Wednesday – Pisa to Monterosso
It’s always a little chaotic when Stuart leaves me in charge of organising our trips. When he does it (which is most of the time) we have a printed itinerary with times and locations organised to the precise minute. When I’m in charge I have a quick Google as we’re driving to the airport to work out what we’re doing. Most of the time it works out just fine. This time, however, I got my times a little muddled and underestimated the travel time and train connections by 2 hours resulting in Stuart having a melt down in Pisa Airport. When we finally got through the bundle of passport control and got our bags I saw a queue for a ticket office. Being British, I panicked and immediately joined the queue without really questioning what I was queuing for. After 10 minutes of waiting and a bit of looking around at the signs I decided to ditch the queue and adventure off to find the train station. Stuart followed on behind, continually grumbling at my lack of preparation but I strove forward, confident that we would get to our destination in the end. We finally managed to navigate the Italian train system (which was actually quite easy and cheap as chips) and arrived at Monterosso only a couple of hours later than planned.
Cinque Terre is five towns – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. I had chosen to book a B&B in Monterosso. Why did I pick this town above the other four? Was it more beautiful in the pictures? Did it have a better selection of restaurants and bars? Or was it because I’d read that it was the flattest out of the five and therefore I wouldn’t have to hike up massive hills every time I wanted to get anywhere? You guessed it, the avoidance of hiking won hands down.
We had booked to stay at Affittacamere Monica. I’ve no idea why I’d chosen it as when I looked again at the reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com they all seemed a bit critical but I was too late to change it so I primed Stuart that it might be a bit of a wild card. In my frantic car Googling I had read that it was tricky to find and situated above a restaurant and opposite a stripy church so we actually found it quite easily, although I can see why others struggled. We were greeted by the owner and showed to our room. There are only 2 rooms which are rented out to guests and the owner lives on the top floor. Imagine if your Nan was Italian and renting out rooms to guests then this is what it would be like. The bathroom was a little snug, you could almost have a shower, go to the toilet and brush your teeth all at the same time. It also transpired that the B&B which I thought I’d book was actually a B without B, so essentially just a room.
After checking in we went in search of food. There were so many restaurants to chose from that we ended up wandering around for 20 minutes overwhelmed by the selection. Everywhere seemed really quiet except for L’Osteria. When we first went past it was absolutely full to the brim but on our second walk around there were a couple just leaving so we thought we see if we could get a table. We were in luck and had the most fabulous dinner. Stuart ordered the octopus starter which was the most impressive looking dish I’d ever seen. A whole octopus sitting on top of a pool of garlic butter. Stuart was delighted that the suckers still work as he repeatedly suctioned it’s tentacle to the bottom of the plate. For main course we had their ‘special’ which was fresh ravioli with ricotta and basil stuffing served with prawns and tomatoes. It was absolutely delicious.
Notes from Stuart: Jade made some serious errors regarding the airport to hotel transfer. Time zones wrong and I think she lied to me on the train duration. I thought we could make it easier by getting a cab but they wanted to charge €498 so I had to except my fate and have more beer to survive. Family on platform thought we were Austrian cos I was drunk speaking bad German although the sensible Italian man clocked us as English and won the bet with his wife. Italian trains are very cheap so we travelled first class, Jade was excited but got angry when I took lots of pics when she only wanted one. My theory is she closes her eyes 98% of the time so thought I was being nice. Apparently not! Not sure on Italy so far can see why the struggled against the Ethiopians in WW2.
Thursday – Exploring Vernazza
Had a lovely lie in which was only slightly disturbed by the church bells that were ringing right outside our window at 30 minute intervals from 7.30am. We got dressed and headed out for a spot of brekkie and a bit of an explore of Monterosso before getting the train to Vernazza which is the next town along. Having checked the weather forecast for the week ahead whilst planning what to pack, we’d seen that rain was forecast for the first day or two of our trip. Stuart and I had discussed what clothes to bring – something warm if it’s chilly, something cool if it’s hot and something waterproof if it rains. I suggested that I bring my slightly nerdy but very practical bright red anorak. Stuart mocked me. I decided to pop to the shops to get a more trendy looking mac – waterproof and fashionable. I even accessorised it with a scarf. Stuart decided that I looked like ‘Vera’ and proceeded to continually ask if I’d solved the case yet. Whilst I’m a big fan of the work of Brenda Blethyn I did feel a little insulted being likened to a 72 year old woman.
