The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre

Tripoto
14th May 2015

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

La Spezia

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

La Spezia

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Porto Di La Spezia

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

La Spezia

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Photo of The Five Mystical Villages: Cinque Terre by Sumedha Bharpilania

Cinque Terre, which translates into ‘The Five Lands’, is a rocky yet exceptionally picturesque portion of the Italian Riviera coast. The five fishing villages: Riomaggiore, Monterosso al Mare, VernazzaCorniglia and Manarola are collectively known as Cinque Terre and they are all a few kilometres away from the cities of La Spezia and Levanto.

The Cinque Terre villages could easily be figments of a gifted author's imagination or they could find place in a fairy tale sans human protagonists. That is because the landscape and the colours, the charm and the virginal beauty of these villages are collectively capable of overshadowing any principal mortal character. Tall, narrow structures, that are reminiscent of those in Amsterdam, just more rustic, come in a plethora of hues and protrude from terraces one after the other. They are homes to the local fishermen, vineyard keepers and a handful of tourists who decide to stay for short periods of time. When seen from a distance, these beautiful houses remind you of a box of oil pastels, arranged in random shades with a peach coming after a teal and a ruby preceding the yellow. The sea keeps washing over the cliffs, spraying a traveller or two because of the force with which she strikes, as if it were some form of a friendly greeting. You then get lost in the gastronomic feast that these villages have to offer because the produce is as fresh as it could get. Sweet wines that linger for the longest time, bread so firm that you can hear the crunch, the juciest olives, the nuttiest cheese, the most pungent garlic, rich golden honey and the local salty fish, as a matter of course- this could have been paradise.

The villages are all proof of the fact that human endeavour can sometimes keep nature together, else everything would be gone in a matter of minutes. The stone walls carefully built around the five lands have kept them from falling into the sea. There are no cars that can access the villages, with Monterosso being an exception. However, the train connections are wonderful and so are the boats. I must add that somehow, every picture you take of this UNESCO World Heritage Site comes out just right. This place really restores your faith in magic.

The three goddesses of fate decided to be slightly unkind to me, therefore the Blue Walking Trail or the Sentiero Azzuro that is 12 kilometres long and connects the five villages was shut for repairs owing to landslides and I was forced to hop onto a train from La Spezia and visit the villages one by one. For those who are lucky enough to find the path open (find out well in advance), a Cinque Terre card can be bought at the La Spezia train station for around 12 Euros and you do not need to be exceptionally fit to do the walk starting from Riomaggiore and finishing in Monterosso. This card should cover all your second class train travel from La Spezia to the town of Levanto so if in case you do not feel like walking, the trains could help you experience the villages faster and better.This card also includes the usage of free WiFi at the train stations, public toilets and local buses. Yes, most public toilets otherwise cost money. There is also a cheaper Cinque Terre card that is available for 7.5 Euros but it does not include train travels. For those without a card (like me), tickets can be purchased at each station and need to be validated on the several validation machines lining the platforms prior to boarding. For more experienced hikers, there is a 38 kilometre long path called Sentiero Rosso which connects Porto Venere to Levanto, with La Spezia and all the Cinque Terre villages lying in between. Train and bus connections are easily available.

