17 May 2017

#BreadLife Backpacking: Cinque Terre


Cinque Terre, or the 5 Terre, is a coastal region made up of 5 beautiful towns on the rugged Italian Riviera. The towns overlook the seemingly endless Ligurian Sea.

I always like comparing the 5 Terre to 5 sisters tucked away from the eye of the mainstream crowd that spends their time in the bigger, and more glamorous cities of Italy like Rome, or Milan. Each town has her own special characteristic that resembles a woman of a certain character or personality that is just waiting to be discovered by the one who goes the distance to meet her and get to know her better.

Wanna know how to visit the 5 beautiful ladies of Cinque Terre?



Getting to Cinque Terre

After doing much research, the major city that is closest to Cinque Terre, is Florence. To get to Cinque Terre, you must first get to a town called "La Spezia". From there, you can board a train to Cinque Terre.

A ticket from Florence to La Spezia costed us €19.80, one way. 


Getting around Cinque Terre


The most convenient way to get around Cinque Terre is by the coastal train, running from La Spezia to Levanto, to and fro. 

(arranged in order)
LA SPEZIA - RIOMAGGIORE - MANAROLA - CORNIGLIA - VERNAZZA - MONTEROSSO AL MARE - LEVANTO

We did not have enough time to visit Levanto as we only planned to stay long enough to tour the 5 terre. It is good to have an idea of how frequent the coastal trains are, and here's a good website to do so.

Anyways, the Cinque Terre "Treno" card as seen above has different variations that you may want to take into account when planning your trip:
- A daily “Cinque Terre Card Treno” adults card (valid for travel at any time of the day of validation until midnight) costs €12.00. 
- A 2 Days “Cinque Terre Card Treno” Adults – valid for travel at any time until midnight of the day after validation: € 23.00

Where to buy the card: At any ticket office. We bought ours at La Spezia Station while waiting for the train to Levanto to come. 

We bought the 2 days "Cinque Terre Card Treno" as most of the trekking routes from village to village were closed when we went as there were recent landslides/falling boulders/crazy shit happening. So we did not manage to attempt any trekking routes. 

Our card ran out by the third day morning when we were heading to Milan, hint: it is pretty easy to cheat fares when you are only travelling a station, but just pray hard you don't get caught.


How to use the card: Just validate it everytime at the station platform on this teal (dark green) coloured machine (if my memory didn't fail me). Please validate your tickets if you have them as checks are very common especially if you are taking from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Our tickets have been checked many times.

Accomodation

The upslope to our B&B

There are many different types of accomodation to choose from in Cinque Terre, and in the different towns. The most expensive being hotels and posh, seaview guesthouses, the cheapest being hostels in shophouses, or faraway from the train station, in the residential areas.

As we were pretty newbie backpackers and afraid of shady "ulu" backpacker hostels, or actually more like we didn't know what to expect at Cinque Terre, we booked a B&B instead. Coincidentally, there are two B&Bs in the 5 terres that have the same name. So when I keyed the name of the B&B in on Google Maps, it directed me to the one at Monterosso. So Monterosso we went, and we climbed up a slope for a good 15 mins under the hot noon sun, only to find... that we were at the WRONG "Affittacamere Le Giare". The one we booked was at Riomaggiore... So down we went the slope and I felt SO BAD for making my poor friend climb upslope with me with our terribly heavy backpacks I almost cried.

Long story short, always check the address of your booking. Check and double check.

Nonetheless, we had a great time with this B&B (if you are interested, you can view it here). Just that it was a little hard to open the door of the B&B and we really opened the door each and every time by PURE LUCK. It's those traditional English kinda doors with the big ass key... so.. yeah you can imagine. And the door of our room was also kind of faulty? So... uhm Idk. We got the ground level room as all the other rooms in the property were fully booked. 

The owner was friendly though, he was reachable by Whatsapp and came promptly to "save" us when we were "locked" outside of the property, or of our rooms. The room was also well-equipped with hair-dryers, towels, water boiler, even extra amenities like tea and sweets were present! Wow, we were impressed. The location of the B&B was also convenient, as it was just a 5 to 10 minutes walk from the Riomaggiore train station platform. There is also free breakfast provided at a nearby cafe. 

