Cinque Terre: blink five times and you’ll miss it!

In 2014 I coined Cinque Terre my ‘favourite place in the world’. I’d spent such a brief amount of time there that it was praise on shallow grounds, so I was worried for its sake (and mine) that it wouldn’t hold true this time round. Spoiler: it did.

After bumping into a uni friend of Andy’s at Vernazza station (small world huh?), we dropped our bags at our Air BnB – supremely located in the main square on the waterfront – and then we headed off on our first hike. At the moment, it is only the coastal routes between Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia that are open for walking. We bought a hiking card (€7.50 for walking only, €16 to include the trains) and set off towards Monterosso.

It was definitely the most popular track we encountered, probably due to its accessibility. At times we felt like fish swimming against the current, but the way we did it was definitely easier than the opposite direction. Approaching Monterosso from Vernazza meant that we got to see far more of the township than I did last time (I didn’t realise it extended much beyond the beach) and I loved it so much more. After a refreshing lunch break of prosciutto, melon and limoncino (the local delicacy) we jumped on a train to Corniglia.

Corniglia immediately confronted us with way too many steps, which seemed to stretch endlessly and mercilessly upwards. It’s the only village that’s not immediately waterside: rather it’s perched dramatically on the cliff top, with steep steps to the water and train station below. Finally, we made it to the top and reaped the rewards: drinks with a view.  A well deserved break saw us reenergised and ready for our hike back to Vernazza.

Vernazza is definitely my favourite village of the five and it became extra special once all the day-trippers had left. We drank and ate our way along the waterfront, climbed the castle for a near sunset and popped down from our room for multiple dips in the sea. It’s incredible how crowded the main street is, but a mere two streets back almost everything is deserted.

The next day we made the inland hike from Corniglia to Manarola. This was my favourite hike. Allowing for photos it took us about two hours: we got to walk through vineyards, olive groves and essentially what felt like people’s gardens – the whole time with panoramic views of the coastline. What a place to live! It was slightly harder than the coastal walks, and much easier going in the Corniglia to Manarola direction. A bonus too was that this hike is free – it is only the coastal ones you need to pay for.

At Manarola, the water is too inviting to pass up a swim so we jumped in for a cheeky dip before lunch. It’s so deep, blue and warm! Manarola is one of the most famously photographed villages, its horseshoe shaped bay enables it to be particularly picturesque. Our energy reserves were starting to deplete so we opted to catch a train to Riomaggiore (we had also been told the hike was less exciting). All trains in the park cost £4, no matter which villages you are riding between.

At Riomaggiore we firstly indulged in some street food: squid in a paper cone. Everyone’s doing it and we could see why: it was delicious! Riomaggiore felt the biggest of the villages; beyond the main street there were still lots of houses. We made our way down to the waterfront, where we opted to take a ferry home (€11) so that we could see the villages from another perspective. There are lots of boat tours available but they are quite expensive and didn’t really fit into our budget. Plus, the ferry ride still achieved our purpose.

Our weekend in Cinque Terre was absolutely amazing and a good amount of time to spend there. If we’d had another day we would have done that last hike, but otherwise it would have consisted of more of the same: eating, drinking and swimming! The time went too fast, and now we are off to reunite with my family in Florence!

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