Cinque Terra has the reputation for being a must see destination, five quaint, picturesque villages clinging to the sheer hillside above the coast near La Spezia. We’d sailed past this stretch of coast last year on our way from Genoa to Pisa, even anchoring overnight close by and completely missed the view from the sea and so decided to rectify the omission, by train!
We took the train from Florence to La Spezia, a 2 hour journey and then got the local coastal train which allows you to hop on and off at each village which are about 5 minutes apart on the train. The five villages of Cinque Terra from west to east are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore; we started at Monterosso.
Monterosso is a large village in 2 parts; the northern end around the harbour is pretty uninspiring but a walk south from the station takes you into the older part of town. Quaint enough but nothing to grab our imagination!
The remaining villages are fairly quaint, and have a pretty unique character but they are far from the isolated havens of picturesque tranquillity they once were or the brochures would have you believe they still are. Certainly, Monterosso and, finally, Riomaggiore, being the closest to ‘civilisation’ are perhaps the least inspiring of the five.
Corniglia, the central village of the 5, is perched high above the coast without its own harbour. It is the most isolated and least spoilt of the villages and is all narrow winding streets and alleyways, which are never far from terraces with great views along the coast.
Vernazza and Manorolo are the most colourfully painted of the villages (think Tobermoray in Italian) and Manorolo has the most ‘interesting’ harbour.
In the case of Manorolo the term ‘harbour’ is rather ambitious. It is more of a rock pool with a very steep slip way, and a crane to lift boats the 20 or so metres up the cliff to avoid using the slip way!
By the time we got to Riomaggiore we were well and truly Cinque Terra’d out. That this is the least attractive of the five probably didn’t help, but again, the views were good.
Over all we were somewhat underwhelmed; but then we have seen many quaint, picturesque villages in our travels and fully admit to being spoilt. The area is a hiking destination and there are a series of trails, totalling I think 35 km, (all closed when we visited) along the coast linking the villages. The advice is to spend a week in the area, with a day or so in each village to get to know each one. I think that a good days walk with stunning views and an evening enjoying the local cuisine in a quaint fishing village is the way to see the area, ‘binging’ all 5 in a few hours is not. Unfortunately, for us it was a long day and a little bit of an anti climax!