I had one day to explore Cinque Terre. I purchased a train ticket at Viareggio and sat down next to two very Italian grandmothers and their grandchildren. I had a map of the five picturesque villages I was about to explore on my lap; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. One of the grandmothers gave me a small smile and indicated for me to pass over my pen. She started drawing little dots across my map with places to visit. Although we didn't speak each other languages, we started sharing biscotti, used our hands a lot and laughing along the way. When I got off the train, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’ve seen this place a million times on Instagram, but it’s so much better in real life.
Cinque Terre is a Unesco world heritage site of five pastel-hued towns perched atop the rocky Mediterranean coastline. It is difficult to reach the villages by road, so most visitors arrive by train or boat. Narrow paths link the villages together and wind through vineyards, olive groves and citrus orchards. There is so much history here; ancient churches, Roman villas, Benedictine monsters and Romanesque squares. I absolutely love the alfresco dining scene, the amazing scent of seafood and aglio e olio as you stroll past.
Stop 1: Monterosso al Mare
I descended the steps of Monterosso train station and just wanted to pinch myself. It’s that feeling of having seen a place a million times before, and then finally being there in real life. It’s surreal. Monterosso is the largest of the five cities and also the sandiest, making it a popular spot to relax and enjoy the clear waters.
Stop 2: Vernazza
This was my favourite of the 5 towns. It was the most beautiful and also where I bumped into the two travellers whom I would be spending the rest of the day with. The guy that took the picture of me below, was traveling alone as well and asked me to return the favour. He pulled out a sign and I asked him what it said. It translated to, "Mama, I'm still alive!" in Italian and he was sharing photos of his trip with her along the way. How Italian! We ended up chatting and it wasn't long until we bumped into a Canadian nanny who joined our adventure. What a coincidence to meet two complete strangers who were also rushing to see all of Cinque Terre in one day!
Stop 3: Corniglia
Corniglia was the most quiet and tucked away village that sits on a 100m cliff. To get to the top you have to climb 377 steps (or take a shuttle bus like we did)! It felt very local and much more lived in than the other cities. Locals were drying their clothes in the sun and vineyards and lemon trees sprouted between the houses.
Stop 4: Manarola
I wanted to hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore along the infamous "Via dell’Amore " (Lovers Walk). We got to the start of the trial and unfortunately it was still shut due to the torrential rainfall which struck Cinque Terre in 2011. Instead, we visited the Manarola cemetery and the views of the harbour were striking. I was told that the houses were painted in pastel-hues so that the fishermen could spot their homes from the waters below.
Stop 5: Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre's most famous town. Life felt so easy here. Italian men sat and smoked by the coastal paths, watching the last rays of sun and drinking Sciacchetrà. A couple kissed on a street corner. It was so perfect and iconically Italian. Marco and I grabbed a couple of beers and watched the sunset over Riomaggiore on the rocks.
Here are recommendations I gathered on where to eat from locals:
Corniglia: For home made ice cream go to Alberto Gelateria Artigianale on Via Fieschi 74
Vernazza: For great seafood and views visit Belforte on Via Guidoni 42 (www.ristorantebelforte.it)
Monterosso: For drinks and people watching visit Enoteca da Eliseo on 3 Piazza Matteotti
Riomaggiore: For authentic Italian delicacies visit Enoteca Dau Cila on Via San Giocomo 65 (ristorantedaucila.com)
Manarola: For great Italian food visit Marina Piccola on Via Lo Scalo 16 (hotelmarinapiccola.com) Apparently the octopus soppressata is to die for.