My travel posts tend to be a bit vague on details (on purpose: I like to think of this as more of a travel story blog). But this time I’ve done a slightly more informative post on Cinque Terre, Italy, for those of you who might be interested in traveling there… since I still have the details fresh in my mind.
Traveling through Genoa
In the beginning of July, I boarded a flight to Milan and met up with a German friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade. We rented a car from Milan and drove to Genoa for a couple of nights. It was conveniently close to Cinque Terre, which we wanted to visit the next day, so Genoa was going to be our base for a couple of days. Genoa offered a wider selection of hotels than the small towns of Cinque Terre.
It was the night of the UEFA Euro Germany-Italy game when we arrived in Genoa, and people were watching football on the streets in improvised sports studios. A little restaurant we saw had simply carried a flatscreen TV outside, propped it up on a table, and set some extra chairs there. They seemed confident it wouldn’t rain!
Apart from a quick walk around town, including an epic ice cream and some shopping, we didn’t have much time to explore Genoa. As far as I saw, it seemed like any other Italian city: old and new, clean and dirty, vespas and cars all mingling nicely together.
To get to Cinque Terre, we drove from Genoa to the tiny train station of Levanto and continued by train. We decided to leave the car at Levanto because it might’ve been difficult to park (and drive) closer to the towns: it was a busy summer Sunday and the route was basically just narrow mountain roads. There was a car park right outside the train station and parking there for a whole day cost 7,5 euros.
Cinque Terre consists of five towns and you can hike from one town to another or take a local train. Apparently, the hikes take 1-2 h per trail. We visited three of the towns, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, because we were told the hiking trails at the final two towns were closed. We didn’t actually end up hiking at all, but even so, visiting just three towns in one day was plenty. We stayed until sunset.
The train ride between each town took about 5 minutes and cost 4 euros per stretch. You could also buy a day pass for 16 euros if you knew you needed more than four train rides. Trains were running regularly and this was an easy way to go. Cinque Terre was actually very touristy in the beginning of July, which shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did.
We started our three-town tour from the town furthest away from Levanto: the first one we visited was Corniglia.
Right next to the Corniglia train station, there was a steep set of stairs to climb to get into town – so without further ado, we started climbing.
Alternatively, there was a shuttle service but the queues were very long. Anyway, the views along the climb were excellent so I wouldn’t have wanted to take the shuttle!
Up in the village, the narrow streets were very pretty in a rustic sort of way. Stone buildings with spots of color here and there, and cheerful plants everywhere. Corniglia was small and it wasn’t that crowded – it was a pleasant visit.
Vernazza was slightly bigger (still a small village, really) and it was much more crowded with beach-goers and all sorts of visitors.
We had lunch there and admired the Mediterranean from a hilltop castle. The views were great.
For the final leg of the journey, my friend suggested we take a water taxi instead of the train. Basically, it was just a local guy with a small boat which had rusted paint and dirty seats. He piloted us from Vernazza to Monterosso in about 20 minutes and it was a refreshing option to the full trains. When I was taking photos of boats on the sea a while earlier, I didn’t know I would soon be on one of them! A private boat ride cost 30 euros, though ours was only 25, since the boat wasn’t as nice and new as the one they’d normally use.
Monterosso was, according to some quick internet searches before the trip, the main town in Cinque Terre. It had two sandy beaches for swimming and, at a glance, it seemed slightly larger than Vernazza.
The beaches were full of sunbathers and children were swimming. At one point, a local guy carried some kind of a huge dead eel out of the sea on a shovel and dumped it into a trash can. People wandered over to gape at it. It must’ve washed up on shore. We had arrived just in time for the day’s last sunrays and after dipping our feet in the sea, strolling around the streets and enjoying a nice dinner, we headed back to Levanto.
What I’ve always loved about the Mediterranean is its beauty, climate, and the area’s food. Though touristy, Cinque Terre lived up to those expectations.
What we didn’t see, however, was the iconic view of colorful houses on hills that you see when you google Cinque Terre – that view must be from one of the two villages we didn’t visit. But the night before, when had we arrived in Genoa by car, we had been rewarded with a similar view of Genoa’s hilltop houses. Driving through the mountains can be a bit intimidating but the views really are something else.
-If you’re planning on driving a rental car, bring your own navigator! My friend had the presence of mind to bring one and it was extremely useful.
-Check where you park: we got parking tickets though we parked in our hotel’s parking lot. This was my second time getting parking tickets in Italy! They are very quick.
-What to wear to Cinque Terre: Beach wear. If it’s a hot day, it might be nice to know in advance that there wasn’t much shade. Wear comfy shoes if you plan to climb those steep stairs. Some people had sports clothes for their hikes but most people were in summer dresses or shorts. Bring a hat if you have one.