“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

TravelHaven Journal: Italy 2013 – Cinque Terre

We took a train trip to the west coast of Italy to the Cinque Terre, meaning Five Lands. It’s called that because there are five villages along the coast with a hiking trail connecting them. The Cinque Terre are all on National Park land and the crystal clear waters along the Cinque Terre have been a Protected Marine Area since 1997. There is a wealth of marine vegetation and animal life. The rock formations are home to tons of colorful coral and Neptune grass is found all along the coast. 

The hiking trail between the villages is about 9 km and takes about 5 hours to complete. They say that all the paths are generally accessible. But when I read about the 365 stairs to Corniglia (one for every day of the year), I knew this hike was not for me!  Fortunately, there are trains and even ferries that run between the towns. 

We left home at 7:15 for an 8:43 train from Arezzo to Florence. We got to the train station a half hour early — I always assume there will be delays. That gave us time to get croissants for breakfast. Arriving in Florence, we went to see what track our train for La Spezia de Centrale departed from and  learned the train was cancelled. After talking to several people (most of whom did not speak English) we finally found out that we would have to take a train from Florence to Empoli (which didn’t leave for an hour), from there a bus to Pisa, then a train to La Spezia, and then a train to Monterosso. Ugh!  

I had planned this excursion so carefully to be there in about 4 hours. Who knew there would be a problem on the tracks between Empoli and Pisa?  We never did find out what the problem was, but we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would just have another adventure. After all, we hadn’t ridden an Italian bus yet!  

We got the train for Empoli and as we rode from Florence to Empoli, the track problem was cleared so we could continue on all the way to Pisa. Not quite like I had planned it, but probably better than riding a bus. We’ll save that adventure for another time.

At the La Spezia train station, we wound up in a McDonalds, waiting for our train to depart around 3:30. Of course, we were supposed to be in Monterosso at 1:00 and will leave tomorrow at 1:30, but at least we’ll get there. Since we were sitting in McDonalds, I took the opportunity to have a Big Tasty burger and fries and a Coke. And the fries are just as good here as in the US!  Yum!  Arn, of course, had a proscuito and mozzarella sandwich. Or was it a McPros-and-mozz?

We finally got to Monterosso around 5:00 pm. We found our hotel, Albuerge delhi Amici, with some help from a very nice older gentleman. It is a typical European room — small, but clean and comfortable. All we need. It has a lovely rooftop garden. 

   

Rooftop Garden at Albuerge delhi Amici, with Arn

Monterosso is a great little village with a wide beach (not sandy like Florida, more like gravel), lots of nice restaurants and great views. There is a tunnel you have to go through to get from one part of the village to the other. And in the tunnel is artwork depicting various aspects of life in Monterosso. They are very well executed, set into the rock in little display cases, a great idea to make the trek more interesting and give us a chance to learn more about the village. 

   

We decided to skip down the coast by train to the other villages until we run out of time and have to get the train back to Arezzo. We had no idea how many of the villages we’d be able to see, planned to just enjoy what we can. 

The next day we visited for another hour or so in Monterosso (because we missed the train by 3 minutes). As has happened so many times this trip, it was fortunate because we saw an incredible sight.– the Monterosso Giant. The Giant, 14 meters high and 1700 tons, is a 1910 sculpture in cement and iron. It’s located at the end of the beach of Fegina and depicts Neptune with a seashell on his back. It decorated the splendid Villa Pastine’s great, seashell-shaped terrace. Unfortunately, the villa was bombed during the Second World War and then in 1966 a strong sea battered the Giant further. Today, poor Neptune has no arms, no trident, and is missing one leg. It is still an awe-inspiring structure. 

Bidding the sea god arrivederci, we strolled back to the train station and boarded the train to take us to Vernazzo and Manarola. Although, we didn’t have time to visit Riomaggiore, Vernazzo and Manarola are both pretty little villages, very picturesque. We ate lunch at the Tratorria La Scogliera in Manarola, where I had an excellent grilled sea bass – served with the head on! Arn had the mussels.

   

Throughout the Cinque Terre we felt very laid back and relaxed. Most people there were hikers (complete with walking sticks) of all ages from the very young to octogenarians. The picturesque village streets combined with the rugged sea shore ensured that there was a lovely view everywhere we gazed.

  

   

   

Both Arn and I loved the Cinque Terre so much that we decided we will definitely make it a part of our 2015 Italy trip–probably for 3 or 4 days. Who knows?  Maybe we will even hike part of the trail!

Ciao!