Monday, September 30, 2013

ET 3.04 - Cinque Terre, Italy

Actual date of this event: 12-14 September

Cinque Terre is pronouced "CHEEN-qwa terray". Or something like that.

In Italian, 'cinque' means five, and 'terre' means lands, so five lands for the five towns that make up the area of Cinque Terre. We visited them all and were exhausted!
First things first... we arrived from Florence (from the south), so we had to go to a town called La Spezia. At La Spezia, we had to use the old fashioned timetable posted in the station to determine which train we needed to take to get to Riomaggiore which is where we were staying. Even though all trains going through CT will pass through each town, not all trains stop at each town. And the trains going through Cinque Terre aren't extremely frequently, so we had to time everything just right or else we could have gotten stuck waiting for up to two hours for a train. The train is really neat because it goes through tunnels in the cliffs but peeks out at the water at each town.

Cinque Terre is absolutely beautiful, but there are a few things that can be a bit frustrating:
1.) major lack of wifi, everywhere
2.) English is not extremely well known like most other places, but we didn't find it to be a problem
3.) many places don't accept credit cards, but there are some that do
4.) many of the towns have either hills or loads of stairs or both so not great for anyone who has trouble with either
5.) restaurants book up so either early dinner or reservations are fairly necessary
6.) limited online resources - I saw very few hotels in all of the towns while doing prior online research but when I got there, there were hotels everywhere.
7.) I think, but I am not definite, that most hotels are actually apartments, and I think, but I am not definite, that most of the apartments are not "top" quality. I wouldn't expect to find a true 5 star hotel in Cinque Terre.
8.) no parking - specifically in Riomaggiore where there are zero places to park because there aren't even any streets to drive down. As for the other towns, places for vehicles also seemed very limited.

Let's move on to the reasons why Cinque Terre is spectacular!
Note: The order in which I write about the towns is the order from north to south along the Ligurian Coast.

the town with the beaches, the northern most town
The town is split into two parts: old town and new town with a walkway and tunnel connecting the two. Both parts of the town have beaches with chairs and umbrellas. The sand isn't the prettiest, but the landscape around makes up for it. We had hopes of swimming, but chose not to. We had three other towns to visit, and we would have run out of time if we swam. Restaurants run along the beaches and are also in the town, so there is plenty to see if you aren't much of a beach person. We chose to eat lunch here before moving on to the next town.

the town that is "most beautiful" (taken from the linked website), the fishing village
I wouldn't have said it was the most beautiful but it was definitely beautiful (they are all beautiful so it is hard to decide which is the most). Vernazza is apparently a bit more lively and has more of a night life than the other towns. Its harbor has a wall that is perfect for laying in the sun or in the shade, and it is not difficult to swim here either. We laid down for about 30 minutes and took a quick nap, but we could have stayed there forever. Vernazza has a castle where it is possible to get a super high view out over the town and of the coastline. A small tunnel will take you to a secret rocky beach, but it is only accessible when the tide is low. In 2011, Vernazza was devastated by a flood of rain, but it seemed to be fairly close to its original state during our visit. After our nap, we decided to hike high along the coast to the next town rather than take the train (more info on that later in this post).

Check out this video of a guy treading water in this "wave pool" and another guy jumping into the water. Talk about dangerous! I have no idea how they planned to get out of the water.
the town that is super quaint and cannot be reached by sea
While we were in Corniglia, it was a much quieter town than the others. I felt it was the "well-to-do" town although it may not have been - we just got that vibe. There are some great shops and a small square with cafes that make it a perfect place to sit for a snack and drink. Corniglia is surrounded by grapes and olives. Since the town is located so high up, to get to and from the train station, there is a bus that can take you or you can take the 382 steps.

the town with the best deep water swimming
We visited this town last and only had an hour to do so due to the train times. We pretty much found a spot along the cliff to look out at the water and at the town and just relaxed. Manarola is most known for their local wine and also the "lovers trail" which connects to Riomaggiore.

the southern most town, the town for cliff diving
We stayed in Riomaggiore, and I still think it was my favorite of all of the towns. The town lies in a valley, so each side is layered and layered and then layered some more (our apartment was at least 160 steps from the main road). We had a terrific view from our hotel balcony which made up for its 1930's decor, tiny shower and lack of eating utensils (we had to "take" a fork from a restaurant to eat eggs in the morning). On Friday night, we could hear the party going on down by the water (I wouldn't be surprised if that happens every weekend and also in every town), but since we are old and tired, we chose to sit on our balcony and drink wine in our PJ's. Swimming is possible, but only by diving off of rocks (there are low rocks not only cliffs) rather than a beach. (Note: This first picture is the view from our apartment balcony!)

Here is a video of two guys jumping off of a 'small' cliff. First guy jumps at 0:17 and the second guy jumps at 0:33.
one of the main reasons to go to Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a national park and has some terrific trails that run to and from each town. If you are not a fan of walking and seeing spectacular views along the coast, there are other options to get between the towns. There is a ferry boat that will drop you off right at the bottom except there is no drop off at Corniglia. You can also take the train, but be careful with train times. We bought a 6 hour ticket that allowed us to travel between La Spezia and Monterosso as much as we wanted. We traveled by train between all of the towns except between Vernazza and Corniglia where we took the blue walking trail along the coast. Due to landslides, the blue trail was closed except for this section. During our walk, we ended up climbing up about 700ft and then went back down. It was a tough walk and it was really hot, but so beautiful! There was a breeze and shade at times and halfway between we came across a hippie who gave us free water and free figs. I didn't think I liked figs, but they were yum! If you do travel to Cinque Terre, I encourage to walk part of the trail!

Cinque Terre's main cuisine is seafood followed by the sweet dessert white wine called SciachetrĂ  made from raisins.

P.S. This was probably the most difficult blog post that I have ever written. It was so difficult to choose between all of our pictures. The only way I was able to finish was that I told myself I could not watch the Breaking Bad Series Finale until I finish this post. So off I am to watch BB now!! eeeeee so excited!

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