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CEA French Riviera MOJO: Discovering Cinque Terre

I have always dreamed of coming to Cinque Terre and so when I learned I had some time off for spring break I knew where I wanted to go! Cinque Terre is only a five hour train ride from where I'm living on the French Riviera. I hope you enjoy my story!

I woke up early in preparation for my adventure to Cinque Terre. After I double and triple checked my packing, I headed out to the train station in Antibes. The train journey to Cinque Terre could not have gone better. I had to switch trains three times and thankfully this went smoothly. This experience really made me feel confident in myself and my ability to navigate foreign places.

I arrived at Manarola station at 330. This is the town in which I spent 5 unbelievable nights. I hiked up the hill to where I was staying and checked in. I met the other girls in my room whom were traveling from Canada. Then I locked up my suitcase and headed out to explore the town before it got dark. My stomach first led me to one of the two restaurants open during February and I had the best pesto of my life. Homemade pesto and homemade trofie-- after that meal I was in love with Cinque Terre without even seeing it yet.

After being deliciously fed I wandered down the main road to where the cliffs meet the water. Here there is a trail which circles around the cliffs and looks back at Manarola. I walked this and got an incredible view of the little town.

Next I walked back to my hostel. After checking in and letting people know I arrived safely, I looked out the window and saw a blazing sunset.

I took off and ran down to the water and watched the sky turn orange, pink, and purple.

The next day I woke up and had a croissant and cappuccino. I was going to take the hike among all five towns, but when I went to the trail office they said this trail was closed due to mudslides. So instead they gave me another trail to try which went up into the hills behind Manarola and then back down to the next town of Corniglia. I set off walking with a group of 7 people in front of me doing the same trail.

The trails are marked with red and white stripes that lead you around bends, stone passageways, and vineyards.

The first leg of the hike was steep stairs uphill for forty minutes. Half way through I was definitely questioning myself, but once I reached the top it was worth it!

While climbing I met a little kitty.

She walked one step ahead of me the whole time until we got to the top where she said bye then headed back down to guide another hiker, I assume.

At the top of the stairs sat the sleepy town of Volastra. It was so quaint and the views were spectacular of the sea and towns below. I wandered around and started to look for my white and red stripped markers to take me back down the mountain. I found some and started hiking, but I soon realized something was wrong because I was heading uphill again when I should be heading down. I looked at my map and realized I was on the wrong trail so I started to walk around the small town to find the right trail. An old Italian farmer came up to me and asked if I was lost. And while he spoke no english we were able to understand each other with my little Italian and hand gestures and soon he helped me to find my correct trail. .

This part of the trail took my breath away. The views were spectacular as I walked along the cliff through vineyards dotted with little bits of snow high above the sea.

The trail was relatively flat and easy with the most amazing views I have ever seen. The forty minutes of climbing stairs was well worth it for these views. It was very cold at this altitude and my hands were freezing, but I couldn't stop taking pictures.

Yes it is...especially in Cinque Terre!!
An hour and a half later I reached the town of Corniglia which is the only town in Cinque Terre that does not reach the water. Once I got here I went straight to a cafe and warmed up over a cappuccino. After warming my hands I wandered around the small town then took the train back to Manarola.

 It just started to snow when I got off the train so I headed to my favorite restaurant and had another trofie al pesto which I defiantly earned after that hike!! My journey back up the hill in the snow was a struggle but I was happy to be back in a warm bed!

The next day I woke up to snow / rain. The owner of the hostel told me that it would be raining all day long. Despite the rain I wanted to explore more of 5 Terre so I headed out on the train to the last of the towns Monteresso al Mare. Monteresso is the largest of the towns and the most touristy as it has a large beach. There is an old and new town separated by a castle.

 I headed from the train station to the castle on the cliff. 
From here I passed the church of St. Francis of Assisi.

I walked down the hill into the old town and wandered the quiet streets in the rain. The town was extra quiet because many places close on Sunday and during the low tourist season only a few places stay open. While walking through Monteresso everyone around me was saying Ciao! Ciao! I wasn't sure what was going on until I realized they were just being friendly! I love Italy!! I was starving but I could only find a bakery so I got a chocolate croissant to hold me over.

The next town I arrived at was Vernazza and it stopped raining for my visit. I walked down to the harbor and found an amazing restaurant. I was one of the only costumers. The town was so empty I felt like I had it all to myself. After fueling up I took the hike up the hill and along the cliff to get a panoramic view of the town. This is the most beautiful town I have seen in 5 terre.

I walked back down and wandered around the streets, got lost a few times, then headed into the church by the harbor. The church was dark and empty and I sat by myself and listened to the waves crashing outside.

Around 3.30 I headed back to Manarola. I chatted with my roomie from Australia and took a hot shower then got bruschetta from Bar Enrica. So delicious!!

Monday I headed out on the train to the southern most town Riomaggiore. This was the only town I had yet to visit. It was a beautiful sunny day. The town was small and many places were closed, but I wandered around and ended up sitting on the rocks by the harbor for an hour soaking in the sun and watching an old fisherman catch fish with his cat. 

Next I had a lovely lunch and coffee in an empty restaurant with a spectacular ocean view.


That evening I hung out at the hostel and waited for my friend Abby to arrive from Paris. I chatted with my roommate from Brazil until she got there.

The next day we woke up and decided to try and see all five towns. We went to Monteresso al mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Riomaggiore, and back to Manarola.

 In Vernazza we had lunch at the Blue Marlin. The restaurant was funky and the owner was an eccentric Italian. We had an amazing panini on focaccia bread with pesto mozzarella and tomato! The owner sang to us Frank Sinatra and played the piano.

That evening we got gelato and watched the sunset in Manarola. Then had pesto ravioli and headed back to the hostel that we had to our selves.

On Wednesday we headed out to La Spezia and caught a train to Pisa and spent the rest of our spring break traveling through Italy! Prego.. Ciao!

Chelsea Heil is the Spring 2013 CEA MOJO in the French Riviera

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