While Rome was everything that it should be- cultured, timeless and beautiful, it was also very, very crowded. I think we were all ready to get on the train and head north, to the Cinque Terre, which hugs the Italian Riviera coastline. The Cinque Terre means five towns, and it is just that- five villages that sit precariously on the cliffs along the sea. Before tourists discovered it, they were only accessible by the sea, and survived on fishing and wine-making. Today, they live on tourism, and are easily accessible by train, boat or hiking paths.
We stayed north of the Cinque Terre, in a little village called Levanto. I will never forget train-ing into the area and getting glimpses of sparkling blue waters on one side, and terraced mountains on the other. We chose to stay in Levanto because it is only a 5 minute train ride away, and because accommodations were considerably cheaper there. Our first stop was a stroll to the grocery store that took way longer than it should’ve because of views like this:
Italian villages are effortlessly charming and Levanto was no exception. I fell in love with the quietness and the authentic culture of this town. While the CT (Cinque Terre) is set up for tourism and is teeming with people enjoying the views, Levanto is quieter and more unassuming. We viewed Levanto as our little refuge, and we’d escape here after the masses of humanity engulfed the CT. This remains one of my favorite locations on our entire trip.
If you intend to spend any length of time in the CT, I would highly recommend getting a Cinque Terre Park Card. This pass gives you unlimited train rides between the villages and Levanto, as well as access to the hiking trails. The train system is mostly easy to understand and we made good use of our passes!
We discovered that while they all have similar characteristics, they all feel distinctly different. Monterosso is resorty and flat with the nicest and biggest beach front. Vernazza has the classic Riviera views and looks like a postcard, Corniglia is quieter and sits on a hill with no harbor front or beach, Manarola is smaller with beautiful views and Riamaggiore is the most workaday and least touristy.
Vernazza from sea level (picture from Kelly)
Vernazza from mountain level and I-can’t-even level. (also taken by Kelly, as well as the next one)
Cannoli at mouth level 🙂
Unedited, brilliantly blue water. We really tried to get our fill of this beauty, and continually marveled throughout our trip that our beauty capacity never completely filled up. There was always room for one more gasp or delicious sigh.
Riamaggiore. You can see the railroad tunnel through the mountain,
We decided to experience the villages from the sea so splurged on a private boat tour and enjoyed sunset views of the five villages. Our boat driver was a nice, friendly guy from Spain and he took us into delightful little coves, like the one pictured above, and showed us things like sea tomatoes and other interesting things. And then God showed His stuff with a breathtaking sunset, and even boat driver was taking pictures 🙂
It was in the Cinque Terre that we ran into friends from Thomaston! Seeing familiar faces five thousand miles from home was a special high light of our trip. We knew the group was going to be in Italy the same time as us but we didn’t know if we’d run into them. Most of them, however, had no idea we were around and I think we shocked them really well! And now its fun to say Ciao! and stuff when they come into the deli.
Everybody has been asking what our favorite place in Italy was and it’s really a tough call to make. If I had to say, I’d probably choose the CT because of its beauty and because I love the sea so much in general. It’s a place like none other and I’m secretly hoping to go back someday!
If you are reading this and thinking about visiting the CT, here’s what we recommend:
- Get out and about early. Cruise ships often dump hundreds of tourists into these small villages and it completely overwhelms them. Going out early in the mornings or later in the evenings gives you breathing room and the space to adequately take all this beauty in.
- Be prepared for climbing. We were a bit surprised by all the steps and inclines but since they are built onto mountainsides, I guess it makes sense. Some of the steps aren’t that great and are really steep so be prepared for that. You’ll get toned legs as a reward 🙂
- Stay either in Levanto (to the north) or La Spezia (to the south). Rates are cheaper and it feels good to get away from the crowds at times.
- Spend no less than two full days here. We were there from Sunday evening to Wednesday morning and found that amount of time to be good. I’d recommend briefly visiting all five villages and then finding one or two to thoroughly explore.
- Be prepared to leave a bit of your heart behind. One of my most treasured memories of our whole trip was sitting on a rock in Monterosso, with the blue waters gently lapping over my feet and just being quiet and enjoying the moment. We saw and experienced a lot in a short amount of time and so those 15 minutes of just being quiet and absorbing it were really special.
And I think that’s it for this little piece of coastal paradise. Next we head inland to Tuscany, in a post coming soon, hopefully.