Unsurprisingly, the Cinque Terre is firmly on the radar of many a travel enthusiast these days. Clinging to the cliffs, these pastel-coloured villages and their harbours filled with fishing boats are the epitome of picturesque. Truth be told, I simply don’t have the words to describe the beauty of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre and its five lands – but I’ll give it my best shot.
Now that both of us have limited annual leave to play with, we decided to head off to warmer climes during the shoulder season. With cheaper prices and the kids back in school, it was a win-win for us – until Ryanair announced they were cancelling masses of flights. We crossed every finger and toe while we waited for Ryanair to announce who could go on their hols and who would be left in departures. Mercifully, we weren’t affected by the cancellations in the end, but it’s put me off booking with them in the future.
Our alarms trilled away at an ungodly hour, and before long we were snoozing away on the coach to Stansted Airport. After clearing security in record time, we holed up in Wetherspoons until our gate was announced an hour or so later. Having refused to pay for the privilege of sitting together, we settled into our seats, snoozed through the flight (emergency exit seats made for a pretty sweet snooze) and met up at the other end.
Pisa’s Aeroporto Internazionale Galileo Galilei Aiport is remarkably compact, and it wasn’t long before we’d purchased train tickets to La Spezia Centrale and were on our way to the Cinque Terre. At La Spezia Centrale, we boarded a regional train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost village in the Cinque Terre. The journey was a matter of minutes, and it wasn’t long before we were stepping off the train into the sunshine and making our way down towards the village itself. Kayaks bobbed in the harbour, trattorias spilled out onto the streets and the main street bustled with day trippers. As it was already mid-afternoon, our thoughts quickly turned to lunch, and Nonna Vittoria delivered the goods: tasty margarita pizzas (the first of many on this trip) and glasses of cold water.
We’re used to hurtling around destinations, but the slow pace of the Cinque Terre was just what we needed on this trip. Overcast skies soon gave way to sunshine, and we spent the afternoon meandering up Via Colombo and exploring the village’s many charming side streets, eventually ending up by the Chiesa di San Giovanni overlooking the village.
From here, we could see the terraced vineyards snaking round the hilltops to one side, and the Ligurian Sea to the other.
Later on, we returned to the harbour for that postcard-perfect view of Riomaggiore: fishing boats hauled up onto the quayside; pastel-coloured properties rising out of the steep cliffs; the sea lapping at the shore.
Unable to resist the siren calls of the gelatarias, we popped into Gelateria Sottozero for a couple of scoops to share. Suffice it to say, if you’re a foodie, you won’t leave the Cinque Terre disappointed.
With the afternoon drawing to a close and the coastal footpath closed for the season, we returned to the station to catch the train to Manarola. Our Airbnb host met us at the station and showed us the way to the flat, advising us on the best foodie spots and pointing out trails that were still open on the way. Having travelled with just hand luggage, it was a relief to finally empty our rucksacks and swap our walking boots for flip flops.
By the time we wandered back down Via Antonio Discovolo, the day trippers had gone and the streets were peaceful. After admiring the view of Manarola from the coastal path, we trotted off in search of food at our host’s family-run restaurant, Il Porticciolo. As the Cinque Terre is famed for its fresh fish and seafood, I opted for the swordfish and Laurence had the seafood spaghetti. We rounded off our meal with a trio of tiramisu to share: the classic, coffee-flavoured tiramisu; a strawberry tiramisu; and a Nutella tiramisu, which turned out to be our favourite. After a thoroughly lovely first day, we were looking forward to seeing what the rest of the Cinque Terre had in store for us. (Well, looking forward to everything except the rain that was on the cards for the next day.)
- PisaMover connects Galileo Galilei Airport with Pisa Centrale, with a journey time of under ten minutes. Adult tickets cost €2.70 one-way.
- You can purchase train tickets for national rail lines at the airport. Be aware that for any ticket costing more than €5, there’s a €2 commission charge. An adult one-way ticket from Pisa Centrale to La Spezia Centrale costs €11. Before boarding the train, you’ll need to validate your tickets at the machines on the platform.