If you have been there, just saying 'Cinque Terre' likely brings a smile to your face, flashes of pictures across your brain and fond memories welling in your heart. Not to sound like a Hallmark card... but this is the stuff dreams are made of.
The water is ogle-worthy, the hiking is one of a kind, the terrain ocean-side, vineyard/orchard lined, picturesque. Every day we sat on rocks in the sun for lunch: eating just-made paninis and drinking Prosecco or Italian beer while 'the cousins' climbed rocks, beach-combed and chased geckos.
We went to Cinque Terre for 5 days in April: Janelle, Anthony, Caleb plus cousins Sam, Jack, Aunt Cindy and Uncle Keith. We hiked between every city---sometimes twice. We explored trails and climbed down to beaches, drank the local wine and ate seafood. We sampled grappa and limoncella, snapped photos, ate daily gelato, climbed a castle tower, visited churches, marveled at the different beaches (rocks, sand, pebbles), found favorite jewelry/souvenir/wine shops and established lunch spots.
I loaded an album of our visit to Cinque Terre, since these few token pics don't do it justice.
Souvenirs: the boys and I bought t-shirts, Caleb bought a leather bracelet with a shark tooth and picked up still more rocks (at this point his suitcase-going-home will be all rocks/gems).
Cities in order from North (1) to South (5)
1. Monterosso: the northern most and largest of the five cities, Monterosso boasts two beaches (one with rocks, one with sand---see Anthony's smile?), ample souvenir shops and many cafes. I got 'lost-on-purpose' while following my nose on a trail above the city and found a gorgeous lemon orchard and some paths lacing the edge of an ocean-facing hill. (A nice hike to this city, but I probably wouldn't choose accommodations here).
2. Vernazza: arguably my favorite city. If I only had time for one city, this would be the one. It has boats lining the water, picturesque umbrellas and a little beach-space in the heart of the city. It is full of cafes, is bonafide 'quaint,' had our favorite pizza-for-lunch-spot, fantastic souvenir/jewelry/food/ceramic shops, and two churches.
3. Corniglia: you climb almost 400 steps to get up to this hill-top city. It is quite small, and had the best gelato we found (don't go to the first gelato you see, walk toward the water from the little center piazza (one street---it is easy to find); take a right (only option) and you will be on a short stretch that includes some fantastic looking restaurants and the best artisan gelato---sorry I don't know the name!). My new favorite gelato flavor? Honey. (very small city, I wouldn't stay here either. Nice for a quick visit and some nice views).
4. Manarola: boys loved the big rocks-on-the-ocean for climbing (see picture, below). Cute little souvenir shops, great 'extra' trail that you can take through the vineyards and look down on the city, below. Famous nativity scenes reside on the hillside and are lit for a month or so during Dec/Jan time-frame.
5. Riomaggiore: we stayed here and would stay here again. The best-kept/most famous and shortest trail is between Riomaggiore and Manarola. Favorite wine shop (best butter cookies---we bought them everyday for or 'walking packs.'), a few good restaurants and a fantastic rocky beach where we spent hours one afternoon building rock piles and bathing in the uncharacteristic April sun.
- You really don't need hiking shoes. Tennis shoes are just fine---high heels are not.
- We bought the walking day passes then just paid for the train-as-needed (instead of the walking plus train pass, which cost so much more).
- Note the cemeteries: every city has them located with the highest, best views possible. They are ocean front, cliff high, top-and-center---venerated.
- It was quite cool to stay right in one of the five cities. Many other places would feel too far away; though a friend of mine stayed at a hotel in Levanto (city north of Cinque Terre---take a train in every day) and said it was great.