A severely underrated port town in the Italian Riviera, La Spezia also happens to be Italy's largest naval base. It is relatively quieter than the rest of the Italian cities and the locals are nice and simple unlike their more urban counterparts. The only reason La Spezia gets touristy is owing to the fact that it serves as a base for those wanting to visit the Cinque Terre villages, yet the place exudes an inexplicable charm of its own. Walk around the several beautiful piazzas leading up to the waterfront and allow yourself some time to sample the street food available - Waffle Churros, Chips, Farinatas (chickpea flour pancakes) and Take Away Pizzas among other Italian delicacies. If you are a fan of retail therapy, every imaginable brand along with a few local ones can be found in the city. The Porto (waterfront) is a perfect place to sit, read and simultaneously indulge in a good amount of people watching. Getting There: Trains run from Rome Termini/Rome Ostiense to La Spezia Centrale/La Spezia Migliarina every few hours. The duration is around 4 hours and will cost you approximately 50 Euros per trip. Additionally, you may have to change trains on certain stations. Booking on the ItaliaRail/Trenitalia websites in advance is a great idea as you save money and since most changing trains are Regionale trains on which you do not have reserved seats (unlike Intercity and Frecciargento), it is absolutely imperative to validate your tickets on the many validation machines at the station just before you board the train.
Photo of La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
The largest of the five Cinque Terre fishing villages, Riomaggiore is the starting point for the Sentiero Azzurro or the Blue Walking Trail. Its brightly coloured, uneven houses perched on top of cliffs paint a lovely picture with tiny fishing boats scattered here and there on the harbour below. Do not miss the glowing sunset view of the village and if you like to spend a few nights, apartments are available for rent. If you descend a few steps behind the train station, you could read a book and sip on to some coffee on one of its secluded beaches. Getting There: A Cinque Terre Card, available at the La Spezia train station for around 12 Euros grants you free rides on trains connecting the villages up to the town of Levanto. If in case you are not walking along the Blue Trail, Riomaggiore is the first stop from La Spezia and the ride is approximately 10 minutes long. If you do not have a card, tickets can be bought for a little over a Euro at La Spezia and require validation. The train mostly runs through tunnels but even the smallest glimpse of the sea is breath-taking.
Photo of Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Dotted with pretty cafes and inconspicuous gelaterias, Vernazza is the most old fashioned of all Cinque Terre villages, yet the most photographed. It also has the best harbour of them all. Spending hours doing nothing or walking down Via Roma and sampling fried fish and chips is a very good idea. Getting There: A Cinque Terre Card, available at the La Spezia train station for around 12 Euros grants you free rides on trains connecting the villages up to the town of Levanto. If in case you are not walking along the Blue Trail, Vernazza is the fourth stop from La Spezia and the ride is approximately 20 minutes long. If you do not have a card, tickets can be bought for about 2 Euros at La Spezia or any of the other villages and require validation. The train mostly runs through tunnels but even the smallest glimpse of the sea is breath-taking.
Photo of Vernazza, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Vernazza, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Vernazza, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
Photo of Vernazza, La Spezia, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania
The oldest of the five Cinque Terre villages, Manarola is extremely popular for its wines. It also is somehow very crowded, so try and go a little early. Getting There: A Cinque Terre Card, available at the La Spezia train station for around 12 Euros grants you free rides on trains connecting the villages up to the town of Levanto. If in case you are not walking along the Blue Trail, Manarola is the second stop from La Spezia and the ride is approximately 11 minutes long. If you do not have a card, tickets can be bought for about 1.5 Euros at La Spezia or any of the other villages and require validation. The train mostly runs through tunnels but even the smallest glimpse of the sea is breath-taking.
The middle village which is the only one to have no access to the sea, one has to climb about 400 steps from the train station to get to Corniglia. It is probably the most colourful of all the Cinque Terre villages and provides you a panoramic view of the five settlements. Getting There: A Cinque Terre Card, available at the La Spezia train station for around 12 Euros grants you free rides on trains connecting the villages up to the town of Levanto. If in case you are not walking along the Blue Trail, Corniglia is the third stop from La Spezia and the ride is approximately 15 minutes long. If you do not have a card, tickets can be bought for about 2 Euros at La Spezia or any of the other villages and require validation. The train mostly runs through tunnels but even the smallest glimpse of the sea is breath-taking.
Badly hit by floods in 2011, Monterosso, which is the farthest of all villages from La Spezia and closest to the town of Levanto, has risen like a Phoenix from its ashes. It is also the only village that can be accessed by car, has a full-fledged beach and is famous for its lemon trees. Getting There: A Cinque Terre Card, available at the La Spezia or Levanto train stations for around 12 Euros grants you free rides on trains connecting the villages up to the town of Levanto or the other way round. If in case you are not walking along the Blue Trail, Monterosso is the fifth stop from La Spezia and the first stop from Levanto and the ride is approximately 25 minutes and 5 minutes long, respectively. If you do not have a card, tickets can be bought for about 2 Euros at La Spezia, For around 1.5 Euros at Levanto or any of the other villages and require validation. The train mostly runs through tunnels but even the smallest glimpse of the sea is breath-taking.
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