Cinque Terre is one of those places that I’ve been dreaming of ever since I first stumbled across it on Pinterest. It became my happy place, my go-to daydream during the many painful hours I spent in my call-centre cubicle while I was saving for travel.
To me, it seemed that Cinque Terre had it all. National park, UNESCO World Heritage listed, charming small towns, great food, hikes in nature, beautiful blue seas.
However, this daydream didn’t quite turn out as I expected it to be when I finally made it to the beautiful Italian riviera.
Firstly, weather was forecasted to be thunderstorms and a chilly 15 degrees for my entire stay – so much for sunny hikes in nature. Secondly I got a miserable cold after being caught in the rain in Florence.
Luckily the weather didn’t turn out so bad once I arrived, but I struggled doing the hikes with my constantly runny nose and blocked sinus-headaches.
The tourist hoards were also frustrating, although that came as no surprise. The foreign crowds taking over the region detracted from the authenticity of the place, as it felt like it existed just to cater to tourists rather than as a real place where locals go about their everyday lives. I can’t imagine what it would be like in peak season, as it was already crowded in May. Although admittedly I was part of the crowd, therefore part of the problem, so I shouldn’t really complain.
It was also quite amusing watching the crowd which was mostly made up of retirees. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many excitable, gregarious 50 year-olds. It was heartwarming, but also didn’t help my headaches. Clearly they’d also been dreaming of coming here for a while.
Although it was full of tourists, it wasn’t as commercialised as some other tourist hot-spots. The shops, guesthouses and restaurants were locally owned and the towns were well-preserved but also had a bit of that shabby, authentic charm, rather than pristinely painted for enjoyment of the tourists.
Cinque Terre is one of the few places where I felt quite aware of being a solo traveller, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was lonely. It had such a family-holiday/romantic vibe to it. I’ll have to come back one day with someone special to enjoy it with.
How I spent my days
My cold hadn’t fully hit me on the first day, and the weather wasn’t so bad. So I made the most of it and hiked from Monterosso (the town furthest north) to Vernazza.
My research told me that it was the most beautiful hike to do and I was not disappointed. It took about two hours and was fairly easy going after the initial trek up the stairs to the cliffside. It has this iconic view as you arrive in Vernazza.
I found a nice hidey-hole under a tree just left of this viewpoint where I ate my packed lunch and read my book, and even had a nap (the walk was a bit too much for my aching sick body). I took the train back to Riomagiorre (the town furthest south) and had a relaxing evening eating calamari from Mamma Mia before an early night in bed.
The next day I took the train to Manorola. You’ll find more iconic view points here, it’s quite similar to Vernazza in character.
Then I continued on the train to Corniglia, a hilly town perched on a cliff, rather than right on the coast like the other towns. The train station is a little way out of town, so you have to take the bus (you can use the Cinque Terre card for your ticket), or climb the stairs.
Things to know
Earlier this year articles were circulating saying that they were going to limit the number of tourists allowed in Cinque Terre. I think this was just a rumour because I didn’t encounter anything like that. So don’t worry about it.
Cinque Terre is known for being less than budget friendly. I stayed at Mar-Mar hostel in Riomaggiore, which was fine but for the lack of wifi. It was 30 euros a night, including breakfast. It had a lovely balcony.
As far as food goes, I usually bought pastries from bakeries with some fruit from a grocery shop for a cheap lunch. Dinners consisted of cheap fish’n’chips or 5 euro homemade pesto trofie pasta from Primo Piatto. My one indulgence was at a wine bar at A Pie’ de Ma’, where I had to try some of the locally made wine and enjoy the stunning views.
The other annoying expense is that you have to pay for the Cinque Terre card which is your ticket for the blue hiking trails (the main ones along the coast) and the train between the towns. I paid 28 euro for a two day pass, so it’s not cheap. You could easily do it all in one big day and just buy the one day pass for 15 euro, but I wanted to take my time. They do check the cards (although I think it was only once in the two days I was there) so it’s a good idea to buy one.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in Cinque Terre. It is incredibly stunning, so you won’t be disappointed in that. It was just a reminder that colds and bad moods and bad weather can strike anywhere. Even in the paradise you’ve been idealising for years.
Have you ever had a travel experience that differed from your expectations?