While doing our research of places we want to visit during our 2 month Europe trip, we came across Cinque Terre (CT) and almost immediately decided that this is definitely on the list! The only issue was that being an only recently-popular place, there wasn't too much information available. And that brings me to this blog on our recommendations on how to navigate CT - hope you find this helpful in planning your trip (and we would definitely recommend that!)
Things to do in Cinque Terre:
#1 Choose 1 village as base and visit the other 4
As you would have read, Cinque Terre or "Five Lands" (in English) is actually that - a bunch of 5 villages - Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia. The first issue you'll face is deciding where to stay between these five - we read quite a bit, compared accommodation prices and then took a punt with Riomaggiore. These five villages are connected by Cinque Terre Express train, which has a pretty decent frequency (and a standard cost of 4 Euro per person) - so that makes life easy to travel across.
From Amalfi (which was our previous stop), we had a long long journey to CT and we geared up for it. Super early in the morning, we took the first bus out to Salerno and then caught our pre-booked train to Florence. After a quick snack, we took the next train to La Spezia and then CT Express to Riomaggiore. All this costed us 17 Euro per person (pre-booking discounts, of course). Lugging our bags, we decided that we'll book a cab to get to our hotel...but to our complete shock, there was absolutely no public transport! And welcome to Riomaggiore! It is so quaint and untouched, that there are no cabs, no buses and all shopaholics hold your breath - no Mango, Zara or other branded shops!
Riomaggiore is basically just an inclined road with houses and tiny shops and restaurants lining it.
We had made our reservations at Banchi. While we knew it is a couple of floors, we weren't prepared for the narrow staircase and very high steps! #protip: speak to your hotel/ apartment people beforehand - there are porters who can carry your luggage from the station to your room for 4 Euros per bag. The room was clean and spacious enough for both of us. The best part of the apartment was the terrace - which was perfect for the star-studded skies of Riomaggiore! We saw tons of satellites and I swear, I saw a shooting star (Achal doesn't believe me!).
In retrospect, Monterosso would have been a good option as well, given that its the largest village (hence many more accommodation options in every range), has a sprawling sandy beach, a shopping area and quite a few eating options. But exactly for those reasons, it is also a very touristy village and not quaint like Riomaggiore.
#2 Try the seafood
Imagine fresh, deep fried, crispy calamari, octopus and fish with lemon squeezed on top..absolute yum! And this you will find all over in CT, served in paper cones. Each morning, we would stop at Il Pescato Cucinato and grab a takeaway of mixed fried seafood, which came in small (5 Euors) and large (7 Euros) sizes.
Another recommendation, is to book a table at Il Grottino. One of the few sit-down restaurants in Riomaggiore, we had a fantastic dinner here - probably one of the best in Italy!
We tried cured anchovies fillets (super salty) along with the house wine. For mains, we loved the seafood ligurian spaghetti - fresh seafood tossed in a tomato sauce that had a unique taste. Continuing with our food coma, we were in heaven as we bit into the mud cake. So much joy for Euros 36!
Unfortunately we didn't get a reservation here, but the panaromic view at sunset from A Pie' de Ma' was phenomenal. Do try to get a table for dinner here and arrive just before sunset.
Enjoy the slow pace of life in CT. Spend a day at the Monterosso beach and don't forget to try the foccacia (the smell of fresh foccacia being baked from the tiny shops will not leave you!)
While here, stroll through the market - there are cute souvenir shops, randomly growing tomato shrubs and a picturesque church right in the middle.
We spent our evenings at Vertical Bar in Riomaggiore - there's a friendly, relaxed feel to these places.. people know each other and wave at their friends as they pass by. Do try the strawberry daiquiri!
Meals were often take-away pizza - we would settle down on one of the stone benches on the road and enjoy the silence. No pedestrians busy on their mobiles rushing somewhere, no buses or cars zooming by.. the silence sometimes broken by a little girl who would be playing throw ball with her neighbours.
CT was a fantastic break away from the hustle and bustle of tourist centres like Rome, Naples, and even the Amalfi Coast. Would love to go back to this part of the Italian Riviera any day!