Cinque Terre is so named because it consists of 5 villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. If you don’t know of it, give it a cheeky Google, it is simply beautiful. Nestled on the Mediterranean coast between La Spezia and Genoa, the 5 villages are one of the very, very rare examples of human activity complementing rather than desecrating Mother Nature’s hard work. The brightly coloured houses and tiny harbours, perched precariously on the headlands jutting out into the azure sea, look as though they have been there since the dawn of time, and look no less a part of the landscape than the jasmine and olive trees that grow in such abundance in the region.
In recent years however, more and more people have visited the CT. Consequently, all the problems associated with mass tourism have arisen, along with the cost of visiting the place. However if you are smart about it, you can still make the most of the place without completely breaking the bank.
Confession time, I made a BIG mistake getting to CT. I had read lots and lots of stuff about how difficult it is to drive in the region, and I was arrogant enough to think that I would be fine. I’m a Lancashire lad, I’ve driven tiny country roads since the day I passed my test. How hard could it be?
The roads into CT are like nothing I have ever seen. They are often mere feet wider than the car, with a sheer cliff on one side and a drop to your certain demise on the other. They have more twists and turns than a George R.R. Martin novel (and probably a similar number of unexpected deaths). They are poorly signed, completely alien to most sat-nav/GPS systems and frequently closed due to landslides – not to mention an apparent lack of motivation to get them reopened (when we asked our host why a road had been closed for so long and she shrugged and said “Italia.”)
So to sum up, don’t be a cocky shit like I was. If you can avoid it, at all, don’t drive. There are trains from Genoa and La Spezia and they run often from early until late. You will be thankful. If you absolutely have to drive, you can only drive into Corniglia and Riomaggiore. Make sure your accommodation provides parking or it will set you back about €30 a day, and the chances are your car will get crashed into if it’s parked at the side of the road.
“Getting around” is actually CT’s main attraction. As already mentioned, cars aren’t actually worth it, so you have a few options: walk, bus, train or ferry. You can buy a CT pass which gives you unlimited access to all the forms of transport between the villages… these are quite expensive but they kind of have you by the balls because there is no other way around. That said – on the only train ride we took we didn’t get our ticket checked… if you wanted to chance it I am pretty sure that you would get away with hopping the trains between the villages, especially at busy times. I of course would not recommend this as it is illegal, but each to their own…
Due to the soaring popularity of the CT, each of the villages are awash with tourist accommodation. Our host told us that during the winter Corniglia has only 100 residents once all the tourists are gone. Consequently there is a lot of choice for tourists, but it is all fairly expensive. Each village has its pros and cons – we settled on Corniglia because it is the smallest and quietest. We stayed in a place called Case Di Corniglia, booked thorugh AirBnb (but you can find it on www.casedicorniglia.eu), hosted by a lovely lady called Donatella. It was about £40per person per night, but could have been cheaper in a larger group. The view from the balcony was so beautiful that I proposed so Sadie there, so it is safe to say that I would recommend it.
Objectively, there actually is very little to do in the CT. As I said before, the main attraction is exploring, be it on the network of paths that connect all the 5 villages (except Corniglia-Manarola, which has been closed for years. Why? “Italia.”), or on the train or ferry. The walks are lovely, but they are hard work, especially in the heat. The villages are completely idyllic, but they get very busy with tourists. If you go in high season, I would suggest starting early to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Go to the beach – Being sun worshippers, we also found something close to a beach. Down some incredibly steep steps from Corniglia is Marina Bay, where a small stone jetty sticks out into crystal clear, aquamarine water. Popular with the locals, it’s a great place to spend a lazy afternoon, especially if your feet don’t fancy any more trekking.
Food & Drink
CT is famous for its gastronomy, but if I’m honest I found it a little disappointing. Everywhere is really expensive and I don’t think the quality was any better than anywhere else. We had a really poor meal in Corniglia at a place called La Posada, where we waited 2 hours and didn’t even get our main course. We decided to leave rather than wait any longer.
We did however get some lovely fresh food from a little market in Corniglia’s town square. The homemade pesto was amazing, as were their anchovies.
If at all possible, bring some bottled water with you to the CT. Big bottles of water which cost a matter of cents elsewhere in Italy will set you back €1.50, which swiftly adds up when you’re knocking it back in the heat.