One of the last stops on our trip through Italy was the Cinque Terre and although it got off to an auspicious start with the ordeal of trying to figure out where to drop our rental car off in La Spezia, our four days turned out great. (Our friends at Hertz provided two addresses, the first seemed not to exist, then we arrived at the second one to find out it had closed the week before and we now needed to go back across town to find the new location they had moved to. They seemed confused as to why I would want a receipt for the car I was returning and never did provide one as they took off with the car but I haven’t been charged for it yet so here’s hoping that turned out fine. )
I was a little worried about the apartment we had rented since we had arranged it all through e-mail and basically only chose it because it was available, in our price range, and one of the owners was from Vancouver. In the end, our apartment was one of the best parts of our stay there – an excellent value with a beautiful little balcony where we enjoyed all our meals and drinks while looking out over the harbour and the sea.
After reading through Joy Loves Travel’s excellent recaps of the villages, we were quite excited to arrive and happy that we had chosen Riomaggiore as our home base. A lot of people head to the Cinque Terre because of the famous hiking that winds along the sea and up over the mountains. However, some of the more famous hikes are currently still under repair due to the massive mudslides that took place a couple of years ago. Regardless, there are still plenty worth doing but they are more challenging than some of those that are currently closed. I initially thought that with the kids in tow we would just try to take on one or two of the shorter ones but by the time we arrived at this point in the trip, it was clear that we weren’t going to walk anywhere for fun. The decision to abandon any hiking was probably the smartest one we made.
We really enjoyed our little town of Riomaggiore – we found that the days had quite a rhythm to them, around 10am the first tourists and tour groups arrived and filled the villages until about 6pm when they returned to La Spezia and larger centres. In those off hours, it was fun to have the town to ourselves for sitting on the main street, grabbing a gelato and watching the sunset from a private little square just out our apartment door.
When we first booked this trip, we wanted to at least spend some time near the sea but we weren’t sure if the weather would cooperate enough for us to actually enjoy the sea. Luckily, it was a perfect 25 degrees Celsius each day we were there and although there weren’t a lot of people on the beach, it was plenty warm enough for us. We spent two full days at the beach in Monterosso, taking advantage of the discounted September rates for renting beach chairs and enjoying ourselves completely. Even though this village was the furthest one from Riomaggiore, it was only a quick 11 minute train ride to get there.
In between our two beach days we took the ferry that links four out of the five villages and stopped at each one. This was a fun activity and provides a much different perspective on the villages. Each village has its own unique characteristics that make it worthwhile to see all five.
The food in the villages is worth mentioning – while groceries were the most expensive we saw in Italy, we had good luck eating some fantastic seafood, gelato (of course), and the our village’s bakery, Panificio Rosi, provided wonderful pastries, flatbread and even a Nutella torte to celebrate Heidi’s birthday. Our other guilty pleasure, beyond the pastries, gelato and wine, (missing this trip right now…) was the region’s answer to fast food – the seafood cone. Exactly what it sounds like, this is a giant cone of deep fried squid, shrimp, calamari and fish that seems to be served throughout the villages, although our favorite was right across from our apartment at Il Pescato Cucinato. This was a great precursor to dinner each night on our balcony.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Cinque Terre. We stayed for four nights and thought that was a nice length – we saw the villages, relaxed on the beach and still felt like we had some time to just chill out at our apartment. Just one other helpful note if you visit and happen to bank with Scotiabank or CIBC – there is not a single bank machine in the Cinque Terre that will work with your card. We figured this out the hard way on day three and then when I looked further online, I realized we weren’t the first people to run into this problem. Luckily, a quick Visa cash advance and we were back in business but it did make me realize how much we rely on technology working wherever we are.