We pray to whichever God controls the Cinque Terre train drivers that there will be no more strikes today… and our prayers are answered. The world is our oyster – well, the Le Spezia to Genoa line is our oyster.
We do a quick calculation as to whether the day train pass is more cost-effective or just getting lots of single tickets. We opt for the singles but it turns out that the day pass probably would have worked out cheaper… oh well, e’ la vita. We saw enough of Vernazza yesterday (although you can never truly see enough of Vernazza…) so our first stop is Corniglia. My tip for any future travellers… when you see that handy 2,50 euro shuttle bus outside the train station, don’t assume this is just for the old/disabled/lazy. We assumed this. 365 steps later we wished we hadn’t been so quick to assume. Turns out we failed to see the handy sign saying “Bus or 365 steps – your choice…” Should have been obvious really that climbing would be involved as this is the only one of the five Cinque Terre towns not to have a beachfront location. However this means that there are spectacular views looking back over the bay – and is that Monterosso in the distance? This is much more of a traditional village than any of the others, although there is no shortage of eating and drinking establishments.
We stop for the obligatory cappuccino before facing the descent back down those 365 steps. We feel for the people still climbing, especially as the temperatures are rising. It’s one thing to choose to do a hike, but another to have to climb a mountain just to get into town. Maybe the Corniglia town planners want to think about making that “Bus or 365 steps” sign a little larger…
Our next stop is Manarola, and it doesn’t take long for us to declare this our favourite of the towns. And we haven’t seen Riomaggiore yet. For a start, there’s no steps into town. You walk down a tunnel and you’re in the middle of the high street. Of course, we’re in Cinque Terre so it’s not long before we stumble on a stairway or slope. We walk along the well-paved trail built into the cliff-face so that we can look back on the almost vertical cluster of pastel coloured building nestling together in a higgledy-piggledy manner.
There’s no beach here, but no matter, the order of the day seems to be 1) find a rock, 2) lie down on it. People are swimming off the rocks in the brilliant blue sea and if we were only here another day or so I would be casting off my clothes and joining them. But for now we’re content on people-watching. As inviting as the many ristorante look, this is a vista that calls for al fresco dining. So we head off to Pizzeria La Cambusa, and come back with 2 focacce and two of the largest bottles of birra morretti I’ve ever seen. We sit on the rocks, tearing and sharing this amazing Italian bread, toasting ourselves with beer, soaking up the early afternoon sunshine…This is most definitely my new happy place. Despite it being the smallest of the seafront villages, Manarola definitely goes top of the list of where to stay next time. And Mr Fletche is already forming some sort of plan involving ferries and sunsets…
We catch the train to our final destination (for now), Riomaggiore. In true Fletche style we take the long way out of the station, and approach the town from above. There is a handy pedestrian tunnel right into town if we had bothered to look – since when did we take the most direct route… there’s no fun in that! Anyway, we make our way through the faded and peeling pastel buildings towards the harbour, and once more there is one of those postcard views that made me pop Cinque Terre on the travel wishlist in the first place. Mr Fletche reveals his ferry plan. We buy a return ticket, take the sea route back to Monterosso and then catch the final ferry back to Riomaggiore for dinner and sunset. I see no flaw in this plan. Some of those postcard pictures of Cinque Terre could only have been taken from the water. It’s a lovely ride, and we sit at the back of the boat, catching the sea breeze and getting fabulous views as the ferry pulls out of each port after spitting out or taking on passengers.
There’s a moment of panic – and memories of Maine – when the credit card doesn’t work. Luckily we have enough cash to cover train tickets, and our food if we need to, and I make a note to call my bank as soon as possible to confirm my whereabouts. We head back to the town and we decide to eat at Veciu Muin – or ‘Old Mill’. Mr Fletche derides my choice of mixed grilled meat for my final evening’s meal – he prefers the more traditional option of calzone – but the food is excellent. We tentatively proffer the credit card… it works fine, so was obviously just a glitch with the station ticket machine. The call to the bank can wait.
As beautiful as Riomaggiore is, Mr Fletche has scoped the lay of the land and declares that Manarola is the place to be for sunset. So we hop a train back to Manarola. This goes up there with the Cambria and Burlington sunsets that we have had the good fortune to experience. And as the sun sets, both on Cinque Terre, and on our Italian adventure, we know that that we shall soon return.
There’s time for a quick drink once we get our train back to Monterosso, but all the bars appear to have closed early tonight, as if to mourn our pending departure. There’s only one thing to do…raid the mini bar. There’s no freebies in the fridge (oh, distant memories of Milan, has it really only been 10 days?) but the beer and mini bottle of Prosecco are comparable price-wise to what we have been drinking elsewhere. And here we can sit on our balcony, in our pyjamas, toasting what has been a wonderful holiday. Venice and Cinque Terre have been the highlights; Milan was the biggest surprise. Florence provided us with the best food. And the wine and gelato have been fabulous everywhere