I’m going to step away from Rome for a bit… and step into the colours, the waters and the beauty of Cinque Terre. A few hours’ drive from Florence, it is a must-see detour if you have a day to spare. A lot of people automatically think of the Amalfi Coast and places like Positano when thinking of seaside villages in Italy. The wonderful thing about Italy is, there are two places like this in the country – the Amalfi Coast in the south and Cinque Terre in the north. Because we were visiting mainly northern cities, we decided to go to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre literally translates to ‘Five’ (Cinque) Lands (Terre)’ or 5 villages off the coast of the Ligurian Sea. And they are indeed villages – little, compact and standing still in time. Although I’ll let you know they are not as vivid and bright as all the filtered Instagram posts – they’re more subdued in their colours but still postcard worthy and worth the travel distance.
Before we planned to go to Italy, it was a must of mine that we visited these beautiful seaside villages since I’d seem them so much on social media and wanted to take them in, in person. Thus it is no surprise that this was part of the trip I was very excited about. We booked a tour to take us from Florence to Cinque Terre and show us around the 5 villages. There are two tours you can book through Viator – one is where they drop you from Florence to the first village and you hike your way across the rest of them yourself. The second option is where they take you through them with a train to each of the next village and you avoid the hike if you don’t want to do all the walking. Seeing as we were going in Summer, (and given my fasciitis foot condition), Imran and I decided we’d take the 2nd option and hop on the train each time with our tour to take us around. This turned out to be SO much easier because when I say it’s a lot of walking to each of the next village, it’s not an exaggeration. I saw people hiking through the narrow pathways from one village to the next and it did not seem easy at all, given the hot temperatures when we went in June. Perhaps it is easier to walk when the weather is cooler, and you want to enjoy the views all along the coast (they are beautiful views!). I’d recommend taking the hiking tour starting late September onwards, when the weather cools and the crowds die down a bit. Cinque Terre is more of a Spring to Fall place, so I imagine in the winter it’s cold with less businesses open than the other seasons.
Okay I digress. Let’s come back to the morning we were to depart for CT. We went to a meeting point by the Florence train station around 7 am and met up with the rest of the crowd while there along with our tour guides. Once they’d registered everyone and all the administrative stuff was taken care of, we were off! Traveling in a coach with a large crowd (we were part of the crowd that didn’t opt in for the lunch option with the tour), we were let alone to sleep for an hour or so since it was still early in the morning. We were making our way through the region of Tuscany, but not exactly the postcard countryside views we are used to seeing. As we got closer, the tour guide started giving us more information on the region. One of the cooler things I remember traveling to our destination is, along the way, we passed along mountains in the distance that seemed like they were covered in snow in June– except they weren’t. These were mountains in a town called Carrara where inside them marble was discovered so they’d been mined for their marble to create all the pieces of work we see all over Italy. Hillsides literally cut up and carved out for precious Italian marble that from afar look like snowy glaciers on mountains. I imagine up close it’s a fascinating sight to see.
As we got closer to Cinque Terre, we began to see glimpses of the houses on the mountains but it’s not until you are quite close to Cinque Terre that you view the colourful villages in their entirety. There is only one place where you can glimpse all 5 fishing villages at once and it’s while you’re driving and can’t stop on the road unfortunately. That was our first glimpse of the place we’d be spending the day and it was a sort of surreal experience – going from liking things on Instagram and Facebook to getting a sneak peek in person. The one thing you do see though is the farming that the people of each village have done on the sides of the hills. It’s beautiful and picturesque and not easy for the farmers – the hills are steep and going up and down them requires clever footwork. But these farmers can grow olives, lemons and grape vineyards for their famous Cinque Terre region wine. Some farmers have created little pulleys for themselves so it’s easier going up and down these slopes and it’s fascinating to see how resilient the people of this place are and have been through the centuries.
While we were on the coach traveling to Cinque Terre, we were told we’d be visiting 4 villages out of the 5. And as much as I felt robbed of the “full” experience, I am so glad we did not visit all 5. In fact, I would have been glad to visit 3 of the 5. The reason for this is, by the time you’ve seen 2 or 3, you get the gist of what Cinque Terre is and you’d rather spend more time at each of the villages you visit than trying to rush to the next. The views of the water are similar from each village’s coast, and the colours, shapes and layout of the towns do not change much from one to the next.
The 4 fishing villages we saw were Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso and Riomaggiore, in this order. Although all are super picturesque, Manarola is the one we see the most posted all over and stepping into this village first satisfies the heart like no other. It is small yet stunning. Walking through the streets and seeing the inside of the town is a pleasant experience – you go through shops with lemon smelling soaps, Cinque Terre crafted scarves, the smell of delicious fish cooking somewhere in the distance. I liked going through the town just as much as stepping away from it to see it in its entirety.
As you start walking the narrow, unpaved pathway away from the town, you come to the delightful, famous view of the colourful houses contrasting the deep greens of the high farms behind the village, and the vivid blue shades of water of the Ligurian Sea on the other side. We here in Ontario go to visit Tobermory for waters like this – in Cinque Terre that’s just the everyday view of the people living there. There are fishing and speed boats scattered around in the water, and although there’s bulging rocks instead of a beach, you see many people sunbathing on the rocks and jumping into the water to cool down. The sea is dramatic yet the view almost delicate. As much as you want to be there to see it in person, you also want to preserve it so it stays like that for much of time.
That was just Manarola – we visited 3 more villages, and each was an experience on its own. But I knew this post would be long so I am going to cover the next 5 hours of our day here in Part II (to come next week, hopefully!)
I took these below images from online just to show the marble mountains (from far and up close).