Vernazza is a pretty pastel painted town with a harbour so we found a bar to have a drink and soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the surroundings. Next to where we were sitting was a set of stairs with a sign pointing to Castello Doria with a picture of a tower and another sign saying viewing point. I suggested we headed up to see what was up there. I immediately regretted this suggestion as I was faced with a climb of about a million stairs. By the time we reached the top I was a panting, sweaty mess and needed to sit on the nearest wall to recover, as Stuart bounded around like an excited Labrador puppy totally unfazed by our climb. Our fitness levels are somewhat different. After about 5 minutes I had recovered enough to be able to enjoy the view. It was definitely worth the million stairs and the 1.50 euro entry fee. I heard my name being called from above and knew that it was Stuart summoning me to the top of the tower. More stairs. This time a really narrow spiral staircase. Fortunately the view was even better from up there so I didn’t have to tell Stuart off for making me climb even higher. We headed back down, had a few more drinks and a bite to eat then returned to Monterosso.
It was around 4pm when we got off the train at Monterosso. The sun was shining and we stopped for a drink at Nuovo Bar Eden which had the most inviting looking terrace overlooking the beach. From there we could see all the way along to Vernazza. One drink turned into a few drinks plus an ice cream over a couple of hours. It was so lovely to be able to enjoy some sunshine and relaxation.
After a little siesta we went for dinner at Gastronomia San Martino. You had to go in and order from the selection of dishes on display in the cabinet. I chose orecchiette pasta with prawns and courgettes and Stuart had swordfish. We were a bit confused by it all and thought we might have made a bit of a flub but the food was actually ok (Stuart’s was good and mine was a bit bland) and super cheap.
Notes from Stuart: Got charged 11€ for a large Peroni bottle and a can of Coke. Rip off but we did get some free snacks that I didn’t want. Went up lots of steps to a nice tower, I smashed the climb but Jade almost died. Stopped for a beer coming back down in a trendy place and I got stuck in the toilet due to a bad bi-folding door design. Draft beer not great in many places but was a good amber craft beer here.
Friday – Exploring Riomaggiore and Manarola
We were hoping to get a boat to see all the Cinque Terre towns from the sea but they weren’t running due to sea conditions so we decided to get the train to Riomaggiore and work our way back. We (I) decided that we should head straight there to fit in as much as we could today rather than hanging around Monterosso for breakfast. We had to wait nearly half an hour for the train by which point Stuart was extremely grumpy and suffering from a severe case of ‘hanger’ (anger brought on by hunger) and definitely nothing to do with the 2 litres of wine that he’d had the previous day.
We finally made it to Riomaggiore and were a little underwhelmed by the town. There seemed to be one main winding road through the town and the harbour wasn’t as pretty as Vernazza. I managed to get a few photos before Stuart demanded that we find pizza immediately. After a mediocre pizza we walked up through the town along the steep main road to find a path that lead along the top which the woman in the tourist information booth had assured me was very pretty. We overshot the turning by about 200 meters resulting in us hiking much further up the hill than required. On the plus side I have buns of steel now. We finally found the path we were looking for and it was ok but didn’t blow us away.
Once back at the train station we had to endure a 40 minute wait for the train we needed to take us to the next town of Manarola. This meant I had to endure 40 minutes of Stuart grumbling about the lateness of the train and comparisons to the far more efficient German train system. It goes without saying that the lateness of the train was completely my fault.
When we eventually arrived at Manarola we walked the short distance to the harbour and were even more underwhelmed than when we’d arrived in Riomaggiore. It wasn’t until we walked around the path leading away from the harbour that we saw what a stunning scene it was. The path curved around slightly which meant that you could see across the harbour with the brightly coloured houses working their way up the cliffs above. It was the best view of all the towns so far. Inside the town it seemed pretty average, looking back across the bay at the town it was absolutely stunning.
We made our way back to Monterosso and the train gods repaid us for all our waiting early and gave us a train within a minute of us arriving at the station. We went back to the sunny terrace of Nuovo Bar Eden and enjoyed watching all the dogs on the beach. Some dogs were afraid to get their toes wet while others bounded into the sea. We were particularly entertained, if a little worried, to watch one dog swimming further and further out to sea despite the owners increasingly more alarmed calls to come back. After 10 minutes the owner realised there was nothing else for it and stripped to his underpants and swam after the dog. He managed to catch up with him and started dragging him back to shore. Every time the owner loosened his grip a little the dog was off again. The dog was having an absolute whale of a time. When the owner and dog finally made it back to dry land they were greeted with a round of applause from the crowds that had gathered on the beach to watch the scene unfold as well as the people sitting on the terrace. Although the owner was greeted with applause, he was sadly not greeted with a towel, so had to sit on the sand in his soggy underpants until he’d drip dried enough to put his clothes back on.
Stuart was in charge of choosing our restaurant for dinner and made a very good choice indeed with Restaurant Al Carugio. Stuart’s starter of lemon anchovies combined the two foods that the region is famous for. It was absolutely delicious. If you’ve only ever had the skinny, salty anchovies that you get in a tin at home then you really must try them fresh. They were chunky and much more meaty and the flavour was very subtle. I had meat ravioli and Stuart had catch of the day for main and both dinners were much nicer than the food the previous evening.
