We had heard about the famous Cinque Terra area of Italy for years and had seen the photos of colorful villages nestled on cliffs above the sea. We know a lot of people who have visited and we’d heard their stories of the hikes between the five small towns that make up this national park. We thought we knew what to expect…and yet, we didn’t. While there were certainly some familiar vistas in Cinque Terra, the layout of the towns, the ecological environment and the overall vibe was very different than we imagined.
We started our first day in Cinque Terra by leaving the winding streets of Genoa and driving 30 minutes away to the seaside village of Camogli. There we met up with the Chevalier family, who was vacationing in the area and reached out to us through the blog. We had a great time with Beth, Jim, Ella and Ian and enjoyed an al fresco lunch overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s amazing how quickly strangers can become friends.
After getting back in the car, we wound our way through mountain roads. About an hour had passed when we saw our first glimpse of Monterosso, the northernmost village of Cinque Terra, far below us in a seaside valley. We drove down to the edge of town, where Brian dropped us off with the luggage. Since very few cars are allowed in the town limits, he drove back up the hill to park alongside the road and then walked back. While the kids weren’t thrilled about lugging their backpacks to the apartment, they loved the fact that they didn’t have to watch for cars at all during our stay.
Our apartment was in the Old Town side of Monterosso toward the back of the village and up about 7 flights of steps. It was well worth the exercise because our high balcony had a great view of the village and the sea.
Our first night we walked down to the beach and through the pedestrian tunnel leading to the “new” side of Monterosso, although still very old by American standards. There we came upon the giant statue of Neptune which was carved into the cliff at the beginning of the 20th century as a symbol of protection for the town.
During our first night there, we quickly realized that English speakers dominate the tourist scene in Cinque Terra. It seemed the majority of the people we passed that first night were American. This trend continued throughout our stay, which was a big change from the last couple months. It was the first time on this trip we’d been in a “touristy” area, which was a bit of a shock to the senses, with the constant peddling of trinkets and the need to avoid walking through the middle of other tourists’ photos ops. However, there is a clear reason Cinque Terra is so touristy: the place is downright gorgeous.
The next day we started out early for the hike up and over the green mountains to Vernazza. Our apartment steps proved to be good training for us as we climbed the narrow stone steps up the hills. The kids were troopers and soon we were seeing the village below us.
Once down in Vernazza, because we hadn’t had our fill of stairs yet, we climbed to the top of the Doria Castle tower for a great panoramic view of the village and coastline.
Then we hopped on the convenient train that runs through Cinque Terra to check out the other towns. For anyone thinking about a trip to Cinque Terra, you can stop at one of the park booths on the trail to buy a family day pass that gets you trail access and unlimited train rides – good value and easy.
One smart marketing technique we noticed in this lovely land of stairs was the strategic location of the pay booths. When do you pay to use the Cinque Terra trail system? At the top of a steep climb of stairs. When do you pay to get into the castle tower? At the top of a steep climb of stairs. Who’s not going to pay after making it all the way up there? Smart ones, these Italians…very smart. However, they don’t try to gauge you as you stand huffing and puffing and feeling the burn in your thighs. The fees are very reasonable. The 3 euros we spent for the whole family to go up that tower was well worth it.
The highlight of the day was swimming in the pools of Manarola. The beautiful black rocks create natural barriers to the sea and offer some high cliff jumps. Although, I should clarify that only Brian and the girls were swimming as I had put only my bikini bottoms and not my bikini top into the backpack. (Before you think it, no, that is not an option for me.) I was definitely envious as I sat in the sweltering sun snapping photos of them jumping into the cool blue water.
The next day it was time to say goodbye to the lovely Cinque Terra area. We’re thankful we got to experience it, even if just for a couple short days. It’s an indescribably beautiful place. Emily kept repeating, “I could live here,” in every village we visited. Maybe someday you can, kiddo, but not yet.