Cinque Terre

The storms expected on Friday were a welcome excuse for a break from climbing and some relaxation. Leslie suggested that we go to Cinque Terre (pronounced “cheen-kway ter-ay”). Cinque Terre is a set of five small towns that are built into the rocky cliffs along the west coast of Italy. They used to be very difficult to access, typically requiring a ferry, however the addition of a train track along the coast and the attention of tourism has made the area a bit more accessible.

Naturally we had to visit all five, and determine which cinque is the best cinque, so here they are.

We shot up to the north most town and worked our way south. Stop uno was Monterosso al Mare. This is supposedly the least quintessential town, however, it had a beach, so it had to be the first stop. The beach was so so nice. The water was the perfect temperature of warm enough to enjoy and cool enough to be refreshing. After getting several too many mouthfuls of salt water, we sat on shore for an extremely salty picnic. Ciabatta, olive bread with tons of olives, smoked cheese, pepper cheese, smoked salmon, anchovies, prosciutto, green olives and an artichoke and sun-dried tomato spread. The anchovies were the best despite how excessive my sodium intake was that day.

Stop due was Vernazza. It was so much fun getting lost in the back streets of the town. Be ready to squeeze down some narrow streets and climb some steep stairs with questionable or no railings. Some of the homes have little boards in front of the door to prevent rain drainage from leaking in. The real entertaining part is that there are mailboxes in front of these homes. Whoever this mailman/woman is, they must be very fit!

We hopped back on the train and went one stop to our cinque tre: Corniglia. Only a single house is visible on the cliffside when you exit the train. The path to town involves a long series of stairs up up up. This town was definitely less busy than the others. We stopped in the church and got lost in the back streets for a bit before moving on.

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Stop quatro: Manarola. This was definitely the quintessential cinque. Stepping out of the train there is a narrow street and on the left a staircase leading up to a open terrace. Follow the terrace on and there is a spectacular view down onto the street. Continuing to walk down from here, there is a narrow coastal path that leads down the peninsula away from the town center. From this peninsula there is a great view looking back into town, and it’s also cool to check out the water down below. The sun was setting while we were in Manarola, which I think is the ideal time to visit, just the way the town is lit. There was a couple that we kept finding everywhere we went who basically came here to find places to make out. Very romantic.

Final cinque, Riomaggiore. It was dark by the time we got here. The main street felt a lot wider than in the other towns. We grabbed dinner to-go from a restaurant and ate it on the street, which made the price a lot cheaper. Even in a touristy place like this, 4€ for pretty good pasta.

The verdict (if you care):

  1. Corniglia – I think due to the fact that there is no coast access and you have to climb exactly 1,000,000 flights of stairs to get to it, Corniglia didn’t have the feel of being overwhelmed with tourists the way the other towns did. If I were to go back, I would spend more time and have my meal in this town.
  2. Monterosso – The beach. Enough said.
  3. Manarola – The iconic photo, Manarola seems like a requirement if you are to say you visited Cinque Terre. Furthermore the view from the upper terrace looking down the street is very cool.
  4. Vernazza – This town was nice, but just felt overwhelmingly touristy and there wasn’t anything particularly special about it.
  5. Riomaggiore – We may not have taken the time to explore the back streets, but the wide main strip didn’t have the same Cinque Terre feel.

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