Travel Destinations

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Cinque Terre on the Beautiful Italian Riviera

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
Vernazza
The Cinque Terre, which means five lands in Italian, is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Italy consisting of five charming towns along the Italian Riviera.  The Cinque Terre is not usually what first comes to mind when people think of places to visit during their vacation in Italy, but it should be.  We were inspired to visit the Cinque Terre, a place we had never heard of before, while watching Rick Steves’ Cinque Terre: Italy's Hidden Riviera.  It looked so beautiful.  And it lived up to everything I hoped.

We traveled a little over four hours by train from Rome to the Cinque Terre.  We decided to make Vernazza our home base.  There are no large hotels in Vernazza.  There are establishments that have a few rooms to rent.  Most places require reservations to be made by email or fax.  We stayed at Trattoria Gianni Franzi in a double (king) room with a private bath and a balcony overlooking the sea, from which we could see the boats illuminating the waters to fish for anchovies at night.  The room rate was 100 Euro per night, and we took advantage of their offer of a 10% discount if we paid cash.

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
View from Our Balcony
An important thing to know about Vernazza is that it is full of stairs.  There are streets strictly consisting of stairs.  Any route to your room will most likely involve multiple flights of stairs, and that’s before entering the building where your room is, which will most likely have, you guessed it, more stairs.  While incredibly charming, this does create a difficult situation when you are going to your room for the first time with your luggage.  Try to pack light.  I’m not great at packing light, but I did have one rolling bag and a duffle bag, which was much easier to negotiate than Romeo’s rolling checked bag and rolling carry-on bag.  Also, try not to forget anything in your room when you set out for the day!  Yes, this happened once.

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
Streets of Stairs
First and foremost, make sure you get a pastry every morning for breakfast from Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, owned by charming twin brothers.  Their croissant with special cream and panzerotti with ricotta is literally to die for.  You will thank me. 

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
Pastry at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre
There are three ways to get between towns; train, boat, and hiking trail.  There are many beautiful trails in the Cinque Terre, not only between towns, but also up into the hills.  The Cinque Terre is more about the charm and beauty of the towns and scenery and the gorgeous hikes than the actual sights in the different towns.

On our first full day we took the train to Monterosso al Mare.  Monterosso is more of a resort town than the other four.  When we arrived, there were crowds of cruise ship day trippers, so we first headed up the Zii di Frati (Switchback of the Monks) to be away from the crowds and to visit the Church of the Cappuccin Monks and the cemetery, and to take in the view of the town.   We then headed back down the hill into the old town for lunch, then visited the Church of St. John the Baptist.  Monterosso also has a large sandy beach at which you can rent chairs and umbrellas.  After Monterosso, we returned to Vernazza and visited the church and the castle.

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
Manarola
The next day we explored the other three towns of the Cinque Terre.  We started by taking the train to Riomaggiore.  We explored this small town and then walked the easy La Via dell’ Amore to Manarola.  After Manarola, we hopped on the train to Corniglia, where we ate lunch and enjoyed gelato before heading off on the four kilometer hike between Corniglia and Vernazza.  This is a beautiful hike with gorgeous views of the sea and should not be missed.  Judging by what the people we passed going the opposite way said, going from Corniglia to Vernazza was the easier direction.  We ended the day on the rocks watching the sun sink into the Mediterranean Sea.

Cinque Terre, Italy, Vacation Ideas
View of Vernazza from Trail Between Corniglia and Vernazza
(our room was in the pink building with the horizontal white stripe below the castle)
The next morning we caught the early 7:00 a.m. train to Venice.  But of course, while my husband waited at the station with our luggage, I ran up the street to Il Pirata for our delicious morning pastries.

It is easy to fall into a slower pace while in the Cinque Terre.  I had a few more items on the itinerary that we just didn’t have time to do.  Some of those were the Anchovies Salting Centre in Monterosso, the World Wars Monument in Vernazza, and the World War II bunkers and Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero in Riomaggiore.

Cinque Terre, Italy
Anchovies with Lemon at
Trattoria Da Sandro
Be sure to try the trofie al pesto, a hand rolled pasta served with pesto, which is the region’s signature pasta dish.  Also try the fresh anchovies with lemon (acciughe al limone), which are available on days when the sea was calm enough for the fisherman to go out the night before.  Even if you think you don’t like anchovies, give them a chance.  In addition to Il Pirata, we had excellent meals at the restaurant from which we rented our room, Trattoria Gianni Franzi, as well as at Gambero Rosso and Trattoria Da Sandro.  Be sure to make your dinner reservations in the morning before heading out, as the restaurants are small and can fill up quickly.

Vernazza and Monterosso were ravished by flash floods and landslides caused by unprecedented rains in 2011.  This was debilitating to the towns.  They have made a remarkable recovery, but this is yet another reason to visit this part of Italy, to make sure their economy is bolstered by tourism so the towns can be enjoyed by travelers for years to come.  Some of the trails are still closed, but will hopefully open soon.  See the websites Save Vernazza and Rebuild Monterosso for information and travel advisor updates.

I used Rick Steves' Best of Europe to plan the Cinque Terre portion of our Italy trip.


Travel the World: A guide to exploring the five lands of Italy%27s Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Italian Riviera.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.

10 comments:

  1. Beautiful pictures Katherine! I just don't know about these anchovies, but the lemon and freshness must make it more palatable? :)Keep up the great work!

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    1. Thank you Robert! While I will pretty much eat anything, I wasn't too sure about the anchovies either. But yes, the fact that they are fresh instead of salty makes a huge difference.

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  2. Once again, great information on this wonderful location...

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  3. Thanks Katherine for sharing your travels. We just booked Trattoria Gianni Franzi. It looks wonderful!

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    1. That's great! I am sure you will love it. Vernazza is such a beautiful town to stay in. I would love to hear how you liked it when you return. Have a wonderful trip!

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  4. Katherine, your information is fantastic. We are considering Trattoria Gianni Franzi and want to know if it's quiet at night and the beds comfortable? Did you book a suite? Thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much Sheri, and thank you for visiting my blog. To be honest, the entire town is quiet at night, but our room was especially quiet because there are only a couple rooms on the floor and we were very high up, which meant a lot of stairs but also an unbelievable view. We did not book a suite, but a double room with bathroom en suite. The exact room is Room 35. I remember the beds as being adequately comfortable, nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either. More importantly you can hear the sea at night, which makes any bed more comfortable.

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  5. I just love this post! I was planning a trip there this summer but left it a bit last minute so have decided to plan it properly hopefully for next year! It's hard to know which village to stay in, great to hear you liked Venazza - definitely need to bookmark this post for my visit, if nothing else for that croissant!!

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    1. Thank you Shikha. I think you will be very happy if you choose to stay in Vernazza and visit Il Pirata every morning for breakfast. :)

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