Cinque Terre is a relatively small section of the picturesque, breathtaking Italian Riviera coastline, but is nonetheless the home of five even smaller villages – Manarola and Riomaggiore being the two most visited, the two most touristy, and the two that we went to. The three others, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, and Corniglia look just as colorful and just as worthy of you visiting. Together, they make up Cinque Terre, or in Italian “Five lands.”
You may have seen the coastline of Manarola in many places: in the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, or on the cover of that book, Beautiful Ruins. I have absolutely no idea when or where I first saw Cinque Terre, but for the past few years it’s been high on my never-ending, ever-changing travel hit-list. As with most places I visit, I was a bit afraid to see Starbucks or McDonalds cropping up in such a naturally beautiful seaside town, but luckily, I only saw boatloads of tourists. I, like many, came to Cinque Terre because I had seen photos. The photos. Photos of the colors of Cinque Terre, the old Italian grandpas gardening, and the chic couple dressed in all-white sipping on Prosecco. Photos that have you rethinking your never-ending, ever-changing travel hitlist and replacing the top slots with cute, colorful towns on the Italian coastline.
And you should.
While walking through the minuscule alleyways, we stumbled upon this garden overlooking Riomaggiore and the Mediterranean. We were admiring the views, thinking to ourselves that this might even beat out Mexican cenotes as the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen in our travels, when a man of about 75 years came out and asked if we wanted to come into his garden to get a better view. What a nice thing to ask…except that I didn’t get any of it since the only Italian I speak is “Dammi un baccio.” Jo took the lead on that one, expressed our thanks for both of us with an appreciative “Grazie” and something else she mumbled out in Italian, and the next thing you know, we had a new viewpoint of Riomaggiore that probably doesn’t happen too often for tourists like us flooding his city. One beautiful moment after the next, I tell you!
The five towns of Cinque Terre are completely walkable and tend to only have one main street with a market or two and a few restaurants that, to me, just looked touristy. We also visited on a Sunday, which made it ten times harder to spot local eats. After a quick cappuccino and a pesto calzone (I had to; this region of Liguria is known for pesto), we spent the majority of our time strolling through the ups-and-downs of Riomaggiore:
And then came the hike. You can, of course, take a one-way train for something like ¢1,50 or a boat trip to each of the five villages, but Jo and I had a train to catch that evening to Verona, so we could only catch the first two cities near the main train station in La Spezia. Well all of that, and also, ¢1,50 is unnecessary when you can hike your way to the next city for free. While the train gets you from tiny Italian town to the next in about two or three minutes, you miss out on views like this:
And for someone like me, who was a loyal Survivor fan growing up – to the point where I would literally wear a Survivor tribal bandana every Thursday night when the show came on (I was 10 years old okay!) – views like this were not only breathtaking and a bit empowering, but also a bit nostalgic. How many times do we see views like this on TV, in the movies, or more realistically, on Instagram, and we just set them aside in our minds as if they’re unreachable? In total, we paid for a $20 four-bed hostel dorm room, then a $1 shuttle to Cinque Terre. $21 is the price you pay for a nice tee-shirt. Let that one sink in.
But it’s not like we got it all figured out. I mean just that morning, I ordered a latte thinking I’d get a milky espresso drink, only to be disappointed when they gave me a cup of hot milk (“latte” means “milk” in Italian – I should have known). To keep up with the #TravelFail theme, I decided to wear ripped jeans and white converse with no socks when hiking an hour on the Italian Riviera. Who the F do I think I am trying to hike up mountains in that kind of outfit?
After about 45 minutes of non-stop Riomaggiore beauty – or if you’re like me, 45 minutes of sweaty legs from wearing jeans, you’ll descend into the next neighboring Cinque Terre town of Manarola…
…to eventually reach the iconic view you came for in the first place:
So, yes, places this beautiful do exist.