From Lucca, in the heart of Tuscany we boarded a train for about a 1:50 hour trip to the small city of La Spezia, in the province of Liguiria and the gateway to the Italian Riviera. We were most excited about visiting this area after watching Rick Steve’s videos on the Cinque Terre about a dozen times and it did not disappoint.
We arrived to the most spectacular weather for mid December. It was 15-16 degrees Celsius everyday and sunny without a cloud in the sky. It turned out to be a fantastic time to view this area as we didn’t have the crowds that inundate this area in the summer, it was like our own private viewing. The weather gods were on our side as the locals told us they got hit with quite a bit of snow on Dec.17th four years previous although unusual for the area. The only downfall was it wasn’t quite warm enough to swim although we did see an older couple rocking a speedo and bikini for a swim by Portofino. We were so tempted as the beautiful blue waters were calling us and it seemed warm in comparison to the Rocky Mountain lakes like Windermere that we’ve dipped our toes into in the summer.
Click to read more and open our video below from our visit to the Cinque Terre. Scroll down to continue reading about everything you need to know about visiting the Cinque Terre.
Below is all the information needed for those interested in visiting the Cinque Terre:
La Spezia was our home base for exploring the area, another popular base is Levanto on the opposite side of the Cinque Terre which is closer to Santa Margherita and Portofino where we made a day trip. We began exploring the Cinque Terre from the train station in La Spezia where we purchased;
The Cinque Terre pass which we would recommend to anyone visiting these coastal towns.
- The pass allows unlimited train trips on the Sestri Levanto line which runs from La Spezia, through all 5 of the Cinque Terre towns of Riomaggiore – Manarola – Vernazza – Corniglia – Monterosso and on to Levanto and the Levanto Sestri stop or in reverse leaving from Levanto-Sestri.
- It also includes the buses which will run you up the hills and into the town centers from the train stations and return you when you’re ready to move on. Something you’ll appreciate after walking your feet off. They also run between the towns and up to some of the other villages like Groppo and Volastra. Here is a link for more info on bus transportation: http://cinqueterre-travel.com/getting_there/bus/ or see my notes below on Getting around the Cinque Terre.
- It also includes the regional park fees which are required to hike between the towns of the Cinque Terre as well as free admission to the museums in the Terre towns or reduced admission to some museums in La Spezia and Levanto.
If you know you aren’t hiking or hopping between towns then it might make more economical sense to pay individually for train tickets or buses. Another advantage of the pass is you can move freely without having to look for places to purchase a train or bus ticket and then a machine to validate. You must validate your pass (in the ticket validation machines on all train platforms) just before you leave on your first trip and then its good until midnight for the period you purchased. Individual train or bus tickets are just good one-way and must be validated for each use. Here is the price comparison with the current winter rates (Dec 2016) and here is the link to the official Parconationale site with live rates.
A return ticket on the train is about $5.40 euros (La Spezia to Monterosso), add a two-way bus ticket $3/$5 ($2.50 if purchased on the bus or $1.50 purchased at the tourist office each way). Easily a $10 euro trip minimum to one town that will multiple quickly with additional stops. A one day Cinque Terre card with Train is $13 euros for the day. There are also other variations with or without train of one, two ($23 with train) or three days. The three day doesn’t add up to me so I would recommend a one or two day pass to start, we did the two day with train for $23 euros and then ended up doing a day trip to Portofino. Even if you bought a two and then needed to add another day you’d be ahead. There are family passes and various options so here is a link direct to the tourist office that’s supplies the cards with an explanation of all the options, the pass can be purchased at the train stations in La Spezia or Levanto and any of the Cinque Terre towns; Click here for info on the various passes:
Hiking the Cinque Terre
So now we are off to the Cinque Terre! Hiking between the towns is really the most rewarding option when visiting this area. It requires minimal to moderate athletic ability to hike the trails, you’ll be rewarded with some incredible views and contact with the nature that surrounds this area. It’s a must if you are physically able so don’t even think about it, do it!
Currently (2016/17) there are only two of the trails open Corniglia to Vernazza and Vernazza to Monterosso or vice-versa. Since the catastrophic flood of October 2011 the trails from Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia have been closed and are expected to remain closed for up to three more years for repair.
