Our first day in Cinque Terre, staying in Manarola

Day one of a three day trip to Cinque Terre, including the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.

The Cinque Terre region is a collection of five (cinque) small villages set on the Ligurian Coast in northwestern Italy. These towns from north to south are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Our first night in Cinque Terre was spent in Manarola. But first we needed to get there from Chianti!

Leaving Greve and Chianti and onwards to the coast!

On our day of arrival in Cinque Terre, we drove from our agriturismo located a few kilometres outside of Greve in Chianti. I hadn’t told them where our next stop was going to be (I love surprises!) and for the entire drive neither of them knew where we were heading until Deane spotted a road sign with “Cinque Terre” written on it. It was a tough to keep it a surprise, but I managed to keep it a secret for months! 🙂

Getting up bright and early we left the room just before 8am to get to the Castello for breakfast. Asking for an earlier than usual breakfast the day before, they were nice enough to have the massive spread of food ready bright and early. After a quick breakfast, we were in the car heading north through Chianti and then by-passing Firenze and onto La Spezia. All in all, it wasn’t too bad of a drive as it was mostly on the autostrada after we by-passed Florence. Though it definitely got more tricky once we were off the highway and into La Spezia. Needless to say, I was very happy to have the map of La Spezia on my phone pre-loaded or we probably wouldn’t have found the car rental return office!

Tip – if driving anywhere near larger cities, a GPS is a very good idea! Since I had the map of the area near the car rental place pre-loaded on my phone, and the GPS doesn’t need internet access, I could find where we were (i.e. the blue dot) so I knew vaguely where I was and needed to go. This method is free!

Returning the rental car

By the time we found the car rental shop, we ended up having about 45 minutes to spare before the car rental place closed at 1pm on the Saturday (check hours when booking but Hertz in La Spezia is closed at 1pm on Saturday and closed on Sunday). After finally finding out where to park the car (for this Hertz location, it’s a dirt alley just before the car rental store which leads to a car park around the back) and having a discussion with the Hertz employee about the cleanliness of the car (apparently too dirty after several days driving on dusty, country roads and they wanted us to pay a cleaning fee), we flagged down a taxi and headed to the train station.

Another couple shared the taxi and it came to about 20E, which was about 10E more than I expected since the taxi driver most likely charged us as two separate groups. The best part of the taxi ride was the young, American couple asking if we were going to “chink terr”.

Goodbye car, hello trains!

Hopping on the train to Manarola, we arrived in the little town about 10 minutes later.

Manarola train
The regional train from La Spezia to Manarola was very busy, with not a lot of space for luggage!

Arrival in Manarola

Our accommodation for the night, Vandiris apartment, was up the hill towards to the sea. It was a beautiful sunny day but it was hot lugging our bags around. I (almost) missed the car already! While I was under the impression that our room had a balcony, the view is actually the pathway running along the front of the apartment, which leads to a beautiful viewing platform at the end of the walkway (accessible for free).  In any case, seeing the ocean from up that high on a beautiful sunny day was amazing!

Manarola view
These were tears of joy (I’m quite sure) upon seeing the beautiful view from our room. My mom’s a bit of a crier! Since the trip to Cinque Terre was a surprise, she had no idea where we were staying.

Did I forget something?!

By this time we’d confirmed that none of us had Deane and Marce’s passports (we’d / I’d forgotten them at our accommodation – oops!). I called the Castello using Skype to see if they could check the room and let me know if anything was found. I came to find out they not only found the passports, but a credit card and some cash! It turns out I had pretty much forgotten everything but my drivers licence and passport because I needed them to drive.  I’m blaming it on the fact that we’d gone to the Wine Festival in Greve in Chianti the night before!

Since it was a Saturday, they arranged to express courier the passports to Venice, where we would be from Monday. Fingers crossed they would get there in time for flights on Thursday!! [insert three days of panicking here].

First impressions of Vernazza

Knowing that the weather was likely going to turn rainy for the next two days, we wanted to make the most of the sun. So we changed and headed back to the train station to grab the regional train to Vernazza where we would hike to Monterosso. Compared to Manarola, Veranazza was full of people. I had read about how crazy the crowds can be, so I was semi-prepared for the mayhem! Compared to my previous visit in 2008, Vernazza in 2015 felt like a zoo!

Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso

Not too long after walking down the main drag, we turned right and started up the stairs away from the craziness, leading us to amazing views. There were just as many stairs as I could faintly remember from back in 2008. Zig zagging up and up the hill we came across a couple stray cats with their own little cat houses.

Vernazza harbour from above
On the trail, looking down at Vernazza and its harbour
Vernazza from higher above
On the trail a bit higher up, looking down at Vernazza
cinque terre cats
The cat houses along the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso

After a few false ‘starts’, where the path would start declining, only to go back to an incline again, we finally started making our way down and Monterosso came into view! Bellissimo! Making our way down the path we came across quite a few people looking rather tired making the trek in the opposite direction. Several times there were people walking towards us on what seemed to be a never-ending staircase who would ask us if they were almost at the top. As much as I wanted to lie, I couldn’t and told them they still had a long way to go!

cinque terre stairs
Some of the many steps along the trail
cinque terre stairs
More stairs!
cinque terre walk bridge
The cuteness little bridge

Finally getting closer to Monterosso

View of Monterosso
Looking north to Monterosso while on the trail
Monterosso's 'old town' beach
Almost there! Looking down to Monterosso’s ‘old town’ beach

Arrival in Monterosso

Hot and sweaty we arrived in the old town and found the WCs (free) so we could get changed and go for a dip at the beach near Old Monterosso. The water was cooler than I expected but after sweating all the way to Monterosso, it wasn’t too bad and was very welcome! Not long after we were in, Marce lost his ring and we spent the next 20 minutes trying to find it and a local lady even let me borrow her goggles in an attempt to find it. Unfortunately it was right where the waves were breaking and the bottom was covered in small rocks so we didn’t end up finding it 🙁

swimming in Old Monterosso beach
Having a well earned dip at the Old Monterosso beach

Dinner in Manarola

After giving up the search, we headed over to the new town to find the train. Marce popped into a shop and found a lovely t-shirt. Unfortunately we just missed the train so had to kill an hour. We found some lemon and orange flavoured drinks and sat down on the promenade to people and ocean watch, so not a bad outcome! We then hopped on the train back to Manarola for showers and wine.

By 9pm we headed out for dinner (eating late, so Italian of us!) dining at Aristide, located next to the town’s small piazza. We sat outside and it was blissfully warm. I had my first plate of gnocchi pesto, Marce had a massive plate of clams, mussels and prawns and Deane had the same but in a plate of spaghetti. Yum! We finished off the meal with a couple shots of limoncello. I take my gnocchi very seriously and this was a beautiful plate of food. The region is the home of pesto and covered in lemon trees, so it seemed like a perfect match.

Gnocchi with pesto
Gnocchi with pesto. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

Though crowded, Cinque Terre was as beautiful as I remembered from 8 years ago!

To read about our second day in Cinque Terre click here.

To read about our third day in Cinque Terre click here.

I spent 10 days travelling Italy with my mom and stepdad. The trip included: two days in Rome, an overnight in Orvieto, two days driving around the Val d’Orcia based in Montepulcianotwo days in Chianti based outside of Greve in Chianti, 3 days and 2 nights in Cinque Terre, a stopover in Pisa and two days and nights in Venice.  

We visited Cinque Terre in mid-September 2015. 

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