Cinque Terre

I could have spent a week hiking in Cinque Terre, but my plans to travel the Mediterranean got changed because of an unforeseen circumstance. Today, I finally got around to spending a day in Cinque Terre. And it was one very hectic day. Cinque Terre or Five Lands as the name implies, consists of five villages: Portovenere, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Manarola and Monterosso Al Mare.  They're hidden in tiny coves along the craggy stretch of the Liguria coastline. Because of very high cliffs and rugged terrain, Cinque Terre was inaccessible and had been isolated and virtually unknown to outsiders for centuries. 

Today, Cinque Terre is one of the most visited places in Italy. Like most people, Cinque Terre has been on my travel bucket list for years. Pictures of Cinque Terre are among the most posted on social media or popular on Instagram.  And for good reason: Cinque Terre has the most gorgeous scenic landscape, with century old churches and multi-colored dwellings built into the cliffs high above the blue sea. The panoramic hills with daringly carved stepped vineyards reaching toward the sky are a remarkable sight. But, there’s something missing in those glorious pictures posted on social media: the crowd - lots and lots of people.

You would think that you’re visiting a laid-back place and that you would be able to take your time and enjoy your lunch or coffee or a glass of wine while catching the sea breeze and looking over the scenic views. But I saw a bunch of tourists and even hikers rushing into the cafes or restaurants to get a bite so they would not miss the boat or the train. I cannot speak for those who were doing the walking or hiking tours, but as a day-tripper, getting there was not easy. I took a day trip that started with a long bus ride to La Spezia, then a public boat and hopped on the train to get to the other villages and finally to La Spezia.  And mind you, the trains were very crowded, with train stations busier than the New York central station.

I took the boat from Portovenere, where most visitors set off to see the scenic views from the sea. As if by design, the view was welcoming, especially the view of a church built into the rocky cliff.

Then a stunningly beautiful landscape after beautiful landscape for the eyes and the camera followed. 

The boat ride ended at Monterosso Al Mare, the northernmost village and the busiest. Upon arrival, we sat down to enjoy lunch of seafood and tried the local wine that had a bit of a salty taste because it was produced from the vineyard facing the sea. After lunch, I hiked up to the Monastery of San Francisco for more astonishing views. Then I went exploring. Monterosso Al Mare seemed to be the biggest of the villages of  the Cinque Terre with small hotels and expansive beach area. However, as a day-tripper, I did not really have much time to enjoy the beach. But it was okay because I had seen better beaches with white sand and warm waters.
Monterosso Al Mare

I took the crowded train back to visit the other villages. Vernazza was another busy village. The narrow streets lined with souvenir shops, cafes and gelaterias converged into the tiny square by the water's edge.  My time there was very limited, just enough to consume two scoops of gelato and explore the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a church built in the 12th century, and has a unique entryway and a nave and two aisles with an octagonal bell tower. Built into the rock, the church practically sits by the water’s edge.

Manarola is the prettiest and probably has the best views of the vineyards. Part of the charm of Cinque Terre is the narrow roads and inaccessibility. There’s a trail that connects the five villages, but I only set foot on the “Via Dell’Amore” (Lover’s trail) that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. So imagine the number of visitors trying to do the same thing.

So if you are planning to visit Cinque Terre, expect to take different modes of transport for cars just don’t belong there. Plan to do a hiking tour, experience the trail that connects the five villages, and expect to see lots and lots of people. 

I must say that the astonishing landscape was worth the long and uncomfortable trip, but I have no desire of going back to Cinque Terre anytime soon. I'm just happy to finally check off Cinque Terre from my travel bucket list.



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