Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Easy Way to see CinqueTerre in 24 hours

CinqueTerre, the famous picturesque Italian coast near Tuscany, has always been on my bucket list. But I must admit, I have been intimidated by stories of my parents and aunt who have visited it about the hiking required to get around.

Before we left, I kept on googling to find out the best way to see CinqueTerre and take nice photos with the least effort, or the least hiking required and I must say, I didn't really find the answer, thus this post. Hahaha.

First things first. We had to decide where to stay. When we were shopping around for hotels and AirBNBs, we didn't find a lot of options within the price range we were willing to pay that did not have "steep steps". In fact, at whatever price range, it seems that a lot of steps comes with the package of staying in CinqueTerre because of it's natural terrain. That made it so much easier to decide which of the five (Cinque) lands (Terre) we wanted to stay in. NONE. Hahaha.

Since practicality always wins, we opted to stay at a bed and breakfast at La Spezia instead. This is where all the trains to CinqueTerre pass, so it was a very convenient solution. It was just a few minutes from the first land, Riomaggiore.

Since we only had 1 night and 1 day in Cinqueterre, we had to plan our trip really well, and know the train schedule (which can be unreliable) by heart, with enough time to spare to do everything we wanted, and catch our train to Florence too.

While doing our research, we decided that to hit all the highlights, we needed to do one land at night where we planned to have dinner, them aim to do at least 2 or 3 the next day, because we were also clear that we could miss Corniglia, as it was the only land in CinqueTerre not adjacent to the sea.

That left four lands for us to explore.

1. Riomaggiore
We arrived at La Spezia around 7pm, so we decided to visit Riomaggiore for dinner as soon as we verified that there was enough time to catch the train to get there, have dinner, and still catch a train to get back. 

Tip: You need to look at the train schedule well, because you don't want to get stranded in one of the lands with no way back, especially at night.

The challenge with travelling by train around Cinque Terre (or should I say Italy, since we also had this problem in Florence) at night is that the actual ticket booths are closed, so you will need to buy your tickets from the ticket machine, which does not always work! On our way to Riomaggiore, we had to jump into the train with no tickets and cross our fingers there would be no inspector because the ticket machine did not work.

We thought that once we got to the place, things would be pretty self explanatory, go with the crowd, etc... but it was not. We made the mistake of following some people who turned out to be locals (hahaha) so it got dark and quiet real fast, so we just made our way back to the station and tried the other way.

Tip: If you are arriving in Riomaggiore at night, there are no obvious signs, so just turn right, and follow the tunnel. This will bring you to the marina and center of town.

We saw this place overlooking the water, without realizing that it was
already the marina that we were looking at.
Our priority was to find food, so we had dinner at La Lampara.
Sofia's verdict (and ours too): Definitely one of the best pizzas we've ever
had. Hooray for our first meal in Italia.

While we were waiting for our food, we asked our wait to tell us where to find the place where the beautiful photos of Riomaggiore were taken and he pointed us to the direction of the boats which we previously saw.
Getting down there was pretty creepy with narrow and steep (but thankfully
not dark) winding walk way.
Hello, Riomaggiore!

I must say, the view from the marina was beautiful.

It was only on our way back that we saw some directional signs. I think one may even be a better way to get to the Marina. Totally not helpful at all if you're coming from the train station. Hahaha. 
Success!!! The ticket machine in Riomaggiore worked so we were able to
get tickets this time. Though it's normal for the train to arrive late, so make
sure you plan enough buffer time for that in your itinerary.

The next day, we aimed to visit the remaining 3 other lands if possible. It would be quite tight and would mean that we needed to make sure we got off the train, and catch the next one (with around 1 hour intervals), to make sure we got back to La Spezia in time to catch our train to Florence.

Tip: You can leave your luggage at the train station in La Spezia, then you can buy the CinqueTerre Pass for 1 day (they have the pass available for more days). It will allow you unlimited rides on the trains and buses (which I've never seen) and access to the different lands of Cinque Terre which is all part of the Cinque Terre National Park.
The essentials to exploring Cinque Terre the easy way include Day Passes,
Map, Train Schedule, and Pocket Guide in English.
Note: You can message me to ask for ours if you plan to go.
The first thing you need to do is validate your ticket
on these machines before boarding the train.
All set to go... armed with our guide book, my Nikes, just
in case we actually need to hike.  
Grab a window seat on the train because the scenery is beautiful.

