Visiting Cinque Terre was high on my list, because I heard so much about this place. As much as I loved spending time in Florence, getting out of town and exploring the seaside was just too irresistible. Turned out it was an easy day trip with awesome public transport opportunities and the experience was just unforgettable!
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is a name of 5 fishing villages along the coast of Italian Riviera in Liguria region. It is also a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. One thing that makes this place so special – it almost feels like time has stopped here. The villages are built over rock terraces and very little signs of modern development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside.
How to get to Cinque Terre from Florence?
Just like all other train tickets, we booked a return trip from Florence to La Spezia via Trenitalia website. Once you arrive at the train station, go to train ticket office and buy a Cinque Terre Card for the park. The pass allows you to travel between all 5 towns via train and local bus. Moreover, it contains a park pass (you won’t be allowed on the hiking trail otherwise). Price for 1 day pass – 16€ (at the time of writing).
Now, take the local train to Levanto and get off at any of the towns and enjoy Cinque Terre!
Experiencing Cinque Terre by train or bus may be a great way, however, not the best. The best way is to hike one of the trails between these cute little towns. In fact, most people do just that. Among the best hikes, in my opinion, is the trail from the furthest town – Monterosso, to Vernazza. I’m not going to say it’s easy hike – took us around 3 hours. But it was so worth it! By the way – that was the only hike we did that day. If you are only planning to do one hike – this one is the best.
Monterosso al Mare
The furthest village from La Spezia is Monterosso al Mare. It has a great beach, few bars and cafes and most important – it’s a starting point (or ending point) of the hiking trails. For us it was a beginning of a long hike, so we took our time to drink quick espresso, have a really delicious pastry and buy some water for the hike. If you have more time or come in summer, I’m sure you could spend some lovely hours on the beach and go for a swim.
Monterosso-Vernazza hiking trail
The trail starts off with many-many steps. I read some suggestions to do it the other way round, but, in my opinion, it’s far better to climb up than down (easier on the knees). Anyway, once you pass the first ~500 steps, it gets more even with occasional ups and downs. The view is stunning all the way up! You will see wineries, wild flowers, olive trees and many lizards.
The trail is rather narrow and you will see many people coming your way, so need to be extra careful. We didn’t see many railings and by the end of the hike your feet will be very tired and start to get wobbly. Good shoes are a must, although I did the whole hike in very light Sketchers.
By the time you start feeling sick of all the walking, you will soon see Vernazza from the distance. It is a view of million dollars and the main reason we took exactly this trail! So beautiful, that you just stand and stare for a while.
Tips for the hike
A lot of water is a MUST! We went in mid May and it was already quite hot (+25C). I had about 1 liter of water with me and it was barely enough, had to spare it by the end and drink less. Generally I wouldn’t do this hike in summer, because it will be crazy – very hot and lots of people!
Good shoes – preferably hiking shoes with good ventilation. Honestly, I can’t imagine how some girls were moving around in what we call “winter boots”. I’m not saying flip flops are okay – but simple sneakers will do just fine.
Also – bring a cap to cover your head and good sun screen (SP 20 and up). The sun is quite aggressive and even though the trail has some occasional shade, many times you will be out in the sun.
Upon arrival in Vernazza, first thing we did was dipping our tired feet in the water. Then – start looking for food. And believe me, there is no shortage of that here! Little town Vernazza is a tiny little paradise with different dining options, gelato (ice cream), souvenirs and other Italian goodies.
We didn’t feel like eating to much because it was so hot outside and went for a quick snack and drink – stuffed mussels taste heavenly!
Visiting Cinque Terre was a big highlight of our Italy trip. I’m so glad we did the hike too – you can only truly appreciate the whole beauty of this place from above. I imagine it also looks great from the water (you can take a boat between towns as well). We didn’t see other villages due to lack of time. Sadly, that’s a problem if you are not staying overnight somewhere near.
However, one hike and two villages will give you a good perspective and certainly a wish to come back some day!