Cinque Terre… Stunning. Breathtaking. Spectacular.
This often-sought and somewhat difficult place to access is all those things and so much more. The area of Cinque Terre, which translated literally means, five lands – is a section of rugged coastline that is comprised of five small fishing villages; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The villages, coastline and surrounding hillside are all part of a National Park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each of the five villages offers something individually different from the others; yet the overall unique beauty of Cinque Terre would be entirely different without any one part of the whole.
Fishing boats tied off in Riomaggiore
Looking up the coast from Riomaggiore
When my parents recently came to visit (HERE and HERE), we knew that we wanted to take a mini-road trip. I had been to Cinque Terre over a decade ago and eager to go back. I had three vague memories of the most wonderful pesto, my favorite seafood dishes and the creamiest gelato I’d ever had. There seemed to be no better opportunity to go back than now.
Julia hugs her Grandma and Pop-pop out front of our hotel room
As I said, Cinque Terre is rather difficult to get to. The easiest way to access the area is via train. Cars are very limited in the rugged terrain. Once there, you’ll be presented with three options to traverse the five different villages. You can take a train that weaves along the coast and cuts through the jagged mountain like mouse holes through an old chateau. You could opt take the hiking path that has been created over the years. It is a rugged route – difficult but very rewarding. Not for the faint of heart or anyone with strollers (thus eliminating this option for us). Furthermore, the paths are not always well maintained (large sections have been shut down for years due to a landslide) and you can only cover so much ground in a day. Lastly, you can choose (in my opinion) the most panoramic option – to travel by boat. Ferries depart each village regularly, giving you plenty of flexibility and ease of travel. We were able to see each of the five villages in one day by opting for “the ferry route”.
You can see the train tracks ducking into the mountain and the pathway winding around it
But before we could arrive and figure out which of the options above were best for us, we needed a hotel reservation. This too, proved to be quite difficult. Jen and I have become rather skillful at examining multiple travel sites, review forums and securing the best available option at the lowest price. But I had been looking for three whole days and couldn’t find anything! I felt like Little Mac going against Mike Tyson in the classic 80’s game, Punch-Out!!
Bruised and bloodied, I refused to let Doc Louis throw in the towel. I expanded my search to the neighboring village of Levanto. A village with certainly enough charm and beauty to be a part of Cinque Terre, but a location set just a couple km too far away to be considered to attend the dance. Besides, Sei Terre just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Finally, I found the perfect hotel, set high in the mountains over Levanto. Villaggio Albergo die Gallo boasts a prime location as a result of their view and ease of access to all the various towns. My anxiety; “did I pick the right place” was quickly calmed by the soothing feeling of victory as we toured the wonderful property. I did it – I knocked Tyson flat on his butt!
“We did it!”
View from our room
The hotel had some wonderful terraces
I love the stone facade of the building
The day we arrived in Levanto was a very special day. Some say, the most important day of the year (OK… my mother have said that… once). It was my birthday. So we had plenty of things to celebrate. The sunshine. The surrounding beauty. The history of a 9th century village. And ME! We spent the day walking around Levanto, cruising along the beach and climbing to the highest point in the village and then back down.
“OK… I’m reaaaaddy!“
Sun bathers soak up the sun on Levanto’s shore
The Castello Medievale dates back to 1165 – used as a residence for kings, a prison and finally a private residence
The parish of S. Andrea was built in 1222 and consecrated in 1463
Pathway leading to the towns church
Back down along the beach – this private residence astounded us
Fishing boats and tourists alike dot the shoreline of Levanto
We stumbled across Il porto medievale di Levanto (the medieval door of Levanto), which lead us through a long, winding and ancient road of immense beauty.
Julia strolls along the medieval pathway
I could barely keep up with her
Julia gives me a special treat on my birthday – a big smile
After working up quite the appetite with all our walking, we selected a restaurant, Osteria Tumelin. The restaurant has been operating successfully for over 40 years in a building that was constructed in the 12th century. We chose a wonderful table on the terrace – a great selection for the perfect temperature of the evening. After dinner, we bought some bottles of limoncello (lemon flavored liquore), made with local lemons that we enjoyed back at our hotel to cap a wonderful day.
The building dates back to the 12th century
They had a large terrace for outdoor dining
One of our dishes – verdure alla griglia (grilled vegetables)
Grigliata mista di pesce (mixed grilled seafood)
We strolled through town after dinner, stopping in a few shops
The following morning, we set out early so that we would have a full day of sightseeing under our belts. We started in Monterosso, the only village that really has a beach (it’s a common misconception that Cinque Terre is a beach town, but in reality the five villages offer very few places to sunbath, apart from a few large rocks). In Monterosso, we purchased the ferry tickets and boarded our buoyant taxi.
Monterosso from the mountains above
Monterosso is really the only village that has a small beach
The village is set back in a natural tidal basin
We pull away from the dock on our ferry
View of Monterosso from the boat
We stopped briefly in the port of Vernazza to allow people on board before breezing by the cliff-top town of Corniglia and then Manarola before finally disembarking at the port in Riomaggiore.
Vernazza from the sea
A closer view of the town and Doria Castle, built in the 15th century as fortification against pirates
In the port of Vernazza
The cliff top village of Corniglia – the only village not set directly on the water
Our boat breezes past Manarola
We approach our final stop, Riomaggiore
Pulling into port at Riomaggiore
We walked around the Riomaggiore, soaking up it’s unique beauty. We had planned on next taking the hiking trail to Manarola – the only “stretch” of path that is smooth enough for a stroller. Unfortunately, this was one of the areas affected by the landslide in October of 2011 and has been shut down since then. Before we re-boarded the ferry, we stopped for an incredible lunch of homemade pasta and fresh seafood.
The “harbor” made from a jetty of rocks is shared by boats, swimmers and sunbathers
Julia tries her hand at balancing in a fishing boat
A local restaurant showcases the day’s seafood specials
Church high in the mountains of Riomaggiore
View of Riomaggiore from inside the village
View of the opposite direction, overlooking the ocean
Pathway into town from the ocean
People sunbath on the rocks and cool off in the water
Julia decided to cool off beneath the shade of a rock
Riomaggiore as we sail away
Riomaggiore is nestled snuggly within a tidy mountainous nook
We “village-hopped” the rest of the day, finally ending up back in Monterosso, content with a full day’s touring. We made it back to the hotel and took advantage of their restaurant’s pre-fix menu, dining al fresco overtop some of Italy’s most beautiful countryside.
Our ship pulls into port at Manarola
My dad (aka Pop-Pop) disembarks the ship
Next comes Stefani (aka Grandma)
Jen is the last to depart with Her Royal Highness
Ships tied off in Manarola
Vernazza has a nice wide, welcoming appearance
Julia overlooks the water
We had a wonderful dinner as the sun sets over the horizon
By the time our road trip to Cinque Terre had come to an end, so too had my parents visit to Italy reached it’s final chapter. We had a couple wonderful “last” meals together back in Como and gave them big hugs before sending them back to the US with lots of love.