We started with the most difficult of hikes and although a work out it was easily doable; the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. It is supposedly a little easier going in the opposite direction from Vernazza to Monterosso but we completed it easily with a few long stops in about 2 ½ hours. For comparison, I hike a few times over the summer in the Rocky Mountains and am moderately fit, Janet hasn’t hiked for about 10 years but we both made it unscathed and a highlight of our 3 months so far in Europe. Here is a pic of some of the views you can expect, they are truly breathtaking and you can’t go wrong no matter which hike you do! If you want more, click here to link to our photo gallery. To do this hike you access the trail by exiting the train station at Monterosso, turn left and head toward the town center, go through the tunnel to the piazza, straight ahead on a wall you’ll see a sign that points you right onto the trail and you start climbing up!
On day two we did the hike from Corniglia to Vernazza at a leisurely pace and completed it a little over 2 hours. We were gobsmacked at the beauty, punctuated by an incredible day with a perfect temperature and not a cloud in the sky. We didn’t see anyone on the trail until we were shortly arriving at the end in Vernazza and others were starting off in the opposite direction. We were giddy at how fortunate we were to have had this weather and the lack of crowds on December 11th/16. In Corniglia the hike begins at the train station where you start climbing stairs up to the village center or you can take the bus up the hill. Walk through the center to the other side of town and look for the signs that point out the trail, up and to right of the village. You’ll get to a main road, cross it and you’ll see a hut which is the check point for your pass (not always open) and beginning of the trail that leads to Vernazza.
Be forewarned that in the peak summer months the Cinque Terre is packed with tourists and the trails can be very busy. Best if you can visit in the off season as we were so lucky to have done and avoid the weekends when it’s busiest. Starting early in the morning will help lighten the crowds and the heat that comes with the summer.
Make sure to bring water with you (especially in the summer heat), wear proper hiking shoes (runners should be fine) and dress for the weather. Layers are best so you can add or remove as the temperature can change quickly off the ocean. Check the weather forecast before heading out! Don’t go if the forecast if for heavy rain and consider your options if inclement as the trail can be treacherous and slippery if wet.
Looking for the Beach:
The largest stretch of beach can be found in Monterosso, with sand and calmer waters but there are spots to be found in any of the towns for sunbathing or a splash. You can rent loungers or claim your own spot in the public areas with swimming from May until the end of October. Here is a good link to information on the best beaches; http://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/cinque-terre-beaches
Getting around the Cinque Terre is very easy.
By train is the fastest and easiest way to connect to each of the 5 towns and runs regularly from 7am till midnight (at least every hour in low season). You can pick up a schedule at the tourist/info offices at any station, they are also posted on the platforms as well as digital displays that will show the next arrivals/departures. If you don’t have a pass you can purchase tickets for each way at the station, note the ticket offices close at 7pm each day but there are also automated machines which are easy to use. It is only minutes between each town and 15 minutes from the first stop of Riomaggiore to the last village of Monterosso. The train will stop at each station but there is also an express that runs from Riomaggiore to Monterosso with out stopping in between and viceverso so make sure you don’t get on the express if you want to stop at say Corniglia. Also, note there is another express that runs from Monterosso to La Spezia or Levanto in the other direction without stopping so make sure it’s the route you want by checking the schedule.
Buses also run regularly, usually coinciding with the arrival of the trains. They will run you up the hills to the town centers with others that connect between the villages and to some of the upper and inland villages. Schedules and routes can also be found at the tourist offices.
Boats are another option, very picturesque but not the fastest or the cheapest and don’t run in the winter. As well they do not connect Corniglia which is up on a hill. The ride is about 10-15 minutes between towns and you can purchase a ferry pass at the Tourist info centers.
Enjoy your trip to the Cinque Terre! If you have any questions, please message us via our email below and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.
If you are visiting this area and have the time, take a day trip to Santa Margherita/Portofino and possibly San Fruttuoso. It’s perhaps even more stunning than the Cinque Terre and was a favorite stop of ours. See our next post for information on visiting this playground for the rich and famous on the Italian Riviera.