To see the famous Cinque Terre, a UNESCO heritage site, in the Italian region of Liguria this past week was a treat that I won’t soon forget. While normally I like to savor a place for a few days, I did a typical day trip from Florence to Cinque Terre last Friday to get a ‘taste’ of the place before heading to Levanto the next day as part of the #invasionidigitali [sharing culture digitally] with #welevanto.
I know many tour operators offer this sort of ‘all-day’ tour which allows people to discover an area that once was not so easily accessible or known to the public, that was before the trains were built and Rick Steves encouraged Americans to visit. Some hate Rick for that, but he was only doing his job and I could see what captured his fancy once I too, laid my eyes on this place.
Is this heaven? Plus how could you not love this adorable Italian nonno playing with his grandson 😉
While it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, I had never been to this area of Italy, knew nothing about Liguria – even though I knew it was breath-taking and worth a visit. I suppose it was because I figured I could go at any time and just ended up discovering other areas. I was also intimidated by the thought of so many people visiting such a small place. That being said, of course the first time I did visit, this last Friday, I wanted to slap myself in the face for not going before because it was just so, so beautiful.
A happy Nico turned ‘boat man’ for a day
We hopped on a tour with a new gang Smarttrip, a travel agency specializing in tours like this one bringing you via bus, which had working wifi, to Cinque Terre where you then take trains to move along the various towns. Keep in mind that if you go on your own you can also hike along the paths which are absolutely amazing, some of which were closed still due to the very devastating landslide in October 2011 [highly recommend reading this first-hand account of saving Vernazza by Italy Magazine].
I also recommend getting on a boat which I will touch on a part 2 post about nearby Levanto. We happened to go on a day that was quite rainy & cold but I luckily got a few hours of clear weather, and we went back the following days after basing elsewhere.
Welcome to a ‘Poncho Paradise’ – anyone like yellow?
My favorite photo filter is the ‘umbrella filter’
My first impression upon seeing the colorful facades and bobbing boats in tiny harbors, was just heart-skipping wow. The fact that so long ago people created such beautiful places that before the unification of Italy were not yet accessible by train was not lost on me.
Also because I happened to be there during an Italian ‘ponte’ or holiday, it was super crowded and full of tourists, like myself, filling up the tiny, winding streets. Since the trains are run by uh well trenitalia, that looks like they were last renovated during the unification of Italy, on a busy weekend, expect crowds! Moving from town to town was likened to playing a sort elbow war with many elderly from Poland, which in itself was an experience. We made friends and enemies in countries all over the world ;-).
What I appreciated about Smarttrip was the fact that while we arrived together and the guide explained what to expect and what to see, we basically were on our own to explore and thus not clog up alleyways like other groups tended to do.
Nico photo-bombing a tour group.
Once again, even after visiting Venice at carnivale, I could not believe how many people filled these tiny streets. It was a complicated feeling because while I myself was there for the same reasons as everyone else, to see this amazing place up close and personal and not just as my PC screensaver background, at that moment just felt like there were too many people.
I know these kinds of towns survive on tourism but surely they must be overwhelmed during the months of May – September. On that note, I later went back on Saturday to Vernazza and it wasn’t as crowded, even if people completely ignore the rope barricades or red-flags to help keep people safe from stormy weather or a dangerous sea.
Every town was a delight for me. From the colorful (and famous facade) of Manarola to the romantic Vernazza, each holds their zone weight in beauty. Here, everyone can pick their favorite. You can spot pretty signs showcasing the famous “via del amore” [which is still closed?] and pretty murals over many of the streets walls showcasing life from the past or the cities aftermath of the 2011 flood.
In Monorola we snacked on a perfect crunch oily focaccia, a treat famous in this area of italy. In Vernazza we indulged in the famous dessert wine of the area, Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà. An expensive treat mind you but it is made from the best grapes and aged no less than two years which has some of the other towns upset since they say that inferior grapes are now being mixed into the batch. I have to say that while I did enjoy it, it was too expensive for me [around 28-60] euros a bottle which I would at that point rather have a wonderful vin santo dessert wine, that’s just my opinion.
That tiny glass cost 7 euros
We ended up getting back to Florence around 7:45 pm, happy, tired and full of good memories, despite the crap weather. I talked to the folks at Smarttrip and they offer this tour to students for only 40 euros (50 with lunch included). You leave the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station at 7am and return no later than 8pm.
*A huge plus was how informed our guide was, I like that even as we left Florence she pointed out and explained various buildings and places to us that I think any student or tourist would appreciate. Plus she told us where to get some absolutely awesome foccacia which was one of the highlights of the day [ you know how much I love food!]. I know that while these tours might be marketed to students, I think as a student, I would have appreciated someone with some real knowledge of the area visited, while also being fun and upbeat.
The Cinque Terre tour includes:
Transportation by fully fitted luxury GT Coach with WIFI, expert multilingual escort, free tour of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso, Vernazza; Free time to take a swim in the sea; Motor vessel tickets (if the weather is good) Train tickets. More info & booking here.
*Disclaimer – My partner and I were guests of Smarttrips for the Cinque Terre tour but trust that all opinions and thoughts 100% are my own.