She visited in summer and told us how the five villages (Cinque means Five in Italian, and Terre means Earth) were built into the rocky harbours, and how pretty it was.
We had tried two years ago to visit here, but our plans were cancelled by a 3rd party, and so therefore, was our impending stay, but not to worry, because everything happens for a reason, and life’s timing is always perfect. At that time, we had to reserve a Hotel or Guest House / Pensione room months in advance because these five little villages are sold out in the summertime.
So when our travel plans changed a week ago in the middle of the European winter, we thought “why not pop over’ and see the Cinque Terre region.
I chose this Hotel – Apartment because the rooms were one block from the train station and because the price was fantastic.
Another reason I chose the Hotel – Apartment was because not only did it have wifi included, but also breakfast. Many hotels I looked at did not include both these options.
Our room was brand new and ultra – modern, had a mini bar fridge, and even hot water bottle and hair dryer. It was also right on the edge of La Spezia town, so we could dine or shop easily, and we even walked to the harbour from our hotel on the first night.
On the second day we had a rather late breakfast and then caught the train from La Spezia to Monterosso al Mare (the furthest of the five towns).
There is a one or two day pass that is for sale at the hotel or the tourism centre at the railway station, but we later found out we could have used our Eurail 1st Class Train Pass. I think the one day pass for adults was about 13 Euro and children’s pass was 7 Euro, but check this.
When we arrived at Monterosso al Mare, being wintertime, it as like a ghost town. We walked around the town, the beach was empty, and the village looked tired and a little uncared for as 99% of the businesses were closed. So rubbish blew, and it just looked worn out and deserved. We found one little local Bar open, and we were the only foreigners in here. The men all sat around drinking alcohol in the middle of the day and eating Panini or Italian pastries, and Explorason enjoyed a rich hot chocolate.
We decided to walk to the next town using the hiking trail. Coming from Monterosso al Mare there were no numbers or length of the trail on the sign, and we envisaged about a half hour walk.
Numbered signs were placed along the path and at ‘number two’ I wondered if we should turn back, but Explorason was loving going up and down the hilly path and steps.
About an hour in, we met the first hikers coming in the other direction. But we didn’t think to ask them how much further. We had water and warm jackets with us, but no food, and by now I was really hungry. I was delighted to see Explorason enjoying the hike, and he kept stopping and looking out at the view a couple of bays around and being so pleased with his accomplishments – we had come so far, and the further we went, the more his face beamed.
I think we were up to about ‘number fifteen’ on the signs at this time. I wished for a W.C. or restroom, but there are none on the trail.
By about 2:00 pm the sky turned grey and we had walked two hours and there was no end in sight! It seemed too late to turn around, and soon we met an Australian couple, who informed us there was a lot more up and down and about 3 km to go – and they commented how I was not dressed for the hiking trail and laughed at my boots. I had to totally agree!
We sat for a while on one of the stone steps by some grape vines looking out to sea, and soon a robin appeared. He flew right up to us – within inches, and had we been a little more patient I am pretty sure he would have jumped on our finger.
But what happened next was interesting.
As we stood to leave the robin started to come with us. He followed us and we stopped and he stopped. He became like a guardian bird on our journey for quite some time – it was lovely and I felt like he was there from God taking care of us on this lonely National Park hiking trail.
It reminded me that God promises to take care of the birds, but then he also says ‘how much more will I take care of you’.
At about sign ‘twenty-three’ on the hiking trail, I had almost had enough.
It was getting really cold and we were both really, hungry but the walk was worth it when we hit sign twenty-six and the little village appeared below of Vernazza with Castello Doria – the round tower at the water’s edge.
This was the view I had waited for. This was the Cinque Terre I had seen in the books. It really was beautiful.
When we finally arrived down in Vernazza it was once more very empty being wintertime. A load of tourists (I think from China) were busy taking ‘selfies’ by the boats, but because Explorason was so hungry and it was 3:00 pm we went in desperation of food.
There was a bar that was open but no food. And a takeaway pizza shop and also a gelato store, but nowhere to sit at either place.
A sole restaurant was open and we went in and I went off to use the restroom whilst Explorason examined the overpriced menu. To me, even though it was expensive I would have allowed anything because we were hungry and tired, but there was nothing on the menu Explorason wanted. I thought maybe I would be best to go and let Explorason buy pizza and then I would come back to eat, but as I got up, both the man and woman there started screaming abuse at me for having used the restroom. I would have willingly paid but each time I went to answer then went off at us, and it became very embarrassing. There was NO WAY I was going to come back here and dine.
As we left, I explained to Explorason that probably many people came in to use their rest room (that doesn’t justify their abuse) but that they were working when everyone else was having a vacation. Personally, I think they may have been tired and needed a vacation too so we talked about this.
We went back to the takeaway pizza shop. The lovely man cooked our pizzas and we pulled two chairs in from outside and sat out of the cold. He even poured me a glass of red wine. I was so happy to be in his tiny shoe-box size café and to give him our business.
We never did get to see any other villages. To us, Cinque Terre was a bit of a ghost area in winter, but to have the walking path almost to ourselves was just something very rare and special. I can imagine parts would be quite dangerous to pass other trekkers in summer-time when the area is packed with tourists. Quite a few areas the posts have snapped off, rails are missing, the path is worn away, and safety railing is missing and it is a sheer drop off at the sides.
As we wandered up to the railway station we commented on how grateful we were to be staying in La Spezia and not in one of these little towns in winter.
Cinque Terre is beautiful, but if you go to this region to explore the cobblestone streets, and to enjoy these historic villages, maybe visit between Spring and Autumn. However, if you would like to have the hiking trail just about all to yourself, then this is the place to visit in winter.
We returned to La Spezia only to have two tourists deadlock the front door of the apartments and we became trapped inside. The deadlock was broken but somehow they managed to use it and trap us in. I needed to buy a new bag to use in Nice to pack some items were collecting from a friends place, and Explorason was hungry. I tried emailing the hotel and was about to use Skype to call them, but discovered I was out of credit and needed to top it up.
Fortunately, I was able to use the phone in the corridor and I pushed buttons until I found a lady who spoke a little English and with my little Italian she understood our problem and came to the rescue.
By the time we escaped, most of the stores had closed, and the offending guests came back completely unaware that a tradesman had been called, and that many people had been involved in trying to just about break the door down and that the keylock had to be drilled out!
The Apartment-style -Hotel staff were really lovely about the incident, but it sure seemed like one heck of an adventurous day that we didn’t set out for, and not how I expected Cinque Terre to be at all.
I hope one day we get t o return to Cinque Terre and see the region in the summer time, but for now, we have had a little time in the region nd know what it is like.
Tomorrow we head to Nice, France using our Eurail First Class Rail Pass (but most of the trip regional Italian trains) to spend time with friends we travelled with in Costa Brava two years ago.
Explorason is really excited to see his young friends from the travel blog The Talking Suitcase – a lovely family from U.S.A. that we travelled with nearly two years ago in Costa Brava, Spain.
If you enjoyed this article or found it useful – please consider sharing it.