The Cinque Terre is as beautiful as it is rugged and it can be seen in a day. But, it is a bit of a challenge!
Most people who travel to the Cinque Terre stay there for at least a few days so that they can fully explore all of the five towns. However, this was the second time there for us and we realised the first time that we could see it all relatively quickly. There are, however, a few very important things to keep in mind when it comes to exploring the Cinque Terre.
1) Where you’re going to be staying
This is probably one of the biggest inconveniences when it comes to the Cinque Terre, depending on the type of person you are and your level of fitness. If you choose to stay in one of the towns that are built into the side of the cliffs then it is highly likely that your hotel will be up quite a lot of stairs that aren’t the easiest to navigate if you have a lot of luggage. Therefore, we would say that if you are planning on staying in the middle of one of these beauties then pack light. Not only will you have to get it all on the train there etc, but also get it from the train and then up and down hills until you get to where you are staying. We saw quite a few couples having arguments based on not being able to find their hotel or based on the amount of stuff there is to carry.
If you are driving there, as we did, then plan to stay in La Spezia. One of the beautiful things about driving to the Cinque Terre is how much you are able to take with you by car as opposed to everyone else (the only parking available in the majority of these towns is only for residents and there are very few spaces). However, this is only a benefit if you are able to park next to your hotel; it is by far easiest to park next to your hotel in La Spezia and then get a very short train ride into the middle of the action. Previously we had stayed in Levanto, but we found it to be a pain in terms of parking and finding a good quality hotel.
We do not recommend trying to drive to and / or between these towns due to the likelihood of receiving very high fines due to the ZTL / lack of a residents permit as well as the very limited amount of parking (which is quite far away from the town in the first place).
2) Transport to and around the Cinque Terre
The best way that we found of getting about is the train. The alternatives are either to get some sort of bus / coach, although we didn’t seem to see any benefits of it, or walking. Almost all methods of transport can be paid for by getting a “Cinque Terre Card”, which is by far the best option in our opinion. Make sure that you purchase the one that lets you get on the train! Also please note that they have to be “stamped” before you first use it for the train (below):
If for whatever reason you forget to stamp your card in then you should be ok as long as you immediately search for the train staff who will stamp it for you. It also says this on the back of the ticket so if you really need to run for a train then this is always an option.
Walking between the towns is the most romantic option, however you need to be prepared to spend a decent amount of time doing it unless you are very fit. Before you go make sure that you check if the paths that you want to walk are actually open. Using a website like this to check if the paths are open will be your best bet and may save you a lot of time and effort – especially since the alternative paths between the towns are a lot harder than the “main” ones.
As a point of reference we did the Vernazza-Corniglia path which is not the hardest and not the easiest and it looks us substantially longer than the “average duration” would suggest. You can find a review of all of the paths here. This path took us around 3 hours and we felt that we needed to stop to have a break at the half-way house.
Thankfully the drinks at this halfway house come in many different flavours, one of the most popular being vodka. You can also get some beers as well as freshly squeezed lemon juice and orange juice. You can see all of the old fruit skins outside of it and it makes you wonder how they got them all there!
We met many people who were walking these paths who seemed to be under the impression that it was only going to last 30 minutes to an hour. You don’t have to be superbly fit in order to walk from one town to the other, but it’s probably best to plan to take at least a few hours doing it (if you’re not in peak condition and aiming to blitz it) and to bring something to eat and drink as there is only one stop.
One more thing to mention is that there is really no point in buying a map from the tourist shop. Instead make sure that you have one on your phone before you go or print one off. We thought we would buy one and keep it as a souvenir and found it to be a very poor quality print that was so far zoomed out that it made it pretty pointless.
3) Be Real About What You Can Achieve
We thought that if we got to the first town around 9 then we would be able to walk it all in the day. That was stupid of us. Given the current situation in terms of the paths we do not think that it would be possible to walk it all in a day unless you are planning on seeing nothing and just murdering your calves…we did that anyway and only did one path.
By the time that we finished that walk we were very glad that the train service exists and took full advantage of it.
Also, the last important thing that relates to being real with what you can achieve is making sure that you don’t eat too much. The Cinque Terre has some great food and ice cream (much like Italy as a whole) and it really is a bit tempting to eat at every stop – “fish cones” being a particularly deadly nemesis and I highly recommend that you google them. Unashamedly it was quite an important reason that we went back there for the second time, which is a high level of recommendation from us as we typically don’t go back to places.
We realise that the point of going to somewhere like the Cinque Terre on holiday is to relax. It really is another world where everything is a lot slower, it can be hard to realise that with all of the people, though, sometimes. Shooting through all of it was a bit sacreligious, but we are simply those sort of travellers as we don’t have enough time to do everything that we want to do. Although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend seeing all of the Cinque Terre in just a day we would say that it’s more than possible – especially as the towns are somewhat similar (that is not to say that they are the same) so if you would like to see simply the “main” sites then you will do it all comfortably.
We hope that this article reaches some of you who were in two minds as to whether to go and see it or not and we fully encourage you to go and experience it as it really is quite a unique place!