Day the first; or, it’s only up from here
-What are your plans?
-Beach or trail?
-A bit of both I guess
She looks us up and down in distaste, her eyes linger on our footwear.
-Did you bring hiking shoes?
-No, they said the trails don’t need special gear
-Yea well they lied. The next town is over the hill and you can’t do it like that
-Oh, ummm, what about the beach?
-You have to get there super early to get a place, we went there yesterday and it was too late
-Ok well, thanks
Obviously, our first five minutes at Cinque Terre on the west coast of Italy was a great time. Thanks random downer tourist! But my friend and I looked at each other, muttered “we’re from New Zealand, she can’t tell us not to hike!” and started off for the mountain. Little did we know that the mountain pass from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the most extreme hike you can do in all of Cinque Terre. But we conquered it… and with our sandal/ked clad feet intact!
The walk from Manarola to Corniglia was closed, and since our legs were still a bit iffy from the rather intense hike, we decided to catch the train to the next village. Little did we know that we’d be faced by a million stairs to get from the station to the town. But we were intrepid explorers and weren’t about to back down from a challenge. So we followed the trail and gave ourselves a little reward at the end.
Accom: €26 pp Air BnB in the nearby city of La Spezia
Train: €4 for every trip, no matter where your start and end point are
Trails: Extreme trails are free, “blue” trails are about €7
Wine: €4,50 including snacks
Pro tip: bring your own toilet paper
Day the second; or, where the hang is that hostel??
Our second day was beach day. Hooray! We’d been on the go since day one, exploring Tuscany and doing the hikes, so it was time for a rest. Plus, having lived in Toulouse for the last two years, I was desperate for some beach action.
With Downer Tourist’s words still echoing from the day before, we got to Monterosso early-ish (10am) to find a fairly empty beach. Huh. There were some sections cordoned off for people with their own umbrellas and things, but we decided to hire an umbrella and beach chairs for the day. Having brought lunch from a supermarket in La Spezia, we were not planning on moving any time soon.
The sea was super salty but it was pretty awesome because I could just lie on my back and basically fall asleep on the water. How chill is that!
In the evening it was time to switch from our Air BnB in La Spezia to a hostel down in Porto Venere. With a little maneuvering we found the bus and traveled down the coast to our new digs. The little port town was cute but the hostel was no where in sight! It took probably an hour to find it, in a town you could traverse in 15 minutes. Ugh. We eventually found it but by that time the desk was closed (weird), and a little white envelope sat waiting for us with our room number and key. Super strange but at least we didn’t have to sleep out on the street!
Umbrella and chair hire: €25 for the day
Sneaky beach cocktails: €5
Bus: €2,50 from the tobacconist or €5 on the bus
Hostel: €25 pp
Pro tip: If you get on the bus and the bus driver refuses to take your money, GET OFF. We were chatting to a guy in the hostel and he said he’d tried to buy a ticket on the bus and the bus driver ignored him. Two stops later the police got on and he had to pay a huge fine for traveling without a ticket!
Day the third; or, welcome to paradise
I had never heard of Porto Venere before. The only reason we were staying there was because we were (or should I say I was) rather last-minute in our accommodation booking and it was the only hostel I could find. But when we woke up the next morning and looked outside, we were absolutely blown away by how stunning it was!
This was our last day to go exploring in Cinque Terre and we still had one more village to see. This time we took a ferry from Monterosso to Vernazza, but not before grabbing some snacks and doing a bit of exploring first.
We then returned to Corniglia in search of wine and food, and I managed to get one more swim in before I completely melted in the heat.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re at the disembarkement point before the ferry arrives. We were almost too late and had to tell the boat people to put the gang-plank back so we could get off!
Day the fourth; or, what would Lord Byron do?
Before it was time to check-out, we got up bright and breezy for an early morning swim. Porto Venere has a little spot tucked away behind this castle thing called “Byron’s Grotto”. Apparently this was a place that Lord Byron used to like to go swimming. Of course we were going to swim there!
The water was so incredibly clear that I was awkwardly paddling along the surface, trying not to bang my knees on the rocks below, only to discover that they’re so deep I couldn’t even reach them!
Pro tip: Get to Cinque Terre fast! The Italian government is planning ways to limit the number of tourists over the next few years, meaning it will soon become a lot more expensive to visit this beautiful part of the Italian coast.