Italy’s Cinque Terre: Part One

Someday, I’ll be an old woman on my deathbed.

According to our plan, Adam will have just passed away quietly a few moments before; this will have been my cue to tidy up the house, make a few calls, lie down beside him and wait for the Grim Reaper.

In those last moments, I know I’ll think of one special part of the world: the Cinque Terre, in Northern Italy.

Truly, it’s that beautiful.Italian for “Five Lands,” the Cinque Terre is a collection of five consecutive villages along what’s known as the Italian Riviera, in the region of Liguria, on the Ligurian Sea. It’s tucked up neatly in the northwest corner of the country, enviably seated between Monaco and Tuscany.

We first learned about the Cinque Terre from travel guru Rick Steves, who refers to this jewel-toned slice of heaven as “fantasy-fulfilling.” Turns out it’s also automobile- free, dotted with hillsides of flowers and grape vines, and perhaps most importantly, the land of pesto…a concoction of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan that is almost guaranteed to make Adam weep with joy.

We wisely chose to throw a two-day visit here into the midst of our two-week, late September-early October itinerary, like so:

Venice – Verona – Lake ComoSt. Moritz – Cinque Terre – Florence – Tuscany

We returned our rental car in Como and took about four hours’ worth of trains to Monterosso al Mare, the first and largest of the five villages; we wouldn’t need a car again for several days, when we’d drive from Florence to San Gimignano in Tuscany.

We made the beach resort of Monterosso our home base over the next two days, staying at the cozy, unassuming (and since-refurbished) Hotel Margherita, just about a block from the shore. We dined at Ristorante Ciak “La Lampara” on the world’s freshest gnocchi and pesto, formed an emotional attachment to their seafood risotto, and drank a lovely bottle of a crisp, bright indigenous white wine called, simply, Cinque Terre; we then slept peacefully in the mild sea air.

The next morning, we sipped exquisite cappuccinos (which no one in Italy drinks after 11am) at the first cafe we came to on the only sand to speak of in the Cinque Terre. Fortunately, said sand here is soft and inviting, and no one minds if you choose to sit for hours.

However, there’s one drawback to staying in Monterosso: When you get to the end of the five villages, which is a journey that can either take you on steep climbs and strenuous hikes, on a bunch of ferries, or along a series of minor train stops that will still require some hoofing…you have to come all the way back to your starting point. If we had it to do over again, we might have spent one night in Monterosso and the second in the last village, Riomaggiore.

And about that strenuous hiking: We’re not kidding. I love to hike and Adam is a pretty experienced backpacker, but we didn’t do so well with the Cinque Terre Trail. Between Monterosso and Vernazza, after an hour and 45 minutes of mostly uphill walking on narrow, sometimes-cliffside paths in the hot sun (even in late September), we were done. I’m still glad we did it, because the sea and garden views were absolutely spectacular, but post-Vernazza, we were quick to take trains for the rest of the day.

If you’re still brave enough to walk the entire Trail (one way):

  • Bring your most comfortable, sturdy walking shoes and a bottle of water for each of you;
  • Know that it will take you about 6 hours, not including time spent in the villages themselves.

Continued in Cinque Terre: Part Two


  1. I don’t “weep with joy.” I tear up slightly. I think it’s generally the onions. Or a gland issue that strikes when I get too near basil products. Not sure yet. Gonna keep eating till I figure it out.


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