights – there really is so much to do and see!
We found this lovely little hotel La Casa Delle Acciughe. It’s only an 8 minutes walk from the Train Station for travel and located right in the centre of La Spezia town.
The hotel room was very modern and clean, painted in neutral tones. It had great air conditioning, which was crucial at this time of year! There was even a balcony with a view of the pastel houses lining the centre of the town. Martina, our host was very friendly and accommodating, she even provided us with face masks and recommendations!
Once we got settled, we quickly jumped freshened up and then took the train to towards Cinque Terre. The train is the most efficient way to travel between the 5 towns as the landscape is mostly cliff or steep hills overlooking the sea. Although a little expensive if unsure, you can get some great day or group travel deals from the tourist information office at the station. We purchased a day ticket for unlimited travel to all of Cinque Terre, including walking trail access for €12 each – not bad! Trains run early till late at around every 20/30 mins during peak hours, about every hour after. Most trains are air conditioned and usually arrive early at La Spezia and sit for a while before departing.
Our first stop was Riomaggiore. When we arrived we were SO exhausted from the heat so we decided to sit down and have some ice cold drinks in the shade. In many places in Italy you have to wear fake masks outside at the moment so that didn’t really help with the whole heat situation, especially as most of the walking is up or downhill in these winding towns! We made it up to the top of the port at Riomaggiore and found this pop up café with outdoor shaded seating. We treated ourselves to a lovely Aperol Spritz and some focaccia. With the breeze rolling up the hill from the port, this was just heaven.
After refreshing ourselves, we walked back down to the port to meet our guide for our evening activity – a Sunset Tour of all the 5 cities by boat. As it was the early evening, the sun was just starting to cool, but the sky was clear and there was a light breeze; absolutely perfect conditions for the tour. Our guide was very relaxed and made sure we had an amazing time. He was very knowledgeable of the area, having lived in Cinque Terre for his whole life. He brought some fresh home baked foods and plenty of prosecco to sail us out.
Stopping by each town and to many points of interest, we made our way across the water and towards the sunset whilst learning the rich history of the area. Eventually as the sun began to dip on the horizon, we stopped away from the coast and enjoyed a drink as we watched the sun set. After, we had the chance to jump in to the water and relax before returning (at speed) to Riomaggiore.
Before heading back for the night, we decided to walk further uptown. There are many authentic cafes and restaurants here, but be warned: it is very popular! Most of these places, and partly because of COVID, only have limited outside seating! We managed to find a spot outside with a view down towards the port – it was such a lovely way to end the evening. Top tip - work out when the next train time is and base this off when you leave the restaurant! As it gets later, the trains are only every hour, so we made sure we left with enough time to hop back on the next train to La Spezia ready to face the next day!
As always, we left early, this time for the fourth, and possibly oldest town - Vernazza. This has one of the more famous views of Cinque Terre; that of the pastel houses in the cliffside overlooking the port. Once we arrived we had breakfast next to the sea at a local café at the small port. Again, due to COVID, all seating was outside, but it did not seem to affect how popular they were! We were surprised at the quality as well as the price of the spread that we ordered.
After this little boost, we headed up towards the top of Vernazza on the footpath up through the town and into the hills. It is worth noting that once you venture into the hills, you will need to be wearing the appropriate hiking gear, as the path is quite precarious at times! After a short hike up past some vineyards, we got to the trademark place where there are views over the town and sea and got some great photos as evidence. We continued our hike before backtracking back to the port to grab a quick bite and relax.
We decided to spend the afternoon in Manarola. With all of the towns of Cinque Terre, it is easy to lose track of time just wandering and taking in the sites! By the time we knew it, it was the early evening! We had heard of a great place for dinner, and thought we would check it out. It was called Nessun Dorma, and was on the top of the hill overlooking the port of Manarola. They offer traditional, locally sourced foods and wines with great cocktails and atmosphere. The staff there are super attentive and service is very quick. No matter where you sit you can enjoy the stunning view of the sea. Do be prepared – it is very popular. At peak times, you can expect to wait up to an hour – the queue literally snakes up to the top of the mountain. I think in the end we waited for about 30 mins and that was at 6pm. We enjoyed an antipasti selection along with some wine and cocktails, it was well worth the wait!
That was our final night in Cinque Terre, and also in Italy, and Nessun Dorma was the perfect way to finish it off! The next day, we began the long leg back through Switzerland, France and finally across the channel back to London. The total time it took was around 13 hours, and we only stopped for petrol or quick comfort breaks. Had the situation of been different, it would have been great to take more time and visit more places on the way back. One piece of advice, if you can, avoid the Mont Blanc tunnel – it takes a lot more time, but it is very expensive!
Overall, given the situation at the time, we were very fortunate to be allowed to see and do so much in such a short time! After all the time we spent under lockdown – this was the perfect time to be able to get into the wider outdoors and enjoy life. If you ever get the chance to travel to these places in Italy, I hope you have as good as a time as we did!