In my previous post, I talked about Rome, its history, and the cornucopia of great places to eat. Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I left Rome and headed to Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”. If Rome is cosmopolitan, then Cinque Terre is rugged. Located in the Liguria region of Italy, many tourists flock to Cinque Terre to get away from the cities and experience the countryside that makes Italy so renowned.
The towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare are the derivation of Cinque Terre. However, there is much more to see other than the towns, and our journey began with La Spezia.
What to do there
Centrally located in Liguria, La Spezia is the perfect spot for visitors to experience the five towns and other neighboring villages.
After checking in to our room, we freshened up and headed to the Valley of the Poets. Porto Venere is one of the lesser knows spots in Le Spezia, but to us it was a hidden gem. Lord Byron, the famous English poet, spent some time in the valley, and after visiting, I started writing some couplets as well.
We took a bus from La Spezia’s local market to Porto Venere. The 30-minute bus ride passes through the coastal region and the mountaneous path to bring you to the secluded spot.
The Harbor of Porto Venere
The feeling of being away from the city is clear as you walk through the alleys and pass the small shops. Wine and spices can be pricey, but I truly recommend trying the pesto foccacia bread. Ask the baker to heat up the bread just the little bit and enjoy the first bite as you walk through old roads. The taste and the feeling are irreplaceable.
Need one of these in my city
Hacking Tip: the tickets to the local bus is sold in tabaccherias, convenience stores, in the main square of La Spezia. These stores are also a good spot to buy any missing items from your trip, such as phone chargers. La Spezia has a great market, and you’ll see the locals come out to shop on weekends. Try the fruits as the taste is natural and delicious.
The Doria castle is a must-see in Porto Venere. In the evening, as the waves hit the shore, you see the sun set from the castle window. With clear water, the warmth of the setting sun, and the cool atmosphere; where else would you rather be?
The Doria Castle
The next morning, after getting ready quite early, we took the first train to Riomaggiore to start our exploration of Cinque Terre. The train rides between the stations are about 5-10 minutes each. The train does go through a tunnel, but in between you can catch a glimpse of the shore.
Hacking Tip: The train station sells a day pass to all the towns in Cinque Terre. I highly recommend buying the pass, even if you plan to hike. The trains run routinely, every 20-30 minutes; though with the crowd there could be some delays. Leave La Spezia early to avoid the crowds, by 10 in the morning the trains will start getting packed. It is not uncommon for the trains to be stuffed with tourists. Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I were in such a situation and the train lights went out in the tunnel. Luckily, everyone turned on the flashlights from their smartphones, and prevented any further mischief.
Many people visit Cinque Terre to hike the five towns. Depending on the time of year, however, certain trails may be closed. The easiest trail is between the towns of Manarola and Corniglia. But, like us, you can hop on/hop off the train without the manual labor and still see the sights.
Hacking Tip: the terrain of the five towns is mountainous, thus hiking can be difficult. Expect lot of uneven stairs and steep climbs. Many came prepared with hiking gear and dressed accordingly. Even if you are not hiking, proper shoes are a must, and packing water and snacks never hurts.
When the weather warms up you’ll find the beach of Monterosso packed with tourists. The water can be cool, but lying in the hot sun has it’s charms. From April, when we visited, to September the weather is a pleasure. The Castle of Monterosso is worth the climb to the top of the town. Originally built to defend the town against foreign attacks by sea, the Aurora tower is used today for a beautiful view of the town and the sea. There is a charge to view the structure and climb the tower.
Before leaving Monterosso al Mare you have to stop at Da Eraldo Ristorante. The salad and the pasta were truly divine. We had our first taste of the limoncello in Monterosso, which prepared us on what to expect in Sorrento. The restaurant can be difficult to find, as GPS does not work well in different levels of the mountain, but the quest is worth it.
You will find many shops that cater to tourists. Liguria is famous for the food and the wine, and some shops offer them at a discount. Stop by the spice shop towards the shore in Vernazza (you can’t miss it, it’s close to the water). The pesto and the peppers are a bargain compared to the other spots we visited. Buying a few may also help in getting a sample of the regional wine. Though it was a little dry for us, it could make all the flavors in your dinner come alive.
From the coast of Vernazza
The coastline of Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you go from town-to-town, and walk the narrow alleys and old wooden doors you’re filled with a sense of peace. The towns, though distinct, may blend over after your trip, but the people, the sights, and the food stay with you.
Between Manarola and Corniglia
Try the bakeries as you move to different towns. The region is known for it’s pesto, but the bread has a softness and sweetness that I have not tasted since leaving La Spezia. We definitely recommend the farinata, a chickpea flour pizza, when you visit Manarola. To truly enjoy the visit grab the hot breads from the bakeries, especially something you have not had before. Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I had a freshly made farinata and a pesto focaccia as we took a break and sat on one of the steps. Watching the people walk by and take in the sights, as we sat and broke bread, makes Cinque Terre truly memorable.
How to get there
Rome and Florence are the best hubs to take the train to La Spezia. La Spezia is a great spot to stay as you visit Cinque Terre or Porto Venere. Portofino is also reachable, but you may have to take an entire day if you use the local train for a visit.
Where to stay
We were lucky that we rented an apartment from Antonella at La Spezia. Her beautifully decorated apartment really helped in making La Spezia our home for two nights. The kitchen has all the utensils, for anyone interested in cooking. The location is close to the train station but situated in a residential street. Her advice will truly make your trip amazing. Please visit her account, Antonella’s Apartment, for your next stay at La Spezia.
Let me know if I can provide more information about La Spezia, and I’d love to hear how your stay was. Did you enjoy Porto Venere as much as we did? Drop me a note.
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