Notes from Stuart: Spent most of the day waiting for trains due to further errors and lies made by Jade. Deliberately made Jade hike further up a hill. I knew where the turning was but purposely made us go a bit further just for a laugh. Saw a naughty little dog go for a swim, he quite literally wanted to swim to Africa and in the end the owner had to strip off down to his boxer shorts and go get him. It was comedy gold and he got a round of applause from spectators on the beach and terrace. I felt nervous as I thought the dog would get in trouble but he was as fit as me and could have gone on for hours. It would have been upsetting if he did drown unlike if I saw an American drown, that would be great, too many here, the loud pricks, it’s no wonder really that Trump got in. Jade complained I wasn’t making enough notes. She really doesn’t understand the arts and needs to stick to solving murders in her Mac and scarf. Note to readers: Jades notes are mainly lies about me.
Saturday – Boat trip to Riomaggiore and hiking up to Corniglia
I was delighted to find that the boat was running today and bought our tickets to Riomaggiore. We arrived at the dock super early to get prime position on the boat. The view of each of the towns was fabulous and I frantically snapped away.
As we approached Vernazza I could see how high the tower was that we climbed up to. No wonder I was so exhausted.
The boat didn’t stop at Corniglia as it doesn’t have a harbour due to it’s position 100 meters high up on the cliffs. I knew I was in for another big climb later when we visited the town.
The sea conditions meant that the boat couldn’t stop at Manarola but they pulled in close to the shore so that we could get some pictures. The view was actually not as good as from the path we’d walked the previous day.
Finally the boat pulled into Riomaggiore and we headed for the station to get the train to Corniglia.
Corniglia train station is at the bottom of the cliffs next to the sea. As you walk towards Corniglia you are faced with an imposing rock face with a set of stairs snaking upwards. I told Stuart to go ahead as I knew I was going to take a while to mountaineer up to the town. At the bottom of the stairs was a sign saying pharmacy at the top. This didn’t sound good. The higher you got the better the view so that was a good incentive to keep climbing.
When I got about half way up Stuart messaged me to say he was at the top drinking a beer. As you can imagine, I was delighted to receive this information. I finally made it to the top and didn’t need the pharmacy, just a massive drink. We had lunch at La Posada which was right next to the top of the stairs and had a fabulous view back over the bay towards Riomaggiore. The food was good but the chav music didn’t quite fit the ambience. After lunch we headed into the town with low expectations. We thought that the view would be good but the town would be a bit naff. We were completely wrong. It was our favourite town to wander around out of all the Cinque Terre towns. There was a labyrinth of winding alleys and staircases. Everywhere you turned was another gorgeous scene. It was definitely worth the 23 flights (according to Stuart’s Fitbit).
As we headed back down I told Stuart to go ahead and buy our train tickets. As soon as he had gone I knew that there was virtually no chance that Stuart would have the tickets when I arrived at the station for 2 reasons. Firstly, he might actually have to speak to someone to buy them and secondly, he has no idea of the name of the town that we are staying in. I rounded the corner to find a flustered Stuart saying he couldn’t get the tickets because the machine wasn’t recognising the name. Unfortunately for him the name that he was searching for was still on the machine. ‘Manterrassinio’. I typed in ‘Monterosso’ and managed to purchase our train tickets. I quizzed Stuart later on the names of the Cinque Terre towns and he listed Manterrassinio, Vernazzio, Carligio, Marcella and Raffaellio. Pretty close.
For our last dinner we went to La Cambusa and had a feast of anchovies for starter. Lemon anchovies and stuffed anchovies. The menu didn’t say what they were stuffed with but we thought we’d give it a go. They were stuffed with some sort of sausage meat and fried in breadcrumbs. A-MAZ-ING. I’m an anchovy convert.
Notes from Stuart: Today I discovered Jade cannot read analog clocks or realise when I’ve taken a good selfie. She had a go at me, I defended myself, she then made me out to be grumpy, I present more evidence and then she realises I’m right, never apologises just laughs it off.
A Brief Summary of Cinque Terre Towns
Great place to stay. Loads of restaurants and eateries. Has a seaside resort feel and I imagine is heaving in the height of the season. Looks different to all the other Cinque Terre towns as it’s flatter and not built into the cliffs.
Lovely harbour and a good view from the tower.
Positioned high up on the cliffs with no harbour. You have to climb up a lot of stairs to reach it but it’s the most beautiful town to wander around.
Inside the town it really doesn’t feel that special at all. It felt a bit enclosed and grubby. Walk around the path that leads from the harbour and the view across the town is spectacular.
Like Manarola, Riomaggiore doesn’t feel that special inside the town. Unlike Manarola it doesn’t even have an amazing view at the harbour. My least favourite of the Cinque Terre towns.