Some places in Europe look like they must have been built post-Disney. Like some Imagineer drew up crazy plans for a magical castle or enchanted village that couldn’t possibly exist without help from the special effects and set building departments. Cinque Terre feels like that kind of place.
After spending a few days in cities, it was time for our Rome to Prague tour group to take the train to the coast to see the five villages built into the hills. You may have seen photographs on the cover of travel magazines or on Pinterest boards of bucket list destinations. The colorful buildings pