Footsteps…exploring the Cinque Terre

There are moments in life when you have to pinch yourself because you are in disbelief with what you are seeing and you think you are dreaming. You know, one of those dreams where you just don’t want to wake up, and when you do you have that deja-vu like you were really in a place. I think this is especially true when you have imagined, visualised and dreamed of visiting a place for so long that when you actually get there it all feels a tad bit surreal. But guys, dreams are valid, and dreams DO come true!

For this Wanderluster, exploring the colourful fishing villages perched atop the coastline of Liguria, the once upon a time hidden gems but now ever so popular Cinque Terre was one of said moments. My armchair travels one fine day revealed beautiful pictures of a colourful bunch of houses perched atop a cliff, with the sparkling blue sea yonder, and this piqued my interest. Until this day, I only ever saw pictures of Manarola, and I could not wait to set footsteps out here and the fact that I am writing this post for you guys is an ode to wanderlust dreams coming true!

Manarola - the place that attracted me to the Cinque Terre

Manarola – the place that attracted me to the Cinque Terre

I’m sure you have all hear about the UNESCO World Heritage listed Cinque Terre. If not, grab a cuppa and let me show you this stunning region of Liguria through my footsteps.

There are five fishing villages (hence the name Cinque) that go by the names of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore which are perched atop high cliffs lining the Ligurian coastline, with their colourful houses adding a pop of brightness to the skyline. Factor in the sparkling blue sea and you have a wanderlust inducing picture, tempting you get there pronto and to explore, explore, explore!!

The Cinque Terre villages are pedestrianised and so this means no cars in their vicinity. The only way to explore out here is either by hiking the trails through the Cinque Terre National Park, or by boat from port to port, or by train. If you have read my previous post, you will know that we opted to stay in Portovenere because we were driving. Portovenere isn’t considered part of the Cinque Terre, but, if like me you aren’t really into all the hiking and ahem sweaty methods of getting here and prefer luxury then I’d recommend Portovenere as a great base for exploring the villages. No doubt the most popular and possibly best way to explore these villages is by hiking the trail within park, but hiking isn’t for all of us! We would have loved to explore by boat but unfortunately the sea was very rough when we were in Liguria and all boat services had been suspended, and given that hiking was NOT an option we were left with exploring by train, which thankfully wasn’t as difficult or as bad as some blogs and guides had made it out to be.

Cinque Terre National Park

Cinque Terre National Park

Exploring the Cinque Terre by train

Exploring the Cinque Terre by train

First stop: Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso Train Station

Monterosso Train Station

We wanted to start from the very end and work our way to Riomaggiore for sunset, so we went all the way to Monterosso al Mare. Getting the train from La Spezia Centrale was a breeze, though with the lack of boat services the train was rather packed, but bearable. Half an hour later, we hopped off at the seaside village of Monterosso and perhaps we missed the memo here: there were no colourful houses to be seen but rather a sea of colourful umbrellas adorning the rather grey and pebbly beach! Now, for me, the wanderlust list was seeing and being in the three villages which have postcard pictures and so I didn’t find Monterosso that exciting. I already mentioned that hiking was a no-no and so, cocktail in hand, we walked up and down the promenade and then hopped back on the train, heading to Vernazza.

Beach at Monterosso

Beach at Monterosso

A sea of umbrellas at Monterosso al Mare

A sea of umbrellas at Monterosso al Mare

Vernazza
Literally three seconds later, we were in oh so popular Vernazza: and this lil village was heaving with people! Everyone and their dog was headed towards the pier which seemed like the only place to go really, and given that it was almost lunch time we thought we would have a spot of lunch before carrying on. Wanderlusters, this was easier said than done. The few recommended restaurants refused to seat us because we were just two people. Here’s what I love about travel: how strangers can meet, in a few seconds become friends and share some wine and a bill and just make a crappy situation better! Much to the chagrin of the sourpuss waiters we befriended a lovely couple from Calgary who were also in the same boat as us, and once we were a foursome, the restaurant had no choice but to seat us after all! Our waiter was a real piece of work and kept coming to our table and making digs about our “friendship” but we were all great sports and we shared a bottle of wine, one bill and just made it work. Thankfully our company was great because despite the wait and drama to get a table, the food was nothing to write home about; the sauce on my carbonara tasted like what I would imagine an old shoe to taste like!

Vernazza Marina

Vernazza Marina

All fuelled up, reality struck and a wave of dread washed over me as I realised that to get THOSE postcard picture shots, there was no way out of the hiking and trekking. Le sigh. I really wanted a picture of Vernazza from higher up and so I begrudgingly put my laziness aside and trudged along, putting one foot in front of the other and started hiking the trail towards Corniglia. Fifteen minutes into the trail, I could hear angels sing because: trump card, here was the shot that I had been visualising! Vernazza: check!

