Our Italian adventure takes us to the west coast of Italy where we based ourselves at La Spezia with the view to visit Pisa & Cinque Terre. Previously on this trip we’d been camping but after an evening of searching for a campsite and a fairly uncomfortable night in the car we decided to look for a hotel in the morning. Heading to the centre of La Spezia we parked the car and had a look and luckily happened upon Hotel Venezia. Not the fanciest hotel and not the best rating but you know what, it was right by the railway station which was great for getting to where we wanted to get. The room & bathroom was very clean. The staff were lovely and they had parking for our car for free and it was the only one we could find that had a room available. So we checked in and parked up and were happy to leave the car there for the week as we explored the area by train, boat or on foot.
So where did we go?
Our first venture out was to the Cinque Terre and along with every other tourist in the area we boarded the train that would take us to the towns of Riomaggorie, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Monterosso al Mare. You could get a day ticket that was valid for all stops along the line and the trains run every 20 mins so if you miss one you won’t have long to wait till the next one. Also at certain times of the day the platforms can get pretty busy so sometimes its best to wait for the next one rather than squeezing on. More information regarding the trains and schedules can be found here – Cinque Terre train timetable You can also walk from town to town and mix it up with the train as there are some really well kept footpaths between each of the towns – Cinque Terre Hiking. Alternatively you can take a boat from La Spezia to the towns and vice versa – Cinque Terre boat timetable. So many ways to see and travel to the individual towns and lots to explore.
There is over 120 km of trails along the Cinque Terre coast line. There is no entrance fee to the Cinque Terre National Park. There are 48 hiking trails and you will only need a special ticket, a Cinque Terre Card, for the two most famous trails: Monterosso – Vernazza and Vernazza – Corniglia. All other trails are for free. The Cinque Terre Trekking card costs 7.50 Euros a day and the Cinque Terre Train Card costs 16 Euros a day and can be bought from any of the train stations along the rout or online here. From November until Easter all the hiking trails are free of charge.
Here’s a quick guide to the Cinque Terre
Riomaggorie is the first town you’ll come to on the train line and is considered to be one of the most peaceful and quiet villages of the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore is basically a cascade of multi-coloured houses in the typical Ligurian style, all tightly clustered around a tiny natural harbour carved out in between the rocks. The next town on the line is Manarola which you can access by train or if you want to be a bit more active you can walk the famous path Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) which is a very scenic path that leads you to Manarola in only 20 minutes. Its a great path to walk with some fantastic views.
Manarola is the second town on the line and has a tiny harbor with a boat ramp, picturesque multicoloured houses facing the sea and a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants. There is a path here also that links Manarola to the next town on the line Corniglia and again you have the choice of taking the train or walking through the lush green countryside of Cinque Terre.
Corniglia is located in the middle of the five towns. It is the only village which is not built directly on the sea but on a cliff 100 metres above sea level. Corniglia is probably the most genuine town of the five and with the least amount of tourists. Corniglia is connected to the other villages of the Cinque Terre by some great footpaths and of course the train so you can again choose how you get between these lovely little towns. I must say when we walked on some of the footpaths they were almost deserted so much quieter than the sometimes very busy trains.
Vernazza has a natural pier with an amphitheatre shape making it maybe the most photographed village of the Cinque Terre. The tiny port is surrounded by colourful houses and the charming piazza is lined with really good restaurants and bars. I must say Vernazza and Monterosso were the 2 towns with the most choice for restaurants and cafes and we’ve had some cracking meals here as well as fantastic gelato.
Monterosso al Mare is the last of the Cinque Terre on the line and is the biggest of the five towns and has the most amenities. In the old town you will find seafood restaurants and nice shops. Monterosso has the only long and sandy beach in the area where you can rent chairs and umbrellas or canoes or paddle boards to explore the many coves around the coast. Its here we first sampled one of the most famous Italian seafood dishes – Fritto Misto and we used the beach a couple of times and the sea is a delight to swim in.
Finally La Spezia
Before I finish this blog post I want to tell you a little bit about La Spezia and the town we were based in. La Spezia is a port in the region of Liguria and on the border of Tuscany. It has a massive maritime history with a large part of the current Italian Navy being based here.
La Spezia has maritime museums, art museums and great walks down by the waterfront and through town. The Main Street has all shops a regular city would have as well as the usual tourist shops selling local Ligurian fare such as limoncello, oils and of course the obligatory fridge magnets.
La Spezia does have a large tourist trade as its the gateway to the Cinque Terre as described above and some really cool restaurants. Two of our favourites I would love to recommend are:
La Taverna del Metallo – this quirky little restaurant/pub is tucked away up a side street in the centre of La Spezia. It had some great reviews and they weren’t wrong. Great food, a fantastic selection of meats, cheeses, fantastic wine and a good all round experience. The only downside and its not really a downside unless you’re really clumsy! The restaurant is lit by candlelight and its advisable to keep your napkin on your lap as its easy to set it alight with the naked flame on the table. Oops !
Trattoria Bellavista was a wonderful little find and again has fab reviews. The lovely thing about this restaurant was that they didn’t have a published menu. The menu was created on the day with whatever ingredients they could get from the market. They then devised a varied menu for you to choose from on the night. Lovely people, lovely restaurant and excellent food. Chris had the best wild boar ragu he’s eaten anywhere and emailed the restaurant when he got home for the recipe, which they sent and once we’d found a wild boar supplier, we had the dish at home. Perfecto!
There are loads more restaurants, trattorias, bars, cafes to choose from with anything from street food to fine dining. You are sure to find something to suit.
So that’s it for part 4 of this Italian Adventure #2. Part 5 is an account of our Day trip to Pisa and then this adventure comes to a close.
Don’t worry, there will be more Italian Adventures to come.
But for now, enjoy Pisa.
This is the last part in our second Italian Adventure series and I want to tell you about our day trip to Pisa. Pisa I a town on many a travellers to-do list and its somewhere I think you have to see at least once in your life. A day trip to Pisa How did […]