Gateway to the Five Lands
The Cinque Terre conjures up images of towns seemingly built by magic. Homes perched on high, nestled into cliffs overlooking the Ligurian sea. For centuries, hanging on for their lives. These are the "Five Lands" that time, if not tourism, forgot. People come in droves to the area, to experience an Italy almost untouched by modernity, yet stroked with colorful, masterful beauty.
La Spezia is your point of departure to the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital city of the eponymous province, La Spezia isn't without things to see. Located between Genoa and Pisa, this port boasts numerous churches and cathedrals and not one – but two castles. The fort-like Castle of San Giorgio has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, the first being in 1262. "La Cittadella" was constructed by Lorenzo de Medici in the late 15th century. Both are worthwhile visits before taking off to the towns.
With a Eurail Italy Pass, getting to La Spezia is easy despite the rugged landscape. There are direct Le Freccia from Rome, Genoa and Pisa. Getting around the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre is simple thanks to the Regionale train that makes all the local stops: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola. Riomaggiore is yours in just eight minutes from La Spezia.
Riomaggiore sits in a small valley just along the coast. The houses of the medieval village lean into each other, intersected by narrow streets and paths. The entire Cinque Terre offers some of the best coastline hiking in the world, and a path actually connects all five towns. One of the most unforgettable and famous trails is the Via dell'Amore which links Riomaggiore to Manarola. Taking roughly 15 minutes, this "Lovers Walk" offers couples the opportunity to write their names on the rocks and trees surrounding the path.
Once arriving in Manarola (by foot or by rail), you'll find a town filled with boats and tasty seafood restaurants serving fresh-from-the-sea anchovies. Manarola also has lovely swimming areas, accessible from the "Blue Trail" – a part of the hiking path where you'll need to purchase an inexpensive pass to access. Grab your suit, pack a little picnic and find your own private swimming hole.
Further along the Blue Trail, Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, and is just as quaint as the other towns. There is a little piazza with a communal olive press where you can sit and pass the time. Vernazza lies just to the north, and the path gets a little steep. This part of the trail affords great views of both Corniglia and and Manarola. The town itself has a maze of tiny streets and slightly worn buildings. Don't let the façade fool you. This is a lively town with great nightlife.
The least charming of the towns is Monterosso, which is mostly built up to accommodate tourists. Large hotels don't quite fit in with the scenery here, but the beach is large and lovely as are the beachfront restaurants.
When in La Spezia, it's possible to purchase a train and hiking pass in one. Walk a little, then hop on the train and let the scenery unfold outside your window. Suspended between sea and land on cliffs upon the beautiful sea, the Cinque Terre requires a suspension of disbelief. The implausible idea that people live like this: surrounded by intense beauty, in homes that appear stuck to stone, stuck in time.
Contributed by: Lothaire, a Marketing Manager in the eBusiness team, has lived 4 years in Paris and used to take overnight trips on the Eurostar to go clubbing in London.