It was around this time of year in 2016 that I visited the Cinque Terre in Italy. I had just wrapped up my first year teaching as an assistante in Normandy, and I wanted to go somewhere before I had to pack my bags and head home for the summer. Having dreamed of visiting the Cinque Terre for some time, I was glad to go, where I spent four nights hiking, taking in the sun, and stuffing my face with delicious Ligurian food.
Consisting of five villages, the Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has attracted tons of tourists with its colorful houses, the Mediterranean sea, and overall great views of the Italian coastline. People who visit usually hike from village to village, as they’re clustered together, all the while enjoying anchovies and sciacchetrà (local dessert wine) once they reach their destination.
Granted, the number of tourists has increased exponentially in recent years and, with the 2011 floods that’d destroyed the infrastructure of the region, the government has started to cap the number of people who can come during peak season (July and August). I went in May when it was just starting to get busy for the Cinque Terre, so I didn’t have a huge problem with crowds and the weather was quite warm, although with a slight chill at night.
I’d booked my flight and hostel a month prior: I would be flying to and from Pisa before taking the train to La Spezia and then transferring to the regional train, i.e. “Cinque Terre train,” to reach Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre villages where I’d booked a hostel for my entire stay. I would be using Corniglia as the base of my hikes, as it was right between the two northern villages (Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza) and two southern villages (Manarola and Riomaggiore)– plus, the hostel came out to about 95€ for four nights, which was the least-expensive option while staying within the villages. It’s important to note that, because so many people visit the Cinque Terre, accommodation, food, and other tourist items are quite expensive– but the experiences are priceless (cheesy, I know!).
Leaving my small town in France on the very last day of April, I bused myself all the way to Paris, where I stayed overnight in a friend’s flat and left my *massive* suitcase to pick up afterwards to return to the U.S. I left the following day to head to Beauvais Airport (aka not in Paris) where I took a two-hour flight to Pisa before catching a shuttle to its train station just 20 minutes away and boarding it for La Spezia. It was about a 75-minute ride over, and I arrived to transfer to the “Cinque Terre” train, which connects all five villages together– along the way to Corniglia, I passed by Riomaggiore and Manarola, only getting glimpses of them before the crystal-blue Mediterranean sea swallowed them up (figuratively, of course). Each stop took about 10 minutes and, soon enough, I arrived in Corniglia in the late afternoon.
If the long journey to the Cinque Terre hadn’t been enough, the final hurdle was to climb 360+ worth of steps to Corniglia from the train station’s base, as the village was situated on a terraced steep cliff. It was a zig-zag up to the top, and I happened to run into a fellow TAPIF assistante with whom I’d been in contact to hike together, as we happened to be in the Cinque Terre around the same time. She was descending as I was ascending, and we talked briefly halfway to make plans for dinner that night. I continued my ascent, finally reaching the top, along with other exhausted travel-goers who’d also probably hiked that day.
I arrived at my hostel where I checked in and got settled into my bunk in a 14-person dorm. Hostel was clean, although it was pretty minimal: it was enough for a four-night stay, though, which was fine by me. The receptionist was really nice and welcoming, even a bit flirtatious (as it goes with Italian men), which made my stay all the more fun.
It had been a tiring day of traveling, so I rested for a bit before deciding to head out and see a bit of Corniglia, as it is one of the Cinque Terre villages, after all. The place is extremely tiny, with plenty of small, narrow streets and steps that ascended and descended into churches, tiny cafés, even people’s homes! The buildings appeared to cave in, which provided shade for what I could imagine unbearably-hot summers, and the green vineyards surrounding the houses provided a striking contrast to the Lego-structured colorful houses, which seemed to almost tumble over the cliff upon they’re perched and into the sea.
What surprised me was that, despite how it was so touristy, there were still plenty of locals– elderly men and middle-aged women– lounging in the main plaza or at the cafés, speaking Italian and enjoying the sun. There was still a local feel to it, even amidst the numerous souvenir shops. I also had a few meals in Corniglia, including an apéro along the main road leading to the other villages and at two restaurants. I had fresh anchovies with local wine on the sunny terrace, aka the definition of la dolce vita, as well as seafood pasta and other local pasta specialties (e.g. walnut-paste pasta) at a tavern enough to fit 15 people maximum– definitely go to A Cantina da Mananan, but reserve in advance!
Later that day, I took the train to Levanto, which isn’t actually part of the Cinque Terre, but it was along the train line. I met up with the assistante again, as she was staying there and just commuting to the villages for hikes. We got dinner at a random restaurant in town, which served trofie al pesto and sciacchetrà. The region is none for its fresh pesto, so I wanted to get it– besides, who can say “no” to pasta?
The pasta itself was interestingly shape, somewhat reminding me of snapped peas, even more accentuated with the vivid green from the pesto. I could taste the basil, slightly bitter but fragrant in my mouth, along with the al dente pasta. The sciacchetrà was strong and sweet, just as how I like dessert wines to be– it was a lovely dinner with good company, and even the slight drizzle on my way back to Corniglia didn’t dampen my mood– I would be looking forward to the rest of my stay in the Cinque Terre, with hikes to come soon!
I’ll recap more of my time in the Cinque Terre in due course– until then!