I had fallen in love with Cinque Terre the moment I saw pictures of the colorful villages cascading down craggy mountainsides onto the azure Ligurian Sea and had always wanted to visit it ever since. That chance came when we went on a Mediterranean cruise and the ship docked in Livorno where we signed up for the day trip to explore this beautiful slice of Italy.
Leaving the Norwegian Lines’ Epic docked in the port of Livorno which is a short 45-minute drive to Cinque Terre.
The bus left the port early in the morning and we headed for La Spezia where we picked up our tour guide before disembarking in Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages. Here we walked down thru winding steps of the town to the harbor’s rocky and pebbly beach where we boarded the boat to the next stop: Manarola.
La Spezia is the second largest city in Liguria next to Genoa. It has a sprawling naval base which is the largest in Italy and makes for a good base to visit the five villages by train that runs through them. The view from the top of the winding road is postcard pretty and gives a preview of what is to come.
The road passes right above Riomaggiore with its mostly yellow pastel houses that lead all the way down to the narrow harbor where you’ll find multi-colored boats bobbing up and down on the azure waters.
The view of the rocky mountainsides here is the stuff that ‘s featured in postcards with the pastel-colored houses dangerously teetering above the edge of the stony waterfront promenade lined with fishing boats. At sunset, with the deep blue waters contrasting against the orange-red sky hovering above the twinkling lights of the town, the stunning sight is other-worldy.
Just look at the colored houses perched on the rocky slopes of Manarola and you surely will fall in love with the place!
The terraced vineyards produce the famous local wine Sciacchetra which is quite sweet. This contraption is actually a railway of sorts where wooden boxes take down the harvested grapes from the top of the mountain all the way down to the town where they have the wineries.
We bypassed Corniglia and thankfully so because it would take an arduous climb to reach the top from the small quay 100 meters down below.
Corniglia sits atop a hundred-meter high rocky promontory and you need to walk across a mountain trail to reach it because there is no direct sea access. So we skipped it as the boat made its way to Vernazza. Here, the small crowded harbor was packed with tourists and you sort of have to fight your way to the main plaza which is lined with shops and restaurants that wind all the way to the center of town where you have, well, more of the same! In mid-summer, the cool interiors of the church of Sta. Margherital right by the calm waters of the bay was a welcome refuge from the heat outside and after some time we couldn’t resist the call of the ubiquitous gellato shops which were cheek-by-jowl everywhere.
Shooting the breeze on the boat that left Manarola on its way to Vernazza. We were about forty in the group and everyone was having fun based on the loud chatter and the raucous laughter that accompanied us all throughout the trip.
The quiet inlet beside the plaza drew visitors into town with the 13th-century Sta. Margherita church with its domed belfry that also doubled as a clock tower on the left and shops of all kinds on the right.
Aside from people-watching, we sat under the shade of these trees having our gellato icecream. It was so addictive that we had two in every stop trying to compare all the innumerable flavors and we were hard put deciding which was the best.
Scarves and colorful wristbands were pretty good bargains.
Everything that we ordered in this old-style trattoria where we had lunch was so yummy!
After about an hour of tramping around, we all boarded the boat for the last leg which was Monterosso. Of the five villages, this is the only one with a proper beach which stretched quite a bit running through the length of the town. We visited the beautiful old church of St. John the Baptist, sampled some of the local wine for free at one of the wine shops and sat down for a late lunch of delicious seafood pasta with plates of thick local bread at a trattoria whose stone wall interiors made it look like an impregnable fortress. Then we sat down eating gellato (what else?) on one of the park benches watching the locals go about their business. Before we knew it, time was over and we had to take the short train ride to the waiting bus that ferried us back to Livorno.
The narrow streets were filled with people jostling each other but it was fun meandering around through its nooks and crannies although it was tiring since most of the way was up!
The wife waiting for her gellato didn’t know that I had a good helping already of her share! 😉
Monterosso is flatter than the other four villages and the beach is a big draw for the locals and tourists alike. It is divided into the old part of the the town and the new one by a tunnel that connects both of them. We had to pass thru this to get to the train station where we took the ride back to where we came from.
The only beachfront in Cinque Terre is pretty popular with tourists.
An old local sits on one of the numerous benches scattered around town watching the world go by.
The old walkway leading to Monterosso and the interiors of the town’s main church.
We took this train to the outskirts of town where the buses were waiting to bring us back to the ship.
The zigzagging highway out of the mountains.
Our guide Matteo told us that there were several hiking trails between the villages which used to be the only link between them – aside from the sea – ages ago and that they were a photographer’s paradise. But since our brief stay of six hours only sampled the sights, I vowed that one day we would return for a longer stay. There is something in the Cinque Terre that I can’t put my finger on but the place sure beckons you to come back and it becomes an itch that has to be scratched. Again.