But one thing though... was this window that was EXPOSED because the owner forgot to put up the barricade(?)/shutters(?). So the curtains covering it were translucent and we just felt extremely disturbed that the fact that when we are sleeping, people can just be standing outside and watching us creepily... 

So me being me, armed with masking tape on my trip and also with an excess of towels in the room... I did THIS:


Meet my makeshift opaque blinds/shutter/curtain/idk what you want to call it. We both decided that if someone wants to watch us sleep, he has to kneel down the whole night, or stand on a stool for the whole night.

The next morning, the owner probably saw what we did and quickly put the blinds/shutter up for us. Bye makeshift towel-curtains.

Places to Visit

1. Riomaggiore


The Riomaggiore Town Centre

Riomaggiore is the first stop on the Cinque Terre coastal train, if you are taking it from La Spezia. We chose to book our accomodation here in the end as we did not find anything in other towns... Our first choice was actually Vernazza or Manarola, but nothing we saw were satisfactory. 

Riomaggiore is mostly for people who want to start their trek from Riomaggiore to Manarola, while overlooking the beautiful cliffs. It is apparently too dangerous to swim and do cliff jumps at Riomaggiore as the coastline is very rocky and waters are deep. 

To get to Riomaggiore's "Town Centre", turn right after exiting the station and walk through a tunnel that smells like pee the whole time we were there. Apparently, there is another tunnel that you could access while getting to the famous "Lover's Road" or Via del Amore at Riomaggiore. However because of the falling boulders/rain/mudslides, the road was closed till further notice :/ 

Update on 10.5.2017: It is STILL closed. :( Read this website to learn more if you wanna.

In summary, Riomaggiore is like the beautiful, virtuous, girl-next-door type of woman. Not too showy, very homely, yet has her own charms still. She knows her place, and knows her strengths. 


The Riomaggiore train station at sunset

A typical day at Riomaggiore station
The local children in Cinque Terre are extremely entrepreneurial. Everywhere town you go, you will definittely see children selling their toys by the streets. Trust me, it always catches the tourist's attention. (and sometimes they might even buy the toys!)
At one of the many bars at Riomaggiore chillin' the night away after dinner.

As I'm not a fan of anchovies, Cinque Terre's famous anchovies basket did not appeal to me much. However, while walking up and down the main road everyday, we noticed many tourists buying fried seafood from this store, and so we decided to try it for dinner on our second day. And DAMN it was SO GOOD (and cheap too). I personally loved the fried fish fillet bites, some potato/cheese/fish thing, ah basically almost EVERYTHING on the menu I LOVE. It is perfect to have it with some beer. I loved it so much I dabao-ed some on the train ride with me when I left for Milan from Cinque Terre.

10/10 would definitely recommend, and 100% would definitely go back to have it again.

Il Pescato Cuscinato
and because the address in Cinque Terre are confusing, I shall mark it on Google Maps for ya.

Via Cristoforo Colombo 199 
Hours: 11.30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

2. Manarola


Manarola is like the female protagonist in One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful". She's youthful, fun-loving, free-spirited, and loved by everyone from young to old. She doesn't brag about her MANY lagoons, and she doesn't extend some open invitation and shout at people to come visit her. How fun she can actually be is not a well-kept secret, but she subtly breathes youth into everyone that visits her. 

Here, you can find the famous view of Cinque Terre with the houses atop the cliff, overlooking the Ligurian Sea. For reference, head to the first photo of this post! 


There are quite a few shops selling souvenirs and restaurants, however not as many compared to Vernazza and Monterosso. People who visit Manarola usually head to the cliffs to do some cliff-diving, or to the "pool" like coasts. I guess I call it pools as they installed steps and railings for people to enter and exit the sea after they are done swimming.


Sunsets in Cinque Terre are GLORIOUS. All towns are facing the west, thus ideal for viewing them beautiful sunsets. I caught this by chance while waiting for the train at Manarola back to Riomaggiore on our first day in Cinque Terre. Amazing.

