Let me jump straight to my first non-introductory post and talk about this colourful compound of villages in north-west Italy. Perhaps you’ve seen those small pastel houses all cluttered on a coast from a photo on Instagram and dreamed of your next holiday. Well a couple of years ago, I did exactly that. The first time I saw a picture of this place online, I was smitten. I didn’t automatically pack my bags and jet off to Italy but I took a mental picture of those dreamy pastel coastline and archived it in the ‘Someday’ box I have in my head. A few more photos on my Instagram timeline later, I learned exactly where this previously unnamed little village is. Cinque Terre – Italian meaning ‘five towns’.
As I reached the end of university, I wanted to reward myself with a holiday and what other place could I have possibly chosen? I did my research online, saw an affordable holiday deal, grabbed a few friends and there I was. I must tell you, I wasn’t here for a week, or even a few days. I was here for a day but it was enough for me to be as infatuated as I was when I first saw a photo of this little place.
From Milan Centrale, my friends and I got on a Trenitalia train that took us straight to one of the villages – Monterosso. It was a 6 AM train and the journey lasted just under three hours – sounds like a pain but when you have as much excitement as I did (and my friends, I hope) that was nothing. It also helps that you get to watch some scenic Italian countryside landscapes during the train ride.
We arrived in Monterosso at around 9 AM and it was quite the perfect time – gentle morning sunlight, light warm breeze…and no other tourists! Monterosso is not the most ‘Cinque-terre-esque’ village out of the lot (it doesn’t have many pastel houses scattered all close to each other on the coast like on the photos) but it does have a nice beach with colourful umbrellas to take shade under.
Now we only had a day in Cinque Terre so I planned an itinerary that entailed we only had a couple of hours in each village. A few beach photos taken, a little dip in the sea and we were off to catch a train to the next village. Next stop: Vernazza.
We arrived and I got more excited because Vernazza is one of the most picturesque villages. From the station you are welcomed with the colourful houses. I knew Vernazza looks good from above the hills so I dragged my friends and hiked to the top to catch a glimpse of the beautiful views. You can only climb up to a certain point for free and then you have to pay a small amount to enter the hiking routes. After hiking, we settled down the harbour to relax with a gelato.
Next stop is Riomaggiore – another one of the picturesque villages. Now this one is pretty iconic and in this village you will find the ultimate photo spot that definitely says you are in Cinque Terre.
From Riomaggiore station we walked the village town, up and down the hills, absorbing the vibrant colours.
While researching online, I knew I wanted to end my Cinque Terre visit in the last stop – Manarola. Here is where you find the quintessential Cinque Terre picture (the headline photo).
From the station, you walk a few minutes through a tunnel and arrive at the town centre. Find the coast and keep walking further away from the centre, turn around and voila! – the uttermost picturesque village of Manarola.
Out of the five, Manarola holds a somewhat bigger spot in my heart. Perhaps because we spent the most time here or simply because for me, it is the prettiest village. The pastel colour palette the houses are painted with and the blue shade of the sea make a dreamy picture.
Up the hill there is a small restaurant called Nessun Dorma where you can lounge and sip some vino while admiring the view of Manarola’s coast. Coming here, I was expecting the menu prices to be crazy high but a pleasant surprise – they were the same as in an average restaurant.
A couple of glasses of wine and some giggles later, it was time to catch the train back to Milan. The sun had just started to set down and the sun rays somehow showed the village in a whole new colour. I wish we ended the day with the sunset over the coast but well, it just makes for another reason to go back!
Getting to Cinque Terre: Book trains online on trenitalia.com where tickets to Monterosso from Milan become available 2-3 weeks before your chosen departure date (TIP: book as early as possible to get cheaper tickets – one-way tickets cost 19.90€ when booked in advance)!
Getting around Cinque Terre: The easiest method of getting around Cinque Terre is by trains. One train journey from one village to another costs 4€ and timetables are displayed at the stations. I was actually pretty surprised at how reliable these trains are – they come pretty frequently and take only a few minutes to get to the other villages. You don’t have to book train tickets to the other villages in advance because they are the same price as when bought on the day. Of course if you’re more adventurous there is an option to hike from one village to the other but these hikes are not easy – at least from what I’ve read online. (TIP: validate your train tickets using one of the validation machines dotted around the stations to avoid any fines!). We didn’t have the time to fit the fifth village – Corniglia into our itinerary but this village is also well-connected from the other villages. Perhaps next visit!