My postcard picture shot of Vernazza

My postcard picture shot of Vernazza

Vernazza up close

Vernazza up close

Surrendering to the hike!

Surrendering to the hike!

Wanderlust moment in Manarola
We decided to skip out Corniglia because not only were we running out of time but also my extensive research had revealed that there were no views from Corniglia. And so, the next stop was what my wanderlust moment was all about: being in Manarola. I honestly wanted to sit and stare at this view for hours, but as is with most things in life, what you yearn for comes to you for a short, sweet time and then it is soon time to move on, but some memories remain with you, imprinted on your mind forever.

Wanderlust moment come true in Manarola

Wanderlust moment come true in Manarola

Our idea had been to do the Via dell’Amore (Lovers Trail) from Manarola to Riomaggiore purely as it is rumoured to be the easiest of the hike and because my Wanderlustmate M, being the more active of us thought by doing part of the trail we wouldn’t feel like we had copped out totally. I relented, purely because I had read a beautiful legend of this trail, its name being inspired by the fact that in the yesteryears it provided an easy connection for young lovers living in Manarola and Riomaggiore to meet halfway, being separated by the otherwise mountainous terrain and being a sucker for romance thought we could walk hand in hand alongside the Liguran coastline! Hmmmm!

Via della Amore

Via della Amore

Onward to Riomaggiore
As fate would have it the trail was open only for 200 metres and so we were relegated to the train, getting into Riomaggiore just in time to get to the marina to stake a spot for sunset with the rest of the tripoders and ipaders, plastic cups and wine in hand for our sundowners.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Sunset out here really was stunning. It almost felt like we were watching an artist paint a pretty picture, with the colours changing from blue to orange and pink. Sitting out on the rocks in Riomaggiore, I honestly couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude for having had one of my wanderlust dreams come true! Until next time, dear Wanderlusters: I hope you enjoyed my escapades out here in the Cinque Terre! Keep it Harpreet’s Wanderlust for more #FootstepsAcrossTheGlobe soon! Xoxo.

Sunset in Riomaggiore - like an artist painting a picture

Sunset in Riomaggiore – like an artist painting a picture

Twinkling lights come on in Riomaggiore at dusk

Twinkling lights come on in Riomaggiore at dusk

WanderNuggets:
-On exploring the Cinque Terre

We opted to use Portovenere as our base for exploring the Cinque Terre. The train station, known as “La Spezia Centrale” is a couple of minutes’ drive from Portovenere, however depending on how early you get to the station you could have parking issues and may have to wait a while. You can buy your Cinque Terre pass for Euro 12 a person at the station and this gives you unlimited access to the villages on the trail, by boat and on the train for a day. There are frequent trains leaving for the villages from La Spezia: hop on to one and hop off wherever you fancy, though if you wish to follow what we did then sit on the train for 30 minutes and get off at Monterosso al Mare, and make your way back village by village to Riomaggiore for sunset. You won’t regret it!

-Getting your Postcard Shots
Okay, so you CAN get these shots without hiking. Well, there is a tad bit involved but nothing as strenuous or sweat inducing like the trail itself.

For Vernazza: We hiked towards Corniglia on the trail leaving Vernazza for about 15 minutes before we were graced with the shot that we wanted.

For Manarola: We walked towards the Marina to get our postcard picture shot of Manarola. I have read that you can get awesome shots from the cemetary but we didn’t get that far, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you which direction to take.

For Riomaggiore: The train from Manarola to Riomaggiore takes seconds, and goes through a tunnel. If you aren’t particularly paying attention you could miss the stop (God forbid!) so do watch out. Head to the marina and sit on the rocks for your postcard picture shot of this beautiful village.

My personal favourite? I thought would be Manarola, given that I wanted to set footsteps out here so badly. But, having seen them all, Portovenere ended up being my favourite: and I know, I know, it isn’t technically part of the Cinque Terre!

The marina in stunning Portovenere

The marina in stunning Portovenere

If I really, really had to choose a true Cinque Terre village as my favourite, it would be Riomaggiore. There was just something so special sat out on the rocks, hearing the waves crash against them and seeing the twinkling lights come on in the houses gracing the coastline of this village, making it even prettier than I could ever have imagined. Happy wanderlusting guys!

My favourite Cinque Terre Village: Riomaggiore

My favourite Cinque Terre Village: Riomaggiore

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