One of the reasons for visiting Italy is to see the Cinque Terre. I would love to walk the 10km coastal footpath between the five villages but, not surprisingly at this time of year and after all the heavy rains, it is closed. So I will have to be content with using the local train from La Spezia to stop off at each village along the way.
The indifferent staff at the Cinque Terre Information Point tell me that it’s €12 for the Cinque Terre Card. This includes access to the path, local transport (buses and lifts) and the train for one day. This seems a bit cheeky, given that the path isn’t even open. So I make my own enquiries and discover that I can purchase an outgoing train ticket for 6 hours (€4) and a return ticket for 75 minutes (€2.70).
It’s easy to spot the correct platform as it’s already full of Asian tourists snapping away at everything in sight. Don’t expect a scenic train journey through the Cinque Terre, with stunning sea vistas. Mostly it’s just dark tunnels. To reach some of the villages you also have to walks through tunnels, carved beneath the headlands, and this is how I arrive at Riomaggiore. Although the village is small, I manage to lose the tour groups as I wander downhill to the harbour. The colourful houses which cling to the cliff sides are still in shadow, but when I climb up to the cliff face, I have a clear view along the coast. I’ve been waiting for a break in the poor weather for my day trip and today I’m rewarded with clear blue skies and warming sunshine. I head back up through the village to the church, which is sadly closed and also temporarily inaccessible beyond a stream of water which is running across the small square. The rain of the last few days is cascading down from the mountains and throughout the day I can hear it rushing beneath the streets of the villages. It’s a stark reminder of the floods which severely damaged Vernazza and Monterosso in October 2011.
Due to the train timetable, I only have about an hour in most villages, which is just about enough time. In Manarola, I find a lovely picnic area on the headland with nice clean toilets and a tap to fill my water bottle. The church there is open and has beautiful frescos on the ceiling. Unfortunately, I’m several weeks too late for the highlight of this little village. During the Christmas period, the hillside above the town is decorated with an illuminated nativity scene.
Very few people get off the train at Corniglia and I soon realise why. It’s quite a walk to the lofty village and it includes about 375 steps. The train was also delayed, so my time here is brief but, apart from the lovely church, there’s not much to look at. Corniglia probably looks great from the sea. However, even though the weather is good, the sea is rough and there are no boats out today.
Vernazza is much easier to visit and, as I get off the train, the large Asian group get onto it. There are still plenty of tourists about and several are taking photos in front of the huge waves crashing against the harbour wall. It’s quite a sight but a bit dangerous. The church has an interesting octagonal bell tower but inside it is quite gloomy and austere. There’s little sign of the flood damage from 2 years ago, but large billboards with photos from that time serve as a reminder, as do the wooden boards across the front doors of the village shops and houses, to act as a barrier against future potential inundations.
The last village of the Cinque Terre is Monterosso and I have almost 2 hours to relax and enjoy it. It’s a short level walk from to the village from the train station and the afternoon sun is still high enough to reach over the medieval Aurora Tower, proudly protecting the harbour, the village and the Capuchin Convent above. I’m tempted to try the sciacchetra, a local sweet wine made from dried grapes, but it’s an eye-watering €8 for a tiny glass. Instead, I take a large glass of the Cinque Terre white for €3 and sit outside a small bar on the promenade overlooking the tower and the beach, soaking up the last rays of sun before I have to catch the train back to La Spezia.