According to the well-known proverb, the early bird catches the worm. Or, in our case, the pastries. (I know which one I’d rather.) With everyone else having a lie-in – it was a Sunday, after all – we had pick of the pastries at Pasticceria Corbani. After much umming and ahing, I went for the pear and chocolate pastry, while Laurence opted (surprise, surprise) for the Nutella swirl. (If there’s a way of getting Nutella into a meal, he’ll find it.) Pastries in hand, we made our way down to the small harbour, set on enjoying our breakfast with a view of Manarola.
Sugar levels boosted, we picked up some hiking snacks from the local co-op before catching the train to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village of the Cinque Terre. Steady drizzle greeted us upon arrival, making us rather grateful for our walking boots and waterproofs. After a brisk walk along the promenade, we popped into the local tourist information centre to enquire about the status of the trails. It turned out that all the coastal paths were closed for maintenance (or in the case of one, due to a mudslide), but that alternative trails were still in use. (Phew!)
Instead of walking through the tunnel, we took in the views from Salita dei Cappuccini. Through the haze, we could just about make out Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, tucked into rugged inlets further along the coast. We wandered up to Convento Frati Cappuccini (Convent of the Capuchin Friars), a small convent perched atop a hill overlooking Monterosso al Mare.
Although Monterosso al Mare is the only one of the five villages to have a beach, it doesn’t look as pretty as the other four when viewed from the sea, in part due to the railway line cutting between the beach and the village. Fortunately, what it lacks in colourful dwellings built into the cliffs, it makes up for in beauty elsewhere: in the walls inlaid with quirky, ceramic sea creatures; in the little side streets lined with potted plants; and in the galleries and local craft stores that line the main streets.
With lunchtime approaching and the rain easing off, we decided to take our chances on a picnic lunch and picked up some freshly-baked focaccia and various cannoli. These tasty little pastries are deep-fried and then filled with sweetened ricotta cheese; we tried vanilla, chocolate, lemon and coconut between us, all of which were scrumptious.
Post-picnic, we stopped off for a drink at a café before hitting the trail, which like the coastal path was also roped off. However, we’d been told we could take this path at our own risk, so we did. Under the rope and off to Vernazza we went, along with a handful of others who were presumably following the same off-record advice.
A muddy ascent was followed by a couple of kilometres of gentle hillwalking, with beautiful views of the coastline. Halfway into our hike, we stumbled upon a rather random little scene: cats, living on a fenced off ledge complete with little cat huts, blankets and food. These cats had names too, and it was almost as though Tom Kitten, Tabitha Twitchit and co. had set up home on the Italian Riviera.
Shortly after, we made the descent into Vernazza. Said to be the prettiest of the five villages, it certainly looks a million dollars from above: more faded façades in hues of pink, green and yellow, a sheltered marina and a watchtower overlooking the village.
No amount of drizzle could dampen our spirits (pun intended), and before long we’d scouted out a promising gelateria, with a queue spilling onto the pavement. Having decided to treat ourselves to a cone each, something we don’t do all that often, Laurence chose blackberry and coffee while I opted for raspberry and dark chocolate.
We wandered along the quayside, up and down side streets, in and out of little shops selling souvenirs. (While in the Cinque Terre, we built up a little collection of postcards; we’re still figuring out how we can display them in a rented house where Blu Tac and all its sticky relatives are off limits.) Since the rain showed no sign of letting up, we decided to call it a day and head back to Manarola. We planned to capitalise on the sunshine forecast for Monday and hike from Manarola to Vernazza, so there would be ample time for further exploring then.
Back in Manarola, we freshened up before heading out for tea at Trattoria dal Billy, recommended by our Airbnb hosts. It was a popular little spot, and as such there was a short wait for a table. Fresh fish dominates the menu; we opted to share a whole sea bass, with a side of grilled vegetables. It was one of the best meals, if not the best meal, of the trip – and one that I have precisely zero photos of, as we were too busy enjoying our fish to even think of whipping out our cameras.
- An adult one-way fare on the line between La Spezia and Levanto is €4, irrespective of distance. As silly as it sounds, you’ll pay the same for the two minute journey between Riomaggiore and Manarola as you will for the marginally lengthier journey between La Spezia and Monterosso al Mare.
- During peak season, you’ll need to purchase a Cinque Terre Card to use many of the hiking trails; these can be purchased from the tourist information points in each village. Lots of the trails are closed for maintenance outside of peak season, but if you’re there in the shoulder season like we were, you’ll likely find you can use those that are still open free of charge.