We left dreamy Venice and headed to the West Coast of the Liguria Region. Cinque Terre is made up of 5 coastal towns perched high on rocky cliffs; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. Getting here was our longest train ride and I don't remember much about it except our first peek at the Tyrrhenian Sea. We shot out of a pitch black tunnel and were suddenly blinded by a beautifully shining sea. I could hardly believe that we were really here as we whizzed pass colorful nestled homes to get to our accommodations in Vernazza. Yes, after years of obsessing over this place . . . I. Was. Here.
Travel Tip: We stayed 3 nights and 4 days which was just enough time to slowly enjoy each town. If we had chosen to hike the entire trail, see other nearby towns, or if swimming had been an option then I would suggest 1-2 more days.
My first sound in Vernazza was the loud roar of the trains as they rushed by the tiny platform about every 30-40 minutes. I thought the whole town would crumble each time it passed by. But you get used to it and even now I miss that thunderous racket. My first sight was similar to the first image below and shot from the platform.
Our AirBNB host guided us through the winding incline of alleys and paths until we reached our apartment. The climb was tough but the view was worth it. We could see into the hills of Cinque Terre and onto the tan bell towers as they bong, bong, bonged, hello. And in between the hourly chimes we heard the soothing crash of waves onto the treacherous shoreline below. These are the sounds we would wake up to and fall asleep to for 3 days.
Roarrrr, crashhhh, and BONG.
The rhythm of Vernazza reminding you how very alive this ancient town still is.
After a quick climb to the Castello Doria for a superb view we spied an inviting beach below. We made our way back into town and spotted an adorable yellow dog. Right next to his perch was the cave entrance to that beach. Our adventurous spirit urged us to follow the light at the end of the tunnel where we spent the next hour exploring the shore. We liked it so much we came back the next day for several hours. I sketched the scenery and my husband scoured for colorful sea glass. We would giggle at the handful of tourists trying to get selfies in front of the huge crashing waves without getting wet. I even tried it myself.
The next day consisted of town hopping and good eats. Plus a couple of mishaps including getting locked in a restaurant bathroom and missing a train stop both of which challenged my sense of humor and flexibility.
Travel Tip: Cinque Terre cards are great for 1-2 day unlimited train rides between the 5+ towns. They can be obtained at the train stations and I believe must be paid with cash.
Our lunch at Il Pirata was fantastic. We ordered two pasta dishes that came covered in light green pesto which according to the restaurant owner is the best type to eat and seeing that Liguria exports this lovely basil and oil mixture I think they know best.
Before heading to the next town we made friends with some fellow Americans and decided to meet up in Florence for dinner in the coming days. Building relationships and experiencing new things is the best part of travel and honestly some of my strongest memories of the trip.
We explored the sleepy town of Riomaggiore but it didn't have much going on so we opted for fresh fruit gelato in Manarola. I can still taste the pineapple mango flavors as we lapped up our frozen dessert and watched brave fisherman launch their tiny boat into the choppy waves. We then took a short hike for a better vista view which also meant great photos of the colorful stacked buildings.
Travel Tip: traveling in the off season is that most restaurants and ferry boats are closed for the season. The good news is there are less crowds and more room to explore.
We returned to Vernazza in time to partially hike the Cinque Terre trail and get a lovely sunset view. I chatted with a fellow photographer as we waited for the twinkly town lights to turn on and the warm light slowly slipped away. Again, I was reminded that I was really here.
On our last day in Cinque Terre we trained to Monterosso al Mare. It's known for it's beachy vibe but we found it quiet with only a few warm blooded swimmers submerged in the chilly waters or relaxing in the sun. We enjoyed a coffee and watched a group of millennials daringly jump off the iconic rock.
It was a nice way to end our adventure in Liguria.
We took an evening stroll after dinner to say goodbye and goodnight to Vernazza. I noticed the town elders at their nightly gathering around the base of the church. The original Facebook . . . physical social interaction. So simple and so true. What a life.
That night with the windows open I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of Vernazza one last time.
Travel Tip: There are a few other great towns outside of Cinque Terre that the same train line will take you to. Also the option to hike the entire Cinque Terre trail is available and there are some great websites with all the details on how to do so.
- Lauren Athalia
All images © Lauren Athalia Photography