Written by consultant Ann Coleman
I recently spent the weekend in the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands” is a rugged area along the coast near the Italian Riveria. The name is derived from the 5 villages built among the cliffs during the Dark Ages by locals hiding from pirates. Today these villages and the surrounding hills and seaside are part of the Cinque Terre National Park. This is a popular tourist spot for good reason; the beauty of the area and the charm of the small villages that are still very authentic is an experience unlike any other.
While I had not travelled there before, I was familiar with the area and thought I knew what to expect… I was blown away by the beauty of the area. I mean, I had seen many, many pictures but to actually see it in person was breathtaking. I only had two days and I wished that I would have had more.
We drove from Avingon, France to Sestri Levante, Italy on a Saturday morning. While it is much faster than the train, I am not sure I would recommend self-driving. I still get sick to my stomach thinking about the curvy roads, long dark tunnels and high bridges. Not to mention the way Europeans drive! Yikes! While we took the highway (which had amazing views), if time allows I would recommend making a long day trip out of the drive and taking the coastal roads. That way you can take your time, enjoy the scenery and stop to stroll a bit in the resort towns when you need a break from the car.
Sestri Levante is a little town across the bay from Portofino and by the time we arrived in the late afternoon, I was excited to get out and explore! The town sits in between two bays, the Bay of Silence and the Bay of Fables. Sestri Levante is full of cobblestone pedestrian streets with little bars, cafes and gelato shops while larger restaurants face the promenade that runs along the shore. Many of the locals were out and about, and it was fun to wander among them. Sestri Levante is less glamorous than Portofino but less busy as well. I thought it was a perfect base for our quick trip.
We were up early the following morning and ready to hike! It takes just over an hour by train to get to the furthest village south in the Cinque Terre from Sestri Levante. Due to damage and maintenance, the first two trails sections were closed so we started at the third village, Corniglia. We arrived at the train station, found the little CT info booth and purchased our passes for the day. (Each of the 5 towns has a CT office located in the train station.) We asked the guy in the booth where the trail was and headed off in the direction he pointed. Soon enough we came across the telltale red and white stripes that mark the trail. The trail is fairly easy to follow and is not too difficult. There are lots of stairs so you do need to be fit to hike, but you are rewarded for those climbs with views of such beauty that make every step worth it.
If you are not a hiker, there are other ways to see this UNESCO site. The local train runs all day from the larger cities to the north and south stopping at each village many times throughout the day. During the high season there is a ferry that runs between the ports in each of the small villages if you prefer to travel by water. A day long pass gets you transport on either of these options making it easy to visit any or all of villages.
By about 1:00pm we had made it to Monterosso al Mare—the furthest village north. This is a great place to stop for lunch as it is one of the larger villages and had a bit more going on than the others. We found a great little place along the ocean and dined al fresco on local delicacies of seafood and focaccia. After lunch we spent a bit of time wandering the few streets that make up the village and then caught the train back to Sestri Levante.
Unfortunately we had to head back to France (That sounds just terrible… Unfortunately, we had to head back to France…?! Rough job.) on Monday morning. I was not ready to go and wished I had had one more day to explore. There is so much to do and see in the area that two nights does not do it justice!
The views, activities, food, and people of the Cinque Terre/Liguria region lend to such a great and unique experience; one of my favorite in my two months of exploration, actually! It is certainly a place one must visit in their lifetime. Put it high on the list!