Cinque Terre (which literally means ' five lands) is a colourful region of the Italian Riviera made up of 5 cosy coastline towns. Even though it's become a bit of a summer time tourist trap, the area still delivers every Italian delight: stunning scenery, delicious food and wine that is way too good at €6 a bottle! What surprised me was that in spite of some stressful streets and packed trains, there was still a sense of solitude. Cinque Terre doesn't take life to seriously and soon sweeps you up in its slow, simple character and sensory indulgences. So definitely don't come here on a diet. Or with a great to-do list. I- more than most- understand the urgency to rush around and to see it all. But believe me when I say its essence is everywhere. So remember to regularly schedule in stop, eat, drink* repeat so that you can truly soak up the stunning- and sumptuous- surroundings!
*There’s coffee, and there’s Italian coffee. And it doesn’t come served in a take away cup! A coffee break - known as ‘una pausa’ - involves standing up at a bar, chatting to the barista. Needless to say I didn’t see a Starbucks…
The five towns are connected by an old train line that weaves around the rugged coastline. This is by far the easiest and quickest way of ticking off all five. But if the sun is shining and you're feeling adventurous then definitely consider hiking between the towns. There are several different paths, varying in difficulty and length, with the most popular running between Vernazza and Monterosso. It was a sweaty hike under the midday September sun (I can't imagine what July must be like!) but so worth it for some of the best ocean-meets-the-sky views I have seen! From the trail you can clearly see the clusters of pastel coloured houses that make up the 5 towns, so it's worth the effort if only for the enviable selfie! That and building up an appetite for the next town! Carbs and a carafe of local wine will be waiting for you at the other side, congratulating you for the 'climb'. No it's not Everest but it's enough to justify an afternoon of indulgence.
And so the rest of the day was dictated by our senses. It sounds like we were absolute fatties (and to be fair I did undo my top button!) but at the heart of this culinary culture is a favour for flavour: quality over quantity. That's what I find so seductive about the Italian way of life: nothing is off the cards. Full-fat dairy, bread basket and dessert are not saved for special occasions, they’re daily staples. But they're so damn good that a small serving really does satisfy (and saves room for several courses!)
Where we ate:
Resturante Da Eraldo- This was our post-hike restaurant which served up some of the best pesto I have ever had. Enough said.
La Smorfia- The large pizza covered our entire table, so it’s perfect for tear and share. There are 80+ topping options but the classic margarita really is magic. They also offer a fresh gluten free pizza option.
Nessum Dorma- A wonderful cliff-top wine bar overlooking the town below. We came here to watch the sun set but the weather had other plans (although the pre-storm cloud cover was still rather dramatic!)
Il Porticciolo- A trendy tapas bar that has a very happy ’happy hour’: every drink comes with a plate of antipasti, so it’s the perfect place for a pre-dinner appetisers.
Enoteca Dau Cila- This characterful fish restaurant is located in Riomaggiore’s small marina, tucked away in an old renovated wine cellar. It’s been mentioned in the Michelin so make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment!
The Cinque Terre Card is a great way of town hopping. It costs €16 (€13 during the off-peak season) and includes unlimited train travel, access to all of the hiking trails (which cost €7.5) and free WIFI and toilets (although we never located the latter!)
Travelling to Cinque Terre for a weekend away:
Flying to Italy for a weekend (not even a long weekend) was so worth it! It might not sound like a huge amount of time but we managed to see much over two days, without using a single day of holiday!
We flew from London Stansted to Pisa on Friday night and then took the train to La Spezia on Saturday morning (which takes approximately 90 minutes.) From La Spezia you can get the local train to any of Cinque Terre’s little ‘lands’ (think Disneyland- but with better food and fewer children!) Whilst I would have loved a week (or more) to explore the region, it was totally doable over a weekend. We took an early flight home on Monday morning and were back at our desks by 9:30am, a little tired but feeling well-nourished in mind, body and belly!