Seeing the colorful little towns of the Cinque Terre in Italy has been one of my bucket list items for, I don’t know, since I discovered what they were (probably around when I joined Pinterest, let’s be real). So when my friends suggested a trip there, I was all in, regard for finances notwithstanding. This is the kind of trip that makes you willing to count your pennies to make it happen. And yes, it was definitely worth it.
My two friends and I rented an Airbnb apartment in the smallest of the five towns, Corniglia, smack dab in the middle (post dedicated to Corniglia to come soon!). The forecast promised sunny skies and warm temperatures, at least for the first few days we were there, so we figured our first official day was as good as any to hike the Sentiero Azzurro, which is the trail that runs in between the five towns. For us, it made the most sense to take the train to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost of the villages, and hike back from there, stopping in picturesque Vernazza on the way back. So late that morning, we bought our all inclusive pass for the trail (it’s not free, since it’s in a national park), the trains, and the bus. We weren’t sure we’d do the second leg from Vernazza back to Corniglia, so it was good to have the option just in case.
TIP: Buy your Cinque Terre Card in the train station before you head to your first destination. The card for 7,50€ gets you access to the hiking path between the villages (and yes, there are checkpoints) and the card for 12€ will get you that plus train and buses for the whole day in all of the towns (this is the one we got)
Our first stop in Monterosso was, of course, the beach! The most touristy and resort-like of the towns, Monterosso is also the largest, and the town center is accessed through a tunnel that cuts through the mountain. When you get off the train, you’re greeted by an expanse of shoreline and the Mediterranean sparkling in the sun, but you have to walk to get into town. So we wandered around the beach section for awhile, dipping our toes in the (freezing cold) water and being thankful the beaches are pebbled, not sandy (cause sand is a bitch to get off of wet feet).
After nomming on some delicious foccacia pizza, we made our way to the town center to find gelato. It was around here that I decided I would try the best gelato place in each town and create a definitive list, so stay tuned for that coming soon as well!
TIP: If you’re on the beach side, check out Foccaceria Antonio– lots of options and different sizes, plus you can take it to go and eat it by the beach.
Monterosso is a beautiful and colorful town, but not only was it getting late enough to spur us to get on the trail to Vernazza, the number of tourists around was getting exhausting. I think we heard more English and French than we did Italian on the trip, and while it was nice to be able to understand everyone, it was certainly not the authentic experience we had been hoping for.
Bidding arrivederci to Monterosso, we headed for the trail- of course stopping several times along the way to take pictures of the town behind us and the sea in front along the way.
Anyone who tells you this trail is an “easy hike” is either a) an experienced hiker or b) lying to you. It’s high. Very high. Which means to get over the highest point, you go straight up. The first 45 minutes were spent just climbing stairs (and taking breaks). It’s worth it, but can be exhausting. As we were entering the trail and passing the ticket checkpoint, two women in white chinos, blouses, and flip flops came back in the other direction and asked if we were going to go all the way to Vernazza. Of course, we said, and they told us to turn around and go back, that it was too hard. I pointed out that they were wearing flip flops; pretty sure they didn’t appreciate that, but seriously, do your research before taking on a trail like this. It’s not easy, but it definitely helps to know what you’re getting into.
TIP: Bring a water bottle (or two, especially if it’s the summer) and wear sturdy shoes!
On trails like this, it pays to look both behind…
…and ahead. Here you can see Vernazza (looking much closer than it was), Corniglia, and Manarola hiding behind Corniglia. This was about an hour into the trek; from Monterosso to Vernazza, it takes about two hours, and then the Vernazza-Corniglia leg is an hour to an hour and a half, even though here it looks like they’re very far apart.
This is the view I’ve been longing to see ever since I knew what it was. Vernazza is considered by many to be the prettiest of the towns, and with good reason. It made my tired feet and sore knees (so many stairs to climb, just as many to descend) totally worth the pain!
TIP: Don’t be embarrassed to take the descent slowly, or even have a pair of walking sticks to help (many people on the trail do). My toes were hitting the front of my shoes with every step down, and even trying to land softly on my knees didn’t help much.
We headed into town winding through the prettiest little streets (there’s a direct staircase that takes you to the marina, but we preferred our way) and went to find a refill for our water bottles and a bottle of rosé to split.
TIP: There are public drinkable water fountains both in the square by the marina (to the back right if you’re facing the marina) and up the main street a little ways. Also up the main street is a wine and tobacco shop (on the left if you’re walking away from the marina) where they keep the white and rosé chilled, and will open it and give you cups if you ask.
Settling into a sunny spot on the marina, we chilled for awhile to regain our energy for the hike back to Corniglia, which one of my friends decided she wanted to do, then the other said she’d join, and I’d be damned if I was going to be the only lazy butt taking the train back. So after another visit to a gelato shop to find the best in Vernazza, we headed for the trail once again, water bottles filled and anticipating a shorter hike back.
Fortunately, the town is just as picturesque from the back as it is from the front!
I think we all slept better that night than we had in a long time, and showers have rarely felt so good. But despite the hard parts of the trail, reawakening muscles I forgot I had, it’s always best to do trips like that with friends who will stop for you when you need a break, take pictures of you, and have the oddest conversations that I’m sure had our fellow trekkers giving us some strange looks while we were laughing too hard to care.
Here’s to trips with your girls (or boys) and making memories together. Stay tuned for more on Cinque Terre coming soon!