A beautiful blue trail down five villages that make up the gorgeous Italian destination Cinque Terre
The train rushes past a splay of apartment buildings and supermarkets before plunging into a tunnel. The passengers look around, mildly bored with the darkness punctuated by the glow from their cell phones. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and as the train bursts into the sunshine there is a collective gasp from everyone. On the right is a cliff, but over the left is a vast expanse of shimmering blue as far as the eye can see. The train has pulled into Riomaggiore in stunning Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site of rugged coastline, which literally translates to ‘five lands’. This idyllic group of fishing villages in the Italian Riviera is a spectacular part of the country with aquamarine waters, dramatic coastal scenery, terraced farms, and like most of Italy, spectacular food.
Walk this way
Meandering along the coastline through vineyards, olive groves, coastal jungle and terraced farms are hiking trails that connect the five villages and offer the best way to experience the region. Though the villages are connected by train, walking the Cinque Terre is recommended. One could do the entire trail over 6-8 hours but stop for refuelling along the way. And if you want to quit (you’ll have to either go on to the next village or backtrack to the previous one) you can always catch the train back or forth to one of the villages. Stop for some freshly squeezed orange juice or a glass of wine, lunch or snack at one of the villages, or take a dip in the achingly blue waters.
The Sentiero Azuro, aka the Blue Trail or Trail #2, is the most popular of the lot with four individual paths along the coast. You can hike in either direction, starting from the last town of Monterosso towards Riomaggiore or the other way around. From Riomaggiore to Manarola is the Via dell’Amore with its famous kissing statue, benches and tunnel plastered in declarations of love. The next section between Manarola and Corniglia has beautiful garden and sea views. Travelling between Corniglia and Vernazza, the trail goes from the highest point of the Cinque Terre and then slopes back. Saving the best for the last, the trail between Vernazza and the last town of all five villages is a real highlight.
Here comes the sun
The informal capital, Riomaggiore, is also the largest of the five villages, its main street busting with cafes, pubs, shops amid its colourful sprawl of buildings in yellows and oranges -quintessential colors of the region. People emerge on to the street from alleys, which hide doorways up to a multitude of guest rooms and apartments for the throng of visitors to the region. It is about 20 min until sunset and everyone is moving to the harbour, drawn like moths of a flame to the spectacular show about to begin. There are fabulous views of the sunset at several parts of Cinque Terre, but a favourite is at the marina of Riomaggiore. The pastel shades of the buildings are aglow in the evening sun. Fancy cameras, professional videographers and selfie sticks are on the ready as the sun starts to gradually descend. All eyes are only on the golden sphere ahead of us, which is sinking deeper into the sea, colouring the sky in a riot of blazing orange, red and purple. Just as it disappears there is a thunderous applause from the crowd, appreciation for a riveting show.
Food, glorious food
To help refuel after all the walking is a great variety of food. The cuisine is rustic and fresh, featuring local produce harvested in the sea, steep terraced farms and vineyards along the cliffs. There is a variety of pasta encased in the fragrant basil that is grown in the region; freshly baked focaccia seasoned with just salt and olive oil or topped with cheese or sausage; paper cones piled high with fried calamari which can be washed down with some beer; or a hearty seafood platter to enjoy the fresh catch of the day. Pesto alla Genovese is the region’s most iconic dish comprising basil leaves from Genoa, pine huts, Peccorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, garlic, salt and olive oil.
The Cinque Terre Lands
Each village of Cinque Terre lends itself to lazy wandering and discovery. One of the region’s most romantic sights is the pastel buildings of Riomaggiore steeply flanking the tiny harbour, views of which are best appreciated at sunset. A botanical garden and bird watching center; little shops selling lemon soap, jars of pesto and bottles of Sciacchetra; bustling bars and restaurants; and the Church of San Giovanni Battista are some of the attractions around the town. The village next in line is Manarola, which has more grapevines than the other villages and is also believed to be the oldest of the five because of various medieval relics. Overall, a picturesque village vacation you’ll never get over.
How to reach Cinque Terre?
- You need to reach Italy and then to Cinque Terre
- Which airport you choose to fly in and out of depends on (apart from price) how long you plan to visit Italy and where you plan to travel.
- The major airport for traveling in northern Italy (Venice, Lake of Garda, Piedmont) is Milan.
- The major airport for traveling in southern Italy (Rome, Amalfi/Capri, Naples) is Rome.
- The closest airports for traveling to Cinque Terre and Tuscany are Pisa, Florence and Genoa.
- From PISA There is a shuttle train at the airport that takes you from Pisa Airport to Pisa Centrale. It’s name is People Mover. From Pisa Centrale, there are trains that take you to the Cinque Terre, with a stop in La Spezia Centrale. (Depending on when you arrive at Pisa Centrale, you may be able to purchase a direct ticket from Pisa Centrale to Monterosso in the Cinque Terre, where we’ll be staying.).
- For train schedules, go to www.trenitalia.com. (Approx. Travel Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes.)