One Day in: La Spezia - Hiking Through Three Villages Of Cinque Terre
Updated: Feb 17
Most Cruises stop in the port La Spezia to offer their guests a quick and easy way to visit two of Italy’s most famous towns: Florence and Pisa. However away from trodden paths filled to the brim with tourists, a few small Italian villages around the area have gained some notoriety during the last years. They are considered a prime destination to experience some slice of original Italian live away from the bursting city centres, as well as some great destination to get to on your own. The Cinque Terre are five small villages situated on Italy's Liguria region's steep and rocky coast. You have probably seen them in countless movies, paintings, postcards and probably imagined them to be on some far of Island. Still, no they are there, not even ten kilometres form on of Italy’s most important cruise ports.
How to get there:
There are three options if you want to take a trip to Cinque Terre, two of which I would not recommend: First your cruise line is probably offering an excursion there and second you could take a rental car or more to the Italian spirit a rental Vespa. The downside I can explain to you right away: You are not getting very close to the towns. Since they have got popular with tourists, only residents can enter the villages by motorised transport. All others must park in designated, limited, parking spots outside and walk into the city. It is an easy walk, suitable even for people with walking difficulties (But there are some steep inclines in some of the Villages). Now with a cruise excursion, one more thing is missing: Now you are on a schedule and most of the tours I have seen so far favour the bigger of the five which are, as a result of this favouritism the more crowded. And of course, how well can you let that relaxed Italian lifestyle put its impression on you if you are on a tight schedule?
Well now let’s talk about my preferred method: The La Spezia train station is only about thirty minutes of relaxed walking away from the harbour, a one-way ticket is available for 4€, but I would recommend the Cinque Terre Card (16€). First, it is a day ticket giving you as many rides as you like, and the usage of the trails within the National Park is included. You can stop in every village and explore the narrow roads, or you could do as I did and hike the way between the villages.
Hiking from Manarola to Vernazza
It was early in the morning as I started from the port. The short transfer with the port shuttle from the berth to the city, I used to by my Cinque Terre Card online. The Website took a little navigating, as it was only available in Italian but with some trial and error, I managed. Once inside the train, I had to put the mobile aside. So many tunnels must be passed through on the way you could almost consider the railway a subway and of course there is no connection there. Arriving in Manarola, it became clear quite how early I was.
The Mountains of the Cinque Terre national park tower towards the east gave a dark shadow as for now the sun had not risen above their rugged peaks. However, this allowed me to get some photos with everything bathed in the morning light. After a short photo stop, I started my climb towards Corniglia. Despite both cities being situated at sea level, about five hundred meters of ascent need to be cleared between them. An easier trail is located at sea level. However, it has fallen into disrepair and nowadays is fenced off with big warning signs. If they are definitely necessary as, from the fence, you can see parts of the trail where it’s supporting rock caved in and left nothing but a vertical cliff down to the shores below where the azure waters crash with unrelenting force into a tangled mess of metallic guard rail and stones.
The climb is harsh, as in steep. The steps are too high for comfort, in some places as steep as a ladder and might even be only as narrow as the foot that needs to be placed on them. Despite these difficult conditions the stones are well worn, some slippery even in dry conditions, not only by tourists but also by locals who use it to get up to their vineyards and fields located in steep terraces all over the mountainside. The way is clearly marked, but I managed to take a wrong turn into one of those vineyards. The farmers I met there were friendly, but you could guess from their reaction that I was not the first tourist to get lost on the trails.
They showed me the way back, and I continued further. The path got somewhat flatter, but narrower. You walk through fields and vineyards without guardrails, the mountain on your right and a drop of more than three hundred meters to the sea on the left. Even though the trail is still manageable compared to alpine standards, I met some tourists who had already reached their limits. A woman in flip flops clinging desperately to the plants on the mountainside. In case you did not know hiking the trails in flip flops incurs a two hundred euro fine, a practice that should be in place in more areas of the world. After the steep climb, an equally steep descent took me down to Corniglia. The trail from there to Vernazza is much more comfortable, better suitable for the layman and I noticed it immediately, as this one was quite a bit more populated. I arrived in Vernazza around noon and had enough time to buy Olive Oil, Wine and Pasta as gifts for my mother and after that some time to spare to eat an Italian Focaccia as well as enjoy some local ice cream. I took the train at twelve-thirty and arrived at the ship with more than half the port day to spare to relax in an empty Spa. At the same time, all the other cruisers were still busy navigating the crowded streets of Pisa, to get this one photo that appears as though they are holding up the leaning tower.