Thirty six Hours in the Cinque Terre

The Why and the How

A number of years ago my sister, daughter, niece and nephew did a hiking trip in the Cinque Terre and raved about how beautiful it is.  As I started making plans to travel again, my original plan was to revisit St. Raphael, on the Cote d’Azur (see The Riviera for the Uncool post) then take the train to the Cinque Terre from St. Raphael.  But I decided it would be too difficult; i.e. too long of a train trip.  Somewhere in the middle of my trip planning my sister and niece asked to go with me for at least the first part of my trip.  So I initially suggested going from Paris to Nice then Nice to the Cinque Terre.  I then had doubts about Nice and suggested Cannes instead which we finally agreed on.

Getting There

Most online resources say it’s challenging at best to stay in one of the 5 small towns of the Cinque Terre.  The majority of places to stay are small B&B’s that are difficult to get to given the steep narrow streets.  (And we saw one porter in one of the towns struggling down the street with a dolly loaded with luggage.)

So for our brief visit I decided to stay in La Spezia.  But it was challenging on many levels also.  First, it was a solid 4-5 hour train trip from Cannes with two changes; one in Ventimiglia and one in Genoa which meant lugging bags from one binario (set of tracks) to another which in Italy normally requires going downstairs under the tracks and then back upstairs to the other binario.  At least Genoa and most decent sized cities have an elevator.

But I almost lost our tickets in Genoa.  I went going downstairs at the station to figure out which binario our next train left from and to validate our ticket, then couldn’t find the ticket again, although I was sure I put it in my bag.  So we just got on the train.  As we sat down, I started going through my duffle and pulled out a book I’d finished saying, “here’s a book if anyone wants it.’  My niece riffled through it and found the ticket.

As we passed through the Cinque Terre it was gorgeous.  We caught glimpses of the villages set against the sparkling sea and  blue, blue skies.  But as soon as we got into La Spezia, it became cloudy and chilly.

Plus La Spezia seemed to have no interesting or charming neighborhoods, certainly not the area between the train station and our B&B. As we drove through an increasingly funky neighborhood, I got more depressed.

Where to Stay

The Millstone House

Dennis, the young guy who manages the place (and speaks near perfect English) was waiting outside the B&B when we arrived and lugged our suitcases upstairs where we had adjoining rooms.  Although the B&B is in a neighborhood that is lacking in charm, the hotel itself as well as the rooms are extremely modern, spacious and clean. There is an excellent breakfast, lots of onsite parking plus a nice sitting area outside.

But the best part of the hotel is Dennis. He seems to do everything and does it well. He sets out a generous and tasty breakfast, makes coffee to order and is always ready to help, even taking us back and forth to the train station.

Unfortunately the odd neighborhood has no restaurants, at least none that we saw.

A trip to the mall

While checking in, we asked Dennis, where we could get something to eat.  He said nothing would be open but I don’t think there were any restaurants within walking distance.  He offered to take us to a nearby mall the only place open where we could get food.

After we washed up, we agreed to have him drive us to the shopping center.  We stopped first at a ‘food court’ and had  bad panini and vino.  Then we spotted a Costco type store.  So my niece and I offered to go in and buy  snacks and wine.  After buying cheese and meats plus bread and wine, we decided, for reasons I can’t explain, to use the self check out.  We made complete fools of ourselves and decided later the store probably used our antics for a training film.

We walked back to the B&B, took showers, put on jams and proceeded to go through 2 bottles of wine along with our meats and cheeses, fruit and desserts.  Our second evening we did the same thing, drinking some wine we bought in Riomaggiore and eating the rest of our snacks.  It was actually very fun and quite liquid as you can see.

A Beautiful Day in the Cinque Terre

There are dozens of excellent web sites on the Cinque Terre.  My post will mainly be photos since at the end of our day in the Cinque Terre, all I wrote in my journal was: what a great day!!  But it was absolutely spectacular.  We saw lots of interesting sights including a man carrying a basket of grapes down one of the steep streets.  One of Steve Rick’s Youtube videos on the Cinque Terre shows the grape harvest and it is difficult to imagine how they do it.

Manarola

Dennis took us to the train station fairly early Thursday morning where we caught the first train for Manarola.

As you exit the train station there are steps up to a terrace-like area where you can see the houses built into the cliffs.  I can’t imagine trying to live there but it was fascinating to see one house on top of another.

There were very few people in the town at that point and not much open, so we walked down to the harbor and then  hiked up the trail that I assume continues up to via dell’Amore, the main Cinque Terre trail near Manarola.  We enjoyed taking pictures of the rugged cliffs and the sea as well as views of the town itself.  Within the walls along the trail, we saw memorials and what may have been crypts.

We walked around town but not seeing much else to do we decided to add another town to our itinerary.  And as an aside, it was about a 15 minute train ride between the towns and to and from La Spezia

Vernazza

We chose Vernazza as our additional destination since it’s the next town north of Manarola.  When we arrived in Vernazza, we found it as busy as Manarola had been quiet.  There were lots of people in the town and the cafes and stores were full of activity. We walked around town for about an hour to an hour and a half.  The harbor is especially pretty and interesting.  Plus there’s a lovely church, La Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, that sits right on the edge of the water.  My sister went in and took several pictures of the interior.  You can read about the history of the church at this site  https://www.lecinqueterre.org/arte/vernazzachiesasantamargherita.php   which talks about how the church was built around a relic, the finger of Santa Margherita.

We stopped in quite a few shops and my sister and niece bought everything from ornaments, to wine stoppers to clothes.  Most of the shops seem to carry unique and original crafts and clothing from the Liguria area, making for fun shopping.

Riomaggiore

We took the train back to Riomaggiore around 1:00 pm wanting to get there in time for lunch.  We found a nice little restaurant (the oddly named Veciu Muin) and had excellent pastas (gnocchi for me, a mix of three including cacio e pepe for my niece and I think a  pasta with ragu for my sister) plus wine and crostini.

 

We wandered around the town doing some shopping, having a gelato near the harbor and of course, taking lots of pictures.  The pastel houses tumbling into the sea are especially pretty in Riomaggiore.  I sent one to my grandson getting, ‘That’s the coolest picture I’ve ever seen.  Love you and miss you so much.’  Made my day.

When we decided it was time to walk back towards the train station, we stopped and bought several bottles of Ligurian wine which we enjoyed that evening at our B&B.

We got back to La Spezia about 4:45 pm and after spending 10 minutes trying to get the manager’s phone number into our Whatsapp contacts, we texted him for a ride back to the B&B.  The next morning he insisted on taking us to the train station even though we had lots of luggage and his car is tiny.  We joked about holding suitcases on top of the car.  I told Dennis that I would be writing about him in my blog and he put his hand over his heart, thanking me.

 

 

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