Planning a trip to the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 hilltop towns. For your visit make sure you stop at Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The town of Portovenere is also lovely and only a 30 minute bus ride from La Spezia making it very worth a visit.
La Spezia is the closest national train station. To access the Cinque Terre you will need to grab a national train to La Spezia and then take the regional train to each of the Cinque Terre Hilltop towns from there. Genoa is the closest airport to the Cinque Terre. Travelling Europe by train? Just out these Eurail options. Or book a flight from anywhere in Europe using EasyJet.
Where to stay
Staying in the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore will be absolutely idyllic but can be on the pricier side. Staying in La Spezia is a more affordable option and you can easily access the town by train from there.
You will need to purchase the Cinque Terre railway card. This is a card costing 12 euros which allows you unlimited train access between the 5 towns, the permit to all the hiking trails, as well as free wifi and toilet access. Depending on what sort of holiday you have planned you can just catch the train between each town or you can hike between them. My time budget only allowed me the train option but one day I would love to return and do the hikes.
I made my way to Rome airport early that Saturday morning, chatting to the friendly American seated next to me on the hour-long bus ride. Upon my arrival I noticed straight away the chaos that seemed to have engulfed Rome Fiumicino. Screens all around flashed notices of cancelled or delayed flights.
Italy was striking.
Everything seemed to be going fine and even though most other flights were being cancelled my flight’s status remained unchanged. It wasn’t until a short while before I was supposed to start boarding that it was announced that my flight too, had been cancelled. My heart sunk. I couldn’t believe how bad my luck had been! Both flights there and back cancelled! Except this time there wasn’t a lovely lady telling me they’d accommodate me free of charge in a luxurious hotel until my flight the next morning. No. There was a mad rush of everyone trying to get on the next plane and so the next flight I could get was Monday evening. TWO DAYS LATER. My head began to swim with a million questions of what I should do and how on earth I was going to get home. I contacted my host mom and she graciously said I could extend my stay if I needed to and why not make the most of this opportunity to visit another part of Italy and come back by train.
The normal, control-freak, super planner Olivia would have nervously laughed at the idea of taking an unexpected detour and politely declined. But this year has shaped, grown and changed me in more ways than I’d imagined possible and so I shocked myself. I decided in that moment that I was going to grab this opportunity with both hands and go visit a place in Italy I’ve been dreaming of: Cinque Terre.
A few hours of teary-eyed “Mom, I’m scared” phone calls, trying to find trains and accommodation with a very sketchy airport free wifi connection later, I found myself running back to the bus stop and hopping on a bus back to Rome city centre where I’d catch a train to La Spezia. I had quickly made a (very expensive) booking at a hotel in La Spezia and saved some google map directions of how to walk there from the train station. But other than that I had no plan. This was a new adventure! I was filled with excitement but at the same time a butterfly, uneasy feeling of the unknown.
Once I’d checked into my hotel and had a long conversation asking a million questions of how best to see the Cinque Terre, I flopped down on my bed and breathed the biggest sigh of relief. It had been a stressful day to say the least but I was safe and sound. I had come to La Spezia on a whim, only knowing the name because my mom had remembered it from her travels many years ago. It turned out that I was in the perfect spot to be seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre: 5 beautiful hilltop towns composed of colorful buildings clinging to the cliffs hanging over crystal clear, turquoise waters.
I only had one full day here and so had to plan it properly to be able to fit everything in. It was ambitious but I did it. After walking to La Spezia train station I purchased my Cinque Terre railway card. This is a card costing 12 euros which allows you unlimited train access between the 5 towns, the permit to all the hiking trails, as well as free wifi and toilet access. It was SO worth it. I hopped on a train and set off for the first town: Riomaggiore.
I wandered along the boardwalk lining the inviting water and breathed in the fresh sea air. It was the first time in under four months that I’d seen the sea. It warmed my heart a great deal. Walking through the cobbled streets of the hilltop town I was approached by a kind and gentle old man, “I am no tour guide but you see that yellow house over there, that’s where I live. I was born in this town and I hope to one day die in this town. Come sit with me for two minutes and let me tell you about my home.” I sat with him a little while listening to his story. It was such a strange, unexpected but beautiful encounter.
Next stop: the most beautiful Manarola. I saw a sign saying, “Welcome to Paradise” and I don’t think there could’ve been a more accurate way to describe this beautiful place. The cliffs are lined with hiking trails that allow you to get up high and admire the breath-taking views below you. These pathways are in among gardens filled with vegetables and fruit trees which boast the fertility of the earth.
Another quick 2 minute train ride later and I arrived at Corniglia. This town was the smallest and least exciting of all but I found a cute and quirky lunch spot there. I enjoyed a refreshing mint drink and a yummy focaccio.
After Corniglia was Vernazza. This was definitely my favourite of the five towns and be far the most beautiful and picturesque.
I grabbed a gelato (Chantilly cream and Cinque Terre sweet wine flavour- YUM) and sat down on the pier watching the waves gently lapping against the rocks. It was a perfect moment, sitting there enjoying the sunshine and sweet ice cream.
The next town was Monterosso which was really just a beach. But my, it felt SO good to dip my toes in the cool sea water. I spent a little while there lying on the pebbled beach, relaxing and enjoying the spring sunshine (maybe a little bit too much. This pale skin had got too used to the European winter and came out a little bit on the tomato red side).
And that covered the 5 beautiful towns of the Cinque Terre. It was a tight schedule but I saw all of it and was blown away by the absolute beauty of it all. The last place I wanted to see before heading home was a peninsula town of Portovenere. I took the 30 minute bus there and was left in awe as I looked upon the incredible raw beauty of what I saw before me.
I celebrated my last night in Italy (for real this time) with a delicious seaside meal of scampi linguine. I looked out upon the harbor at the boats bobbing away gently with a background of the setting sun. It was gorgeous and the perfect way to end off the most amazing and unforgettable trip. The next day after 8 hours of door to door travel I finally arrived home safe and sound back in Annemasse, France . This trip taught me so many things about myself but most of all it taught me to embrace the detours.