Author: Mrs A
Location: La Spezia and Cinque Terre
Wednesday: We had seriously thought about missing out a visit to the Cinque Terre, given how popular they are and so much on the tourist trail, but given we were so close and travelling out of peak season we thought we’d head over for a day.
Leaving San Rocco, we headed back on the E80 and drove an hour or so along to La Spezia, where we parked up in a secure sosta along with about 40 other motorhomes. The site we were on looked more like wasteland than a camping area and was located in the docklands area of town, surrounded by containers and ships. It was not a great first impression to our visit.
Regardless, we jumped on a bus and headed into town. La Spezia is actually a very pretty town, with a lovely pedestrianised shopping area with a mixture of small boutiques and designer stores.
We had a great afternoon wondering around and Mr A managed to get a haircut too.
We enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner in the evening at a great little bar in a side street, a customer and the owner jamming to blues music, and providing entertaining conversation – La Spezia has a lovely feel.
Thursday: Cinque Terre (pronounced Chink-we Terrer) are five Unesco-listed villages painted across the steep Ligurian coast, stitched together by a great piece of railway engineering connecting La Spezia and Genoa. If you can build tunnels, then Italy is the place to work, as the scenery calls for many to link the towns. We cannot imagine how people coped before the transport networks were developed.
The five villages comprise of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We decided to start our day at Monterosso, the furthest away village and jumped on the train from La Spezia.
Monterosso al Mare is probably the most resorty of the five villages, with a large beach set up with sun beds and umbrellas. It also seems to have the greatest amount of flat area, with market stalls set up selling wood carvings, clothes and fried food. We had a wonder around before setting off to do the hike across to Vernazza.
The hike between Monterosso and Vernazza is described as challenging and requires purchase of a card and agreement to wear the appropriate footwear and take water. It’s a great way of doing things – we have been on many hikes around the world and seen people stumbling along in flip-flops with no sticks and no water, ultimately putting the lives at risk of anyone who is then sent out to rescue them from injury or issue.
This hike is tough, particularly if breathing is a challenge. It climbs steeply up along the coast, following a rough rocky pathway. In its favour, it follows alongside many of the terraced vineyards and olive groves you look at from the villages, wondering at the fitness and agility of the farmers who tend the lands – I can assure you they were not breathing through an airway the size of a straw when they did it!
It was a hard climb over, with some amazing views along the way – it was a busy walk too, with occasional groups of people marching on past, unable to utter ‘thank you’ in any language for letting them past! But within two hours we were descending into Vernazza.
Vernazza’s a smaller village set around a lovely little fishing harbour. We sat by the water’s edge and enjoyed a gelato – banana and kiwi fruit on the recommendation of a young Melbourne lady we happened to sit beside!
From here, we caught the train our next destination, choosing to skip the village of Cornoglia and arriving in Manarona. This village sits high up on rocky cliffs, seemingly impossibly perched above the turquoise waters.
We climbed up to a restaurant with incredible views, expecting it to have ordinary service and overpriced food and drinks…but no, Nessun Dorma served us some delicious refreshments and freshly made bruschetta which satisfied our post hike hunger, with great service. Fabulous, and totally in line with all of our Italian experiences so far.
We had a bit more of an explore around the streets after lunch, before heading back to the train to head to our final village for the day.
Riomaggiore allowed us to escape the crowds and find ourselves a few moments alone to sit and enjoy the views. There is a walkway which links all five villages, but only the segment we hiked is still open. Apparently a combination of heavy rain in 2011 and abandoned terraces on the cliffs led to major landslides, plunging the path into the sea. We could see evidence of the path being restored in a few places, particularly Riomaggiore, but it looks like slow and difficult progress.
As the crowds began to leave, taking their boat trips or the train back to their hotels, you could almost feel the sigh of relief as the locals reclaimed their home streets for their own, and the lapping of the water on the boats in the harbour became the prominent sound.
We had our final look around before heading to the station and our short journey back to La Spezia. By the time we got back to Truffy at 7pm, we had walked just under 15km (9 miles) and climbed more than 100 flights of stairs. We were appropriately tired!
We’re pleased we got a chance to see Cinque Terre, but do appreciate there are many other places which are perhaps equally as beautiful, and certainly less frequented by tourists. When we look back at the spectacular places we have seen in the past week, we feel very fortunate to have experienced those without coach and boat trips blocking our views and interrupting our peace.