The Five Lands
Here we are at the first weekend trip of the year, after a long holiday through Central America, and without counting my quick visit to Madrid some days before as that was not for travelling but to be with my family and friends. And what a beautiful place to start the year, Cinque Terre, So now that it is getting extremely hard to find new appealing flight routes and destinations to go, it appears the weekend trips for 2016 will have to be planned differently; this is, flying somewhere we’ve already been, but to go to the nearby secondary cities and places where you cannot take a direct flight. And of course, there are hundreds of beautiful places still to discover across Europe, with many others always great to return; but from now on, this will have to be plan for most of our future weekend trips.
Starting this trend, a good priced flight to Pisa was then. Not for staying there and re-visit the city I’ve already been twice, but for spending the entire Saturday to visit Cinque Terre at merely 1 hour by train to the first of the villages, Riomaggiore, and the other 4 just a short train ride in between them. Visiting this beautiful region has been on the agenda for quite a while now but always forgotten on behalf of going somewhere else.
The 5 villages form part of the wider Cinque Terre National Park which is in turn, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO under the name: Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto). It is definitely worth to come, see and enjoy the incredible nice landscapes, the rugged coastline and the multicolour ancient and historical villages against the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
When planning this trip, bear in mind a day is more than enough. It will be rare anyone staying over for more days as this is one of the most popular day trips you can do while in the region. Visiting each of the villages is also matter of few time, yet while they are very reduced in size, it will still take some time climbing to the viewing points and higher areas to get the best view of the village against the sea in the background, plus the relevant time spent in commuting between the villages, although this is anyway no more than 5 minutes train ride from one to another,but trains are hourly for what you will need to plan and know ahead when is the next train to avoid unnecessary waiting time. All in all, a day is perfect and totally enough for doing everything with no rush.
For more information about Cinque Terre check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency of Italy is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Cinque Terre
Listing the villages in the order we reached them from the south coming from Pisa
- Riomaggiore Next to La Spezia, is the nearest of the villages to Pisa. Along its main street, Via Colombo you will find great restaurants, cafes and bars. Try to get near both ends of the village to the cliffs for a nice view of the buildings, port and sea. Or walk towards Manarola along the cliff trail. Check beforehand in case the paths are closed as sometimes after heavy storms they close for repairs. This path is nicknamed Via dell’Amore (Love’s Trail) for its beauty and enchantment.
- Manarola The next village, just 5 minutes by train from the previous village, or some 30 minutes’ walk along the cliff trail Via dell’Amore (Love’s Trail). It is the most beautiful of the 5 villages in my opinion.
- Corniglia Following north this is the next village, the only one not directly by the sea but 300 meters above on the cliff. You can access from Manarola following the Blue Trail. Again check beforehand if this is open or not, but bear in mind this will be a longer and harder hike than the shorter Love’s Trail. Otherwise take the train. From the station there are 365 steps up into the village.
- Vernazza If you follow the Blue Trail from Corniglia, you will get great views of the villages you’ve passed behind, and the oncoming one, Vernazza, but this is one of the hardest section of the trail with lots of steps, up and downs. On the other hand, from Corniglia you will need to descend the 365 steps to reach the train station once again and align in the next stop. Vernazza has two ancient towers, where from the distance makes the village very special. The next most beautiful after Manarola to my taste.
- Monterosso al Mare The less special of the 5 villages. The last one father north. It has 2 parts, the new one developed mostly for tourism after the 1950s, and the older town which is nothing to compare to the other.
The nearest airports are either Pisa in the south or Genoa to the north. Both just 1 hour away from Cinque Terre in general, either to the northernmost or southernmost of the 5 villages, depending on which airport you are planning to come from. All airports, villages and nearby cities are very well connected by hourly trains hence being the most convenient transport.
From elsewhere in Italy, again, the train is the best option. With that many important and highly touristic cities nearby (Genoa, Milan, Bologna, Parma, Pisa, Florence, Siena) or matter of few hours on high-speed trains south to Rome and farther down along the coast towards Naples, the entire country is extremely well connected by rail anywhere. The same is by bus all over, so you will have plenty of options when travelling by air or overland.
Within the 5 villages that form Cinque Terre, I can describe the best way to get there from Pisa where we came from. By all means, do not plan in getting a rental car. This will not help you at all in this area because it will take you a long time to move between the villages through tiny and sneaky roads, while in the other hand, it is not even 5 minutes by train between each of the villages!. You can get a day train ticket valid for unlimited rides through the day including the walking trails. So a train from Pisa to La Spezia is less than 1 hour, and the next stop from La Spezia is already the first of the Cinque Terre villages, Riomaggiore.
Hop on and off the train at each village, explore them and keep doing this until you reach the last one, Monterosso al Mare. Although I would strongly encourage you to walk the Via dell’Amore (Love’s Trail) between Riomaggiore and Manarola as it is very worth it for the landscapes and because it it not a difficult trail to hike, but unfortunately at the time of our visit (February 2016) it was closed for repairing works.
We made our base in Pisa. Although being such a small city but with the enormous affluence of tourists, the choice and availability of hotels is in fact large, with quite good competitive prices (of course during low season). Bear in mind that Pisa is generally just a stopover of few hours for the majority of tourists visiting the city. They will either be passing by on way to Florence, Siena or Rome, or to the north of Italy towards Genoa or Milan.
On both of my past visits in 2001 and 2009, Pisa was just a stopover in the way and therefore I cannot recommend any specific hotel back then.
In this latest stay, however, although we did not come to re-visit the city itself but to visit Cinque Terre, we stayed overnight in Pisa. The choice of hotels was way larger than back in 2009, with plenty of great deals, but of course I understand this was due to be pure low-season. I can imagine this same trip during high-season could be a seriously expensive business.
As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Rosso di Sera Relais Tuscany, in the north of the city meters away from the worldwide known attraction of the Pisa Tower, and also conveniently next to the Pisa San Rossore train station where you can get on a train to Cinque Terre. This is a small boutique property with all the facilities needed for a short stay plus more, like a really nice jacuzzi, and a simple but nice breakfast. Staff was very polite and professional, the room was large although plain and empty looking like but overall very well cared property. If I can find a downside is the room we got, overlooking the railway tracks not far and hence noisy until the last trains around midnight, and again from around 6 am. We did not mind as we sleep with earplugs, but for someone not used to earplugs I see it a problem for them to sleep.