- SWIMMING IN MANAROLA -

I was here at my first evening in Cinque Terre. Seeing how fun all the holiday-goers are taking a dip in the countless lagoons, I cursed at myself countless times for not bringing my swim suit on this trip. (I literally brought one but NEVER used it throughout exchange) But I debated for the whole evening if I should just let go and squeeze some time in on the second day for a short dip. I felt bad also if I were to take one because my friend wasn't really into that idea, so I would be leaving her behind to wait for me. But she was cool (thanks so much Sheri!) 

But I guess the idea of splashing in waters on a hot summer day and the idea of "omg gurl i swam in Cinque Terre, how bow dah?" engulfed me. I decided to spontaneously go for a dip in the sea and literally just bought a swimsuit at the last minute before heading out for some fun in the water! Heard that Vernazza is the most idea for swimming as there are beaches, however, I had the most fun at Manarola. 

The waters are crystal clear. And yes, there are little fishes swimming in them. Did not feel a thing tho.

Swimming in Manarola, or in any open waters are dangerous, and not advisable if you are not a confident swimmer. Currents can get strong very suddenly and throw you off-guard. I'm borderline confident, so I played safe by staying near to the coastline or anything near me that I could hold on to if the current gets too strong. The rock surfaces at the coastline can be either rough and sharp, or slippery with moss. So, yeah you get what I mean. Venture out into open waters at your own risk!

For me, I ventured out a little but nothing too deep or too open. You could see the base of the lagoon as the waters were crystal clear! But standing on the mossy base of the lagoon is not a great idea as it is really slippery and the current is strong, so you get swept away in no time. Meh.

All in all, it was an experience worthwhile, and I would definitely come back for a swim again!

Oh, and do note that if you would like to visit Cinque Terre, a Go-Pro would be your best friend. I can't imagine life without my Go-Pro as I could take it everywhere. It followed me to the mountains. to the sea, into the waters. It was a great travel companion.


While we are Manarola on our first evening at Cinque Terre, we saw these two crazy cliff divers doing their thang at the cliffs overlooking that million-dollar-houses-on-cliff view. It was super scary to watch as the cliffs looked super uncomfortable to climb, plus they were steep. No joke. Any mistake and they would just fall and hurt themselves seriously. 

One of them was just resting on one of the rocks, as seen above, while waiting for his friend to climb up after diving down into the waters. We seriously wondered how he got up there. 


It was very nerve-wrecking to watch this second guy climb up as in both our heads, we just had lots of death moments flashing by our minds. "How the hell" "Oh my god..." and yeah, if you could see the photo below. There is a barricade area on top of the cliff where the cliff walk and look-out point was. The second guy climbed from the coastline to the barricades, where he and his friend just gracefully flipped over the railings like heroes, and people applauded them. The cliffs are like their battlefield that they would like to conquer. 

Absolute daredevils.


Manarola is my favourite town out of the 5 terres. I guess from the lengthy post on it you could understand why.

3. Corniglia


Like what I have said in my posts previously, Corniglia is seemingly like the older sister that plays hard to get. One has to go through many obstacles in order to get to her, but once they have overcame it, they will be rewarded with a beautiful view. (Um you have to climb 33 flights of 382 steps to get to the village from the train station, you can take a bus, but its frequency is like once every 30 mins)

Corniglia doesn't allow you to leave her that easily either. If you want to leave her, you would also have to take that same 382 steps back down to the train station. 

A pretty burdensome girl to date if she exists in real life, to be honest. 


4. Vernazza

Vernazza is like the twin sister of Manarola. However, imagine Manarola being the free-spirited one, but Vernazza being the pin-up poster girl version of Manarola. Vernazza has more shops, more restaurants, and boasts of an amazing seafood restaurant named Belforte which we failed to go because our trip coincided with its rest day (i will b back 4 u!!!!!!!) The town also has a small beach, but just nice for happy holiday-goers to take a dip in it, or sunbathe while reading a book. Sheri enjoyed her time sketching away while I was there splashing around in the water like a kid. 