2. Monterosso al Mare
We decided to stop at the farthest one this time around and work our way back to La Spezia.
If I'm not mistaken, Monterosso al Mare is the one with the longest stretch of beach. It's one of the bigger lands, where you can actually bring a car. We arrived just before Easter weekend in March, so it was too cold to swim, but there was already quite a lot of visitors. 

The only thing on my to do list was to see the place, take some beautiful photos, and to figure out what to eat.

See the place and take some photos - CHECK, CHECK, CHECK!

The beach is right outside the train station, so no need to walk far to check it out. 
I found an article talking about the best focaccia in Cinque Terre, where the locals go, so we decided we had enough time to walk to the city center to check it out before catching the train back.

At the end of the promenade, you need to enter the tunnel, to get to the city center. It was probably a 10-15 minute walk from the train station and it will lead you to the main street lined with stores and restaurants. You can't get lost because that's where all the tourists are.

Figure out what to eat - Go for focaccia where the locals go - CHECK!
Then a little of the main street, we found the focaccia place and it was truly
to die for! Best focaccia and pesto ever! The only thing I regret is not buying
more. This place deserves it's on post.
One of the churches right beside the focaccia place.
After snacking on the best Four Cheese and Tomato Pesto Focaccia ever, we headed back to the train station to continue our Cinque Terre adventure.
Thank you Monterosso al Mare! While you may not have been my favorite
town beauty wise, I will definitely remember you for the best focaccia ever.

3. Vernazza
Our next stop was Vernazza, and since Cinque Terre is famous for focaccia and pesto, I immediately googled best place for focaccia in Vernazza, wanting to continue our quest for the best local delicacies. We decided to get the sightseeing out of the way first though.

Vernazza is a pretty small compared to Monterosso al Mare. You just need to follow the crowd which will lead you to the main street in town that will end up in the Marina. The walk was probably less than 10 minutes end to end.

The Marina at Vernazza was very pretty because it's not as small as Riomaggiore.

Following our drill, which worked so well at Monterosso al Mare, after we took our photos, we set out to find the food, before catching the train to the next land. The focaccia place we found (sorry, I had a one-track mind to get more focaccia goodness after trying out the first one) was called Batti Batti.
Their display looked so appetizing (much better than the first one),
but unfortunately, it didn't taste as good... but we may have been spoiled,
since this place was pretty busy.
The good thing though is Batti Batti also has a fried seafood place,
(which is like their local street food) and we had quite a good lunch on the go
of calamari, fried anchovy I think (not recommended), and shrimp.
Just skip the fish and it does make a good lunch with the fries.
The place was so small, we could actually take our time
and enjoy lunch on the main street, before catching
the next train. 
Thank you Vernazza! That was a very pretty place to have some fried
seafood for lunch.

4. Corniglia - we decided to skip, because the theme of this trip is how to see Cinque Terre the Easy Way...

5. Manorola
Our last stop before calling it a day and heading back to Firenze was Manorola.
I think this is one of the most photographed places you see when you do a google images search for Cinque Terre, and the good news is you don't really need to walk far to get there. I think it would take around 15 minutes on foot from the train station to get to point where people take nice photos.

The good news is, after visiting four out of the five lands in Cinque Terre, we can definitely say that Yes, There is an easy way to see Cinque Terre! and you don't have to believe people who tell you that it's difficult to enjoy the place because there is a lot of hiking to do (well, that's true, but only if you want to).

In fact, Sofia was looking forward to the hiking part, so I had to sort of let her pretend we were hiking, at least for some photos.

Since we were doing so well managing our time and the train schedule, we could spend more time in Manorola. Since we were pretty much tired of our search for the best focaccia by then, we decided it was gelato time.
One of the popular places in Manorola is this Michelin-Starred restaurant
by the Marina.
The main street wasn't really long, so we just had gelato in the place after
the boats.
Yummy Limone Gelato! Sof swears by the chocolate
one too!
Now if only I had more stomach space I would have loved
to give this focacciaria a chance.
Watching as life in Manarola goes by.
Thank you Manarola for a sweet and great end to our Cinque Terre adventure.
Thank you also to my trusty Nikes, you served me well.
Though maybe I didn't need you after all.
I was very happy we got to see everything we wanted in Cinque Terre, the easy way too, in 24 hours. If I were to go back, I would definitely order Trofie Pesto Pasta (which I didn't get to try), eat more focaccia from Monterosso al Mare (and definitely order more to take away), and spend more time doing nothing and enjoying the view in Manorola or Vernazza. just saying.

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