High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train Part 5: Surveying the Cinque Terre

The final leg of our voyage through Italy saw us headed to the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. After close to two weeks of bustling cities filled with museums, cathedrals and occasionally hostile crowds we were looking forward to spending a relaxing few days by the sea. Our plan was to briefly explore each of the five villages known as the Cinque Terre, but first we had to get there and that meant only one thing! Trains, oh so many trains!

Train: Trenitalia Regionale 3127
Depart: Firenze Santa Maria Novella 13:28
Arrive: Pisa Centrale 14:28
Seats: Unreserved (Standard Class)
Locomotive: Unknown

Train: Trenitalia Frecciabianca 9772
Depart: Pisa Centrale 14:48
Arrive: La Spezia Centrale 15:37
Seats: Carriage 1, Seats 9A and 10A (First Class)
Locomotive: E.414N Top Speed 200 km/h

Once upon a time these were the premier trains on the Italian rails and our short journey felt comfortable and passed without incident. One more train to go and we’d be there!

Train: Trenitalia Regionale 21210
Depart: La Spezia Centrale15:55
Arrive: Vernazza 16:12
Seats: Unreserved (Standard Class)
Locomotive: Unknown

We then swapped back on to the regional train at the rather scenic station, La Spezia Centrale for our journey to Vernazza, the fourth of five villages that make up the Cinque Terre.
It was a only short ride from La Spezia and we were treated to brief glimpses of glorious coast line along the way.

It was an odd feeling but for once I couldn’t wait to wave goodbye to the train.

Rental: Oliveto Apartment, Vernazza
Host: Alessandro

Alighting at Vernazza our Airbnb host Alessandro spotted us immediately and walked us to the apartment we had rented out for the next two nights.

We found a handy Rick Steves guide in the apartment that we used to plan out our time in the Cinque Terre as it contained a lot more detail on things to do in the local area than our own guide book.

After feeling well briefed on the local highlights it was time to hit the town. On our first afternoon we enjoyed a walk around picturesque Vernazza, climbing to the top of the old castle turret for an amazing view point before heading back down to enjoy a drink at a waterside bar.

Now suitably in the mood we headed across the harbour for a tasty dinner of local specialities at Gianni Franzi.
Anne-So took the baked anchovies, tomatoes and potatoes that was apparently also another local favourite.

Thanks to the joyful weather, delicious food and the bottle of easy drinking red wine we were working our way through I was in a cheerful mood. OK, whilst it may have mostly been the wine that was causing the cheer it didn’t quite explain why I decided to converse in French for the evening. For once my linguistic skills was not appreciated by Anne-So. Apparently French when under the influence doesn’t count!

Further adding to the influence was some rather addictive vin Santo with a small slice of cake desperately trying to soak up the alcohol.
Dessert was followed by some much needed espresso!

Our first morning in Vernazza treated us to a gloriously sunny day on the Italian coast and we decided to enjoy each of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre. We made our way down to the station to get our tickets and to see which trails were open. Sadly the cost of the train tickets had more than doubled in the week prior to our visit and instead of being able to buy 4Euro each way day tickets we had to splash out on 16Euro day tickets. The day tickets included access to all open trails, trains, buses and Wi-Fi at the train stations which came in handy to check in for our flight home as well as for some over indulgent Snapchatting…

Monterosso

We started off taking the train one stop to fifth village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso.

During the day the trains that link the villages of the Cinque Terre always look like they are busy, but despite the crowds we always found a seat without any difficulty.

Though as mentioned earlier, the complete lack of luggage space for anything more than a briefcase or jacket on most of these trains adds to the slightly chaotic boarding and alighting.

No sooner were we safely aboard the train then a few minutes later we saw a strip of bright blue sea and the train pulled in to Monterosso station.

The village of Monterosso is split into two; the new town where the train arrives and the historic old town, which had been tragically damaged by floods a few years prior to our visit. The new town consists of a main road with some cafes, bars and restaurants with the beach in front of them. Monterosso is also notable for being the only village in the Cinque Terre with a sandy beach. However, it’s not quite what it seems as the sand is apparently imported by the locals each year to top up the beach. Despite the less than local provenance of the sand it is clearly ahead of the other villages which only have rocks or at best pebbles on which to sunbathe.

We walked down the main street in the new town looking for a cheap pastry and some much needed coffee, but nothing looked great, so instead we enjoyed the atmosphere and strolled across to the old town where we encountered the Wonderland Bakery.

I particularly enjoyed the lovely pistachio paste filled croissants we picked up, it always surprises me even now that are they so hard to find back home in the UK.

We found a spot on the square for coffee, but the only magic it provided was a mini-caffeine high to tide us over and nothing more.

We consulted our Rick Steves guide which suggested a walking tour that started off with some churches.

Our first stop was the black and white striped Church of San Giovanni Battista dating back to the 14th Century.

After that we took the coastal path with the Statua di San Francesco d’Assisi pointing out the magnificent view.
We headed back down for one last look at the beach before returning to the station for the train to our next village, Corniglia.

Corniglia

After departing our train we decided to take the bus up the hill rather than braving the stairs which proved to be a wise choice with all the walking we ended up doing that day. Once again we placed our trust in Rick’s advice for the best walking route in town, on the way stopping off to pick up some giant sandwiches from a place which we think was called Butiega but unfortunately I can find no trace of it or anything similar online. Whilst we may not remember the name of the place, the fresh cut and made to order sandwiches were stunning.

We continued walking to the top of the village taking in the sights before stopping to enjoy our picnic.

These were amazing sandwiches and both of us felt fully fuelled for the afternoon ahead.

We then took the scenic walk down to the station via the zig zag stair case which was a pleasant walk down, but would have left us exhausted had we chosen to follow it on our way up as well.

I really enjoyed Corniglia, from the fantastic views and great people watching to the sense of smug satisfaction of really getting the most out of our limited time visiting the village.

Manarola

From here it was on to village two, Manarola. We started off wandering the narrow streets, heading slowly up hill.

After leaving the church we once again followed our trusty guide book, enjoying a scenic stroll uphill, skirting the edge of the vineyards and taking in the sights and scents from the beautiful flowers that lined the path.

We enjoyed magnificent views as we looped around the edge of the village, followed by a gentle descent downwards towards the harbour where we were treated to a magnificent picture postcard shot right at the end.
Back in town we picked up a delicious gelato each from Caffee Mexico before heading back to the station.

Riomaggiore


It was early evening when we boarded the train to tick off our final village, Riomaggiore.

This spectacular view literally comes out of nowhere and this alone makes visiting Riomaggiore worth the effort.
Whilst not the most exciting stop it would probably make a great place for some early evening drinks.

Sights seen we got the train back to Vernazza for a well earnt dinner and rest.

We got off the train and took a leisurely walk down to the waterfront where we decided to have our one and only proper pizza of the trip. The pizzas from Pizzería Baia Saracena were cheap, fresh and at the level of Pizza Express but without the discount codes and controversy.

Whilst being decidedly unmemorable on a trip loaded with foodie finds, our pizzas not only hit the spot but best of all the view from our table of the sun setting behind the coastline was hard to beat. The only thing that spoilt the last meal of our trip was some kind of mother and daughter sex talk that covered everything from protection to piercings that we’d really not wanted to hear. Not even the table of drunk English ladies to the side of us could drown these two out…

We grabbed some espressos and headed home via a quick Wi-Fi stop at the station to check in for our flight home.

It was hard to admit it, but our Italian adventure was sadly drawing to a close.

High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train

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