The Italian Riviera. Even the name sounds beautiful and, sure enough, this narrow coastal strip, stretching from the Ligurian Sea in the west to the mountains of the Maritime Alps and Apennines in the east, is truly magnificent.
And one, or rather five, destinations in this area is particularly worth adding to any Interrail trip – read on to find out more about the romantically named Cinque Terre (Five Lands) – a collection of tiny, brightly-painted coastal villages nestled in the Italian mountains.
Cinque Terre’s popularity has exploded in recent years so it wouldn’t be fair to say the area isn’t busy but, for those Interrailers wanting to take a break from traipsing along packed city streets and enjoy something a little more rustic and relaxed, then Cinque Terre is an ideal destination.
It’s also one of those unusual spots which is actually easier to get to be train. For drivers – think cliff edged roads and expensive parking. Seriously, who can be bothered with that? No, Interrail was made for areas like this. We recommend heading to La Spezia as your gateway destination, then heading from Centrale station on a quick 17min train journey to the fishing village of Manarola. The other four villages are within easy hiking distance along stunning walking trails, but the train line also connects all five villages if you prefer.
The five villages and surrounding hillsides are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, aside from rugged beauty and colourful buildings, what can you expect from the Cinque Terre? Fresh fish, fine wine (it is Italy after all), that sparking Mediterranean sea, beaches (pebbly and sandy), quaint fishing boats, narrow lanes and tiny terraces, lemon trees and botanical gardens, bustling streets, breathtaking views, forest hikes. Each village also boasts ts own religious retreat or sanctuary perched high on the cliff-sides overlooking the sea. And that’s just an overview of whats on offer.
Bianca Gignac, from the travel company Travel Fix (Italianfix.com) has been as a resident, a tour guide and a traveller in the area. Here’s her lowdown on the five villages, from south to north.
“Riomaggiore has one main street, a harbor, a rocky beach, a castle, a church, a pharmacy, and a dozen restaurants. It also has good train connections and is the closest to the main city of La Spezia. I met my husband here a decade ago, and some of my best friends live here, so I’m completely biased when I say this: It’s my favorite village.
“Heading north from Riomaggiore is the second village called Manarola. It’s also a one-street town, with a small harbor where you can swim. It has an incredible spit of land where the most famous Cinque Terre photos are taken from. It’s very similar to Riomaggiore, but has a more grown-up, chill vibe.
“The baby of the family and smallest village is Corniglia. She’s a rebel. She’s built far above the ocean on the cliffs. To arrive in Corniglia you’ve gotta hoof it up the 365 steps (one for each day of the year) to reach the center of town. If you have excessive luggage don’t stay here. But saying that, it’s where to go to get away from it all.
“The beauty queen of the Cinque Terre is named Vernazza. This village is the most popular girl at school; everyone wants to hang out with her and be her friend. She’s incredibly photogenic. Vernazza is a one-street town with a church built on the water. She has a castle, the remains of the old wall that protected against pirates, a gorgeous waterfront piazza and a harbor with a spit of sand I would even call a beach. A bigger beach was carved out by the floods in 2011 too — one of the only positive things to come from that disaster.
“The northernmost village is called Monterosso al Mare. She’s the biggest kid in the family, and has many streets and even (gasp) a few cars driving around there. Her landscape isn’t as vertical as her sisters’ — you could spend the entire day not climbing hills and stairs here. Monterosso is made up of an old town, a new town, lots of sandy beaches, some larger hotels and a long seaside promenade suitable for strollers too. If you want to avoid stairs and have a more “resort” feel to your vacation, then you should stay here.”
Bianca also offers a handy 3-night, 4-day itinerary on her blog (click here) – though you can always dip in and out if you have a little less time to explore the area.
The Interrailing Packages team x