We had lunch there before heading to Manarola by boat (which I will talk about later). Just a simple no-frills pasta, with loads of flies flying around. Ugh.

- SWIMMING IN VERNAZZA -


This is going to be a story titled "I Tried Swimming in Vernazza but I did not really like it". The beach looked meh so I chose to head over to the rocky areas by the side of the beach. I saw elderly taking a dip there so I thought, "If that ah ma and ah gong can do it, so can I!" 

Sidetrack, one thing I like about Europe is that, the people there are SO UNASHAMED of their body. You can be stick thin, you can have saggy boobs, saggy belly, saggy cellulite at the back of your thighs but, when you are at a beach, wear a bikini. I see like 70 year old grannies in bikinis and I'm like, okay I don't feel that bad about myself anymore. Thanks Europeans for giving me some temporary confidence...

Yeah but anyways, I underestimated the rocky areas. 
1. The rocks were full of moss and thus it was slippery to walk on. 
2. The currents were damn strong and I almost got swept away ha ha ha almost died lel.

So I moved on to the beach area.


Yes. You could kayak there. Maybe I shall try that the next time I'm back and write a better review of Vernazza. Anyways the beach area's waters were pretty shallow and the sand was quite poky when I got to deeper waters, ok I know I complain WAY too much but, just giving an honest review. 

That's when I realized, I should have just went to Manarola if I wanted the real authentic Cinque Terre swimming experience. If you want to recap that, please scroll back up to the Manarola part ha.


5. Monterosso al Mare


Monterosso, or Monterosso al Mare, is the last town on the 5 terre. There, you can find the signature blue beach umbrellas covering the entire beach. And I guess this is where you can find the most people because this place is commercialized AF and I don't like it. If Monterosso was a girl, she would be the Victoria Secret Model sister out of the 5 siblings, if you know what I mean. Girl in bikini and shades, parading down the line of beach umbrellas, sipping on a Mai Tai from the beach bar...

We came here after Corniglia if I'm not wrong, and spent some time dipping our feet inside the sea. Chased some dogs along the way too. 


We walked till the other end where there was the Monterosso Town Centre, and again, we saw many little local children playing with one another, and selling their toys by the fountain (as seen above). This place honestly feels a bit like Sentosa in my childhood days, with the ferry terminal and the fastfood restaurants there and the fountain. But yeah, the beaches and beach bars feel like Sentosa too.

Maybe you can spend a longer time here if you miss Sentosa?
--------------------------------------

BONUS!

Ferries are one of the main transport options in Cinque Terre besides the train and the slowpoke bus. There are also boat tours and cruises, but one way to get a view of Cinque Terre from the sea at an affordable price, is to take their boats meant to ferry people from one town to another! Ferries run to and from every town except for Corniglia as this is the only town without water access (Remember the highly strung sister?) We took the line from Vernazza to Manarola. 


You could easily purchase tickets from the boarding point at Vernazza. It is easily spotted as whenever a ferry is about to leave, a huge crowd would gather to board the ferry, and people onboard would disembark. While we were there we witnessed a huge commotion because people couldn't buy tickets or something for the ferry that is about to depart. Apparently there is a cap for the maximum passengers allowed on the ferry each time or something, so get your tickets early!

Here is the timetable for the ferries, do note that the timings may change:


Our ticket to Vernazza is green in colour and costed us €8.00 each for one way. It looks something like this:


As you can see, it is just a sheet of paper that can be easily mistaken as scrap so.. keep it well!


The ferry is a really good and affordable way to see Cinque Terre. The seats at the back is usually fully taken so, do get onboard first to have the liberty to choose your seats! It was noon-time when we took the ferry so it was really hot and glaring. Guess it was time for a gelato after we reached Manarola!

We could see Corniglia from a distance

Adios, Cinque Terre. But this farewell will be temporary as I will definitely come back for you someday. Till the next post!

xx,
M.

P.S. Sorry I took so long with this one as Internship happened, ha ha ha.

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