We arrived on the train to the town of Vernazza in the afternoon. The sun was out despite a forecast of rain and the single street down through the town was busy with tourists. It took a minute and a phone call to find our room where we were greeted by Guiligmina who speaks no English but chatted away to us in Italian as if we understood. We nodded in agreement with everything she said.
So as not to waste any of this beautiful afternoon, we set out immediately to explore. Let me start by saying nothing is flat in Vernazza…only steep stairs get you around and these are STEEP. Also no cars which is nice. The five Cinque Terre towns are built on the steep slopes of the Ligurian Sea between the cities of La Spezia and Genoa. Accessible only by train or boat, the absence of motorized vehicles gives them a quiet peacefulness we have not seen yet in our previous stops.
We started our afternoon with a visit to the Castello Doro tower that stands directly on the edge of the sea. Climbing to the top, you get a birds eye view of the town below. The houses are colorful and stacked up the hill like children’s building blocks. From here you can see the next town to the west, Monterosso al Mare, and the next town to the east, Corniglia. Absolutely beautiful.
We took frequent rest stops as we climbed up and down through the streets. Then for something completely impetuous, we hired a private 50 minute boat tour to take us along the coast to see the three other towns to the east; Corniglia (sitting high on the cliff-side with no harbour), Manarola (with the pretty Robin egg blue house in the middle of town) and Riomaggiore (the most easterly town and built in a valley that runs down the mountain to the sea). Our guide, Loris, gave us lots of history about the region including stories of pirate raids from northern Africa (straight across the Mediterranean). The landscape is so different…so steep. Grapevines cling to the slopes, colorful houses dot the foot pathway between the villages and the cliff faces show the undulating layers of rock that were pushed up from the bottom of the sea millions of years ago.
Dinner was at Trattoria il Barrato. I had fresh anchovie spagetti followed by baked anchovies with potatoes. This is fresh fish… not canned. And so delicious. Mon had Spagetti a Scarpaa (tomatoes, garlic and olive oil) and swordfish. The wine, Costa di Sera (white), is made here in Cinque Terre and was excellent with the fish.
After dinner, we climbed the pathway high above the town to get a wonderful night shot of Vernazza as the lights were coming on. What a great view. The air was warm, the night was still, frogs were singing and as we gazed in wonder at the shimmering scene below… another dream just came true.
The next morning we made plans to train hop and explore the other 4 villages. It was raining but we didn’t care so off we went all the way to the most easterly village, Riomaggiore. The views from the shore looking up the hill is very picturesque. However, hoards of umbrella toting tourists certainly take away from the charm a bit. We climbed all the way to the top of the village, visiting 2 churches along the way, and shopped our way back down to the train station (watercolor print of Vernazza).
Raining harder now, we hopped the train to Manarola (2 minute ride). Equally as lovely but the rain was starting to dampen our spirits a bit. So, at 11am and completely soaked (even with rain jackets), we decided to return to our room in Vernazza to dry out and wait for the rain to subside. We learned later this was the worse rainfall Cinque Terre had seen since the 2011 rains that caused such devastating landslides and village damage.
By 3 pm, the rain had let up and we were out again. First to the west to visit the beach resort of Monterosso. Very elegant and not steep like the other 4 villages. We took a few photos and then hopped the train to the middle village, Corniglia. Here is where we would look for a restaurant for dinner.
Perched high on the edge of the cliffs, Corniglia has no harbour like the other four. The train station is at sea level and then you climb up and up. The village itself is adorable… quieter than the others with gorgeous views. The sun came out as we strolled the streets. The village church, San Pietro, was beautiful with frescoed ceilings AND stained glass and the only church we had seen to date with crystal chandeliers!
For dinner, we chose a simple family restaurant with a view of the sea (ironically called ‘Food and Sea’) and a southern exposure. While we enjoyed the sunshine, the food was just average as was the wine. But the price was right and the staff were welcoming and enthusiastic. Dessert was yummy gelato at Alberto’s. 3 scoops on a small cone!
Decending the stairs to the train station, we got a perfect shot of the next village, Manarola, in the evening sun. For a few quiet moments, we sat arm in arm, waiting for the train, and gazed out to the Mediterranean in appreciation and contentment. A wet start to the day ended beautifully and concluded our visit to Cinque Terre.