Darren and I made a quick trip to Italy before my birthday and our first stop was Vernazza in Cinque Terre.
We flew into Pisa airport and took the train to Vernazza. The PisaMover bus takes you from the airport to Pisa Centrale station in under 10 minutes, then you take a 40-ish minute train to La Spezia before changing onto a regional train into the Cinque Terre. The trains to Vernazza only come every hour, but we managed to get a train to Monterosso, a few stops along, and double back on ourselves. The train journey took about 2 hours and cost 8 Euros. Italy knows how to do cheap train travel! Being on time is another matter...
Where we stayed
Of the 5 villages in the Cinque Terre we decided to stay in Vernazza, which has the picturesque natural harbour that is probably one of the most recognisable views of the region. Of all the villages, I think it is the most picturesque and it is absolutely tiny - perfect for feeling like a local! There aren't any hotels in Vernazza, but there are plenty of B&B's. So many, in fact, it's a daunting decision to narrow it down, but in the end we chose this little studio for its view straight onto the main square (in the first image). It was clean, modern and right in the middle of town and, once the day-trippers have left, totally quiet.
What we ate
If I'm being honest, we didn't find the food in Cinque Terre to be all that exciting; there was lots of typical Mediterranean seafood and pasta, but the quality wasn't quite what we were expecting. That being said, we had a two dinners at restaurants in the square which were tasty, though the 12 Euro per bottle/litre house white wine was probably our favourite discovery throughout our trip! For breakfast, we found Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre because it had free wifi, but their famous pastries and delicious coffees kept us coming back. In Monterosso, we loved Ristorante La Barcaccia, a little place off of the main strip that was filled with locals on their lunch break. Trofie al pesto is a regional special and highly recommended! One of our favourite meals was actually our last night when we picked up fresh foccacia, prosciutto and homemade pesto to eat in our studio - it was incredibly cheap and really delicious.
Hiking is probably Cinque Terre's biggest attraction. On our first day we walked the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia. It took about 2 hours and by the end our thighs were burning from all the uphill trekking, but it was really beautiful to round each corner and see the coloured houses of Corniglia get closer and closer. I loved all the bunny ear cactuses that lined the path too! There is one thing I have to say about Italian signage though...when we got to the end of the hike, nearly 2 hours later, there were three signs for the trail back to Vernazza - one said 1.5 hours, one said 1.75 hours and the other said 2.25 hours! I think accuracy is not really an Italian forte. We saw signs about buying tickets to hike the trails, as it's a national park, but we didn't see anywhere to buy them and were never asked for them either. Disappointingly, it rained our second day and we did't fancy the slippery cliff paths so we took the train to Monterosso, on the opposite side of Vernazza. The trains between the villages are easy to navigate and super cheap and as long as you know the timetable, there isn't too much waiting around, though we took photos of all the departure timetables at the stations as the internet told us completely different timings! We were so sad our second day was rained off, but Monterosso was fine in the rain as it's the busiest of the villages with plenty of shops and a few little churches to keep you amused. In the evenings, we were happy to return to Vernazza, sit out on the big flat rocks and watch the sun go down with a bottle of prosecco. Just a word of warning: Vernazza only has one bar, The Blue Marlin, so don't expect much nightlife!
I was concerned that being such a touristy destination everything would be really expensive, but the prices were really reasonable. Our meals - usually a starter to share, pasta and mains and a bottle of house white - cost around 50 - 60 Euros, but we ate a lot and you could easily have a huge plate of pasta each and wine for 30 - 40 Euros. A glass of prosecco was usually a standard price of 3 Euros and a bottle around 16 Euros and, if you were at a bar before dinner, that would come with crisps and sometimes little slices of toasted foccacia. For lunch, a pizza or fresh foccacia sandwich would be around 5 - 7 Euros and a small gelato costs a standard price of 2 Euros. The night we bought food to eat in our room, we spend about 15 Euros including a bottle of prosecco!
Have you been to the Cinque Terre before? Is it on your travel wish list? I have a little post coming up on Wednesday about expectation vs. reality and then I can't wait to share our days in Lucca!