4 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Cinque Terre in Italy
Considering a trip to Cinque Terre? After a recent visit full of blunders and wish-I-had-knowns, I put together some tips for planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacay to the Italian Riviera.
Contrary to popular assumption, Cinque Terre is not the name of a city, but is in fact a string of five scenic seaside villages along the Italian Riviera. A huge part of their appeal lies in the difficulty of their accessibility. Getting around in a foreign country can be tough when you don't speak the language, so planning ahead is key for a smooth and memorable trip. Here are the four things you should know before you go.
Go by train.
Whatever you do, do not drive. We're talking hours of winding, narrow roads through the mountains that in some places are only wide enough for one car to pass. There was lots of backing up (in a manual car) on cliffs (some without guardrails) to let cars pass. To top it off, you're sharing the road with Italian drivers — Italian drivers who live there. Capisce? Parking is limited, not close to the center, and the towns are strictly pedestrian-only.
To do a proper tour of all the towns, start on either end — Monterosso or Riomaggiore. You can choose to hike the entire route in one day (it takes around six hours) and then take the train back when you reach the last town. Or stay overnight in a town or two along the way to break up the hike and take it all in.
Or easily see each town by train. Time between towns by train is only five minutes. Just hop on and hop off. As a popular day trip from Florence, you can see all of the five towns for as little as $20! Depart from station Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia Centrale and board the Cinque Terre Express. Piece of cake. The train system in Italy is pretty inexpensive and reliable.
Don't go in the middle of the Summer.
The last time I saw so many people in one place, I was in line at Disney World. The sweltering heat and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds made it difficult to take in the majesty of the town. Between mid-April and early June are the sweet spots for enjoying a swim and a hike. Crowds will be at their worst from June through August. Mid-September to early October is less crowded, but not all trails may be open and the rainy season begins. Staying in a town overnight is a great way to enjoy the town after the day-trippers go home. However, "high season" runs April through October, so book a room at least three months in advance.
Eat somewhere with a view (but consult TripAdvisor first).
You're hungry. It's warm. Pesky waiters outside restaurants are beckoning for your business. But how do you choose a place that isn't a total tourist trap? When you're cranky and your stomach is yelling at you, it's already too late. You're about to fall victim to what I refer to as "wasting a meal." Nothing gets me more fired up than a crappy meal in a country that boasts the best food in the world. Sometimes it's a gut instinct, other times you get lucky, but why leave it up to chance? Do I need to remind you that you're in Italy?! If you don't do any of the aforementioned hiking, enjoy at least one meal someplace with a view — you'll be glad you did.
Prepare to walk.
Although we came by car, the parking closest to the town is reserved for residents. The descent into the town by foot took around 15 minutes. Plan to encounter lots of inclines and stairs. Even if you aren't hiking, due to the vertical nature of these towns, you will be walking uphill a lot. Other than the regional train system, there are no taxis or other forms of transportation — so keep that in mind when you're packing! But despite all the hiking or walking, I think you'll agree that the breathtaking scenery is so worth the effort. Not unlike the challenge of pursuing an elusive mate, the beauty of the Cinque Terre is awarded to those who are the most determined to see it.