Adventures in Italia: the Cinque Terre

Part 2 of my solo Italian adventure takes place in the Cinque Terre, five little villages on the coast of Liguria and by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (go check out my photos from Florence, Lucca, and Pisa here!). I’ve been obsessively looking at pictures of the area for years now, and to finally get to visit myself was nothing short of surreal. I stayed a total of five nights in Vernazza, town #4 of the Cinque Terre (or five lands), and by the end of my stay I had absolutely fallen in love with it. As opposed to the hustle and bustle of city life in Florence, days in Vernazza were relaxing and laid back. I took a lot of hikes, sat on rocks and listened to the waves, ate a lot of focaccia bread and gelato, and did plenty of exploring around each village. I wasn’t ready to leave by the end of the week… Vernazza has stolen my heart, and I can’t wait to return.

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I got in around 1 o’clock on my first day in Vernazza, and Cristian, the man I rented my apartment from, met me at the train station and carried my suitcase up the steps all the way to my room. My apartment has a terrace overlooking the water… as soon as Cristian left me alone with the keys, I ran out on the balcony and started screaming with excitement. After all, that was my view.

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From there I went down to the harbor and explored Vernazza for the first time.

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Vernazza is pretty famous (and easily recognizable in photos) for its castle, Castello Doria… it’s really cool and also offers some amazing views for photos.

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I tried focaccia bread for the first time that day. Life changing.

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There are lots of hikes you can take between the village of the Cinque Terre, and all of them are beautiful. The most popular routes are the coastal trails above the sea… my absolute favorite was the one between Vernazza and Corniglia, village #3.

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Corniglia is a lot sleepier than Vernazza… I didn’t see a single tourist that afternoon. (for those on the main page, click below to keep reading)

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The next day I woke up at dawn to hike to town #5, Monterosso al Mare.

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Of the 5 villages, Monterosso is the most “beach resorty”. During the season the beach is full of sunbathers and colorful umbrellas, but considering it’s still March and about 55 degrees outside, the place was pretty quiet.

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Monterosso is split up into two sides, the old town and new town. Walking through a tunnel takes you to the new town…

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And then it started raining. Boo. Back to Vernazza!

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Back in 2011, Vernazza suffered a devastating flood that wiped out the village and killed 3 people. Nobody knew if recovery was even possible, but thankfully Vernazza has come a LONG way in the last two years. This little village has a whole lot of spirit and resilience. You can read more about the flood and see pictures at Save Vernazza.

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One of my favorite spots in Vernazza was Il Pirata, owned by the Cannoli brothers, two Sicilian-pastry making twins named Massimo and Luca. Not only is their food delicious, but they are a hoot… the day I left, they told me they expected to see me on David Letterman. Also, don’t be surprised if they tell you to “relax beautifully”. This is Luca…

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Funny enough, anchovies are a local specialty, but they are nothing like the kind you find in the US. Nope, these anchovies are absolutely delicious, which is good because you see them on the appetizer list just about everywhere you go.

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Another one of my favorite spots is Blue Marlin Bar… Vernazza is pretty sleepy at night, so I ended up there most evenings after dinner for a glass of wine. I love the atmosphere.

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This is Massimo,the owner of Blue Marlin and definitely one of my absolute favorite people I met while in Italy. He is kind of crazy and I love him. I have a friend in the US that told me to go Blue Marlin and tell him hello… I’m so glad I followed through with her recommendation. I later learned that, during the 2011 flood, he busted a hole in the wall of the bar and saved the 40 people inside who would have otherwise drowned. The last thing I did before leaving Vernazza was get lunch there and give him a hug.

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The next day was my really long hike, even though it drizzled on and off for most of the day. I woke up and went straight to Corniglia, where I grabbed breakfast and found the harbor…

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The sentiero azzuro (or blue path, the trail over the sea) between Corniglia and Manarola, town #2, was for real closed, so I took the much longer mountain hike through a small village on the mountain, Volastra, instead.

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After a few hours, I was in Manarola!

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Three words: pesto focaccia bread.

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There is a nude beach called Guvano Beach between Vernazza and Corniglia only accessible via a 15 minute walk through a dark abandoned railway tunnel or a hard-to-find unofficial trail down the mountain. The place is essentially closed and, according to Rick Steves, the parks department wants everyone to forget about it, but I wanted to find it. I had heard that the trail was closed since 2012, so my best bet would be the tunnel. From Manarola I took the train back to Corniglia and set out to find it.

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Apparently taking the tunnel was much more illegal than I previously thought. Regardless, I thought it might still be worth it and was going to do it anyways until a tiny truck came through the tunnel. I didn’t know if it was a beachgoer or the owner of the property (there were private property signs) looking for trespassers… so, very reluctantly, I gave up my nude beach dreams.

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That is, until I talked to a couple at the train station that mentioned they had seen a tiny handmade sign for Guvano on the trail between Corniglia and Vernazza. I knew that such a trail had existed but from what I read online it had been wiped out by the flood of 2011… regardless, my hope was restored and I decided to do the Corniglia hike again and find that sign. After about 20 minutes on the blue path I found it. Evidently the trail was still very much there.

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…And then proceeded down the scariest, slickest, steepest trail of my life. Seriously, it was about 2 feet wide and covered in thorns. I ended up scooting down on my butt because I could never find my footing well enough to stand up, much less get my camera out to take a picture! Now I regret not getting a picture of it… but I did make sure to snap this when it finally let me out onto even ground here. So, yeah, the Guvano trail exists. But from the looks of it nobody has used it for a while and you might die if you go on it. I fell in a thorn bush. I don’t know if I’d recommend it. Everything was worth it, though, when I saw the beach!

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No naked people either- I had the beach all to myself.

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The next day I milled around in Vernazza in the morning and grabbed coffee and focaccia at the Blue Marlin…

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From there it was on to Riomaggiore, the first town of the Cinque Terre. They have really pretty tiles in the train station.

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This is Luca, a local diver who showed me around.

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Later on I decided to go to Porto Venere, which is not part of the Cinque Terre but is a short train and bus connection away. I asked Luca (the diver from earlier) what he recommended I do while I was in the area and he said it was his favorite village.

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Back in La Spezia, which is the closest city to the Cinque Terre and kind of a jumping off point for all the villages. I had to catch a bus to get to Porto Venere here, but the info desk in the train station was closed and I couldn’t find any sort of guide as to where each stop was. Since the bus stops are very spread out, I wasn’t sure how to find mine. It ended up being a good walk away… thankfully the locals I asked were very helpful with directions!

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Finally I found my bus and made it to Porto Venere.

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On my final day in the Cinque Terre, I hiked to Santuario della Madonna di Montenero above Riomaggiore, back to Riomaggiore for pesto pizza, and then up to the top of the mountain and back down to get to Manarola.

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I should note that pesto originates in the Liguria region, so the pesto here is really REALLY good. Also, as someone who is allergic to tomato sauce, I was a little obsessed with putting pesto on everything even before taking this trip… as you can imagine, I was in heaven here.

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It was still pretty chilly. I went swimming anyways. And that is the story of how I became the crazy American screaming with excitement waist-deep in the Ligurian sea and fully clothed in hiking gear.

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My final evening was spent in the Vernazza harbor watching the sun set on my favorite rock. Pure bliss.

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What can I say? The Cinque Terre is pure magic, and my time there was one of the best weeks of my life. I will definitely be returning.

FL:R

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