The five lands are just a few dozen kilometres from where we live, so every now and then a trip out of town to visit these five villages on the border between Tuscany and Liguria gives us a taste of what a wonderful land we live in.
Cinque Terre in one day
As it happens periodically I decided to spend a nice day discovering the Cinque Terre together with my wife, I wanted to plan an excursion that respected the criterion of seeing as much as possible in a single day. There are several ways to reach these five villages: you can go directly by car, you can reach them by boat from La spezia or even from Viareggio or use the train. I strongly advise against the use of the car, I know that it is possible to reach the top of the villages but I have never done so because everyone advises against it. Even the use of the small ferries, even if they represent a nice experience allowing you to see the villages from the sea, I don’t like it because you are tied to the forced timing of the maritime lines and you can’t take your time. When I go I use the train, comfortable, fast and above all more flexible as timetables.
Cinque Terre by train
The easiest way to visit the Cinque Terre is to reach them by train from La Spezia, we periodically go for a ride in these magnificent villages overlooking the sea, as I live just over 45 minutes by car from La Spezia. I advise everyone to arrive at the train station and take the small tourist train that makes all the stops so as not to miss anything of an unforgettable day at sea.
How much does the ticket cost
I recommend the Cinque Terre Card which includes wi-fi in the stations, entrance to the park museums, access to the blue path and unlimited use of the train to move between the five villages.
The cost of the ticket is about 16 euros and includes reductions for children and the elderly.
The way of Love
The blue path (for a fee) is the most famous of all and is less than a kilometre long. When the Via dell’Amore reopens it is definitely the best way to visit this area. The Via dell’Amore is divided into four sections that connect all the villages of the Cinque Terre and has a total length of twelve kilometres.
You have to consider that only a third of the route is open due to a landslide, but you should be informed about the progress of the work in progress. Alternatively, you can reach Manarola with a local train or by choosing to take the Via Beccaria path (but in this case the journey time is about one hour).
Cinque Terre what to see
There are many things to see in the Cinque Terre. It is possible to see everything in a day, but I suggest you to take all the possible information before arriving in the area so that you already have a precise idea of the things to visit. di Starting from La Spezia, in a few minutes you can reach the first of the five villages, Riomaggiore. Then Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and finally Monterosso.
It is easy to reach the quayside of the picturesque fishermen’s quarter even if this first village of the Cinque Terre is divided into three parts: the station (here begins the famous Via dell’Amore which unfortunately, apart from a few stretches, is closed for work), the old part of Riomaggiore and the fishermen’s part where there is a small pebble beach.
We took advantage of some time to visit both the 14th century Basilica of San Giovanni Battista and the church of S. Maria Assunta but we had to give up visiting the Sanctuary of Montenero and the 13th century Castle, choosing to reach the nearby Manarola.
Once in Manarola, the second village of the Cinque Terre, we visited the ruins of the Fortress built in the 12th century before visiting the 14th century church of San Lorenzo built in Gothic-Baroque style. If you decide to visit Manarola in winter, take advantage to see the famous Manarola Crib, considered the largest in the world and I confirm that it is a real attraction.
In Manarola I was advised to reach a small town called Groppo, famous because it produces the real wine of the Cinque Terre, the Schiacchetrà, a precious liqueur wine, produced from raisins. We then headed towards the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute in Volastra.
Of Romanesque origin, it is one of the five famous sanctuaries in this territory and this is characterized because, inside it is preserved an eighteenth-century image of the Madonna. To reach it on foot it is necessary to take the path called Via per Volastra.
From Manarola we moved by train (a trip of only two minutes!) to Corniglia. Actually I had planned to walk along the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) which for about a kilometre and a half would have given a wonderful view inside the rocky relief but the trail is still closed for consolidation works.
Corniglia is a citadel all arranged on the rock that you can reach either by bus from the train station or by choosing to take the Grande Scalinata: a climb (or descent depending on) of almost four hundred steps. Corniglia has a very scenic village, not only because it is the most collected of all those that make up the Cinque Terre, but also because it is the highest of all. At about one hundred metres above sea level you can admire a truly unique landscape of the coast.
What to see in Corniglia
To visit I can suggest the church of San Pietro, a 14th century masterpiece whose original chapel dates back to the year 1000; the 18th century Chapel of the Flagellants of Saint Catherine, right in the central square; and, lastly, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace which is located in the nearby San Bernardino. The sanctuary dates back to the 19th century but was built in place of a late 15th century chapel. It is worth a visit both to admire the image of the Madonna with Jesus on the altar and the wonderful view from the square of the church which sees both the countryside of Corniglia and the beach of Guvano.
After stopping in Corniglia and taking a little rest in a bar, we continued by train to Vernazza.
I had read that according to the tourists’ opinion, Vernazza is considered the most beautiful village of all the Cinque Terre and also the most ‘alive’ one because of its many restaurants and seafront clubs. You could not miss a stop to taste a plate of sea rice and the inevitable mixed fried food.
A few years after the flood that had almost destroyed everything it could, Vernazza is now perfectly rebuilt and able to offer the usual hospitality to all its visitors.
I suggest you not to miss a visit to the tower of Belforte and the Doria castle to enjoy the beautiful panorama of the citadel and its coast. The tower is the emblem of Vernazza so much so that it is featured in almost all the photos of this village. A jewel that I discovered is the church of S. Margherita d’Antiochia, built at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Romanesque style later modified in Baroque, and the mirror palace with galleries where you can find places frequented mainly by the locals. Unfortunately it was not possible for me to visit the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna dating back to the year one thousand, as a testimony to the fact that there is a difference between theorizing a travel programme and actually carrying it out.
Having to finish the visit to the Cinque Terre with Monterosso, we had to give up something. Monterosso is the largest town in the Cinque Terre area and the one with the largest coastline.
You cannot miss a visit to the church of St. John the Baptist which is located in the old part of the city but not far from the sea and, once finished, continue with the nearby Mortis et Orationis Chapel, in Baroque style. The Aurora Tower is one of the three remaining watchtowers that characterize Monterosso. Built in the sixteenth century, today it is a private house that can be admired only from the outside.
What you need to know to visit the Cinque Terre
After my experience I can provide some explanations that will be useful for planning a trip to the Cinque Terre full of satisfaction. Avoid thinking about visiting the area with your car. In addition to not enjoying the beautiful landscapes, there are real logistical problems both in terms of travel and parking: it is much better to travel by local trains and, in order to keep the situation under control, it is preferable to print the updated train timetable. Consider that for a visit that includes all five villages, it took eight hours, not counting the time that my wife and I took to have lunch and to catch our breath, maybe having a coffee.
What to eat in the Cinque Terre.
Ligurian cuisine has not disappointed us at all. In addition to sea rice, in a small local restaurant we had two local specialities recommended: tagliatelle al pesto and a plate of gianchetti. We started with the tagian cune r pistu crudu, that is tagliatelle made with flour, water and salt that have been boiled together with green beans and potatoes and, once ready, seasoned with the famous pesto alla genovese. Our second course, recommended by the waiter, was one of gianchetti. By gianchetti we mean the blue fish that has always been part of the Ligurian gastronomic tradition.
In our case we were offered fried blue fish which turned out to be a real treat especially after the morning’s efforts. To finish, a portion of the traditional Monterosso rice cake (although the tradition is to prepare it for the feast of Our Lady of Soviore on August 14th) was more than satisfying even though I thought it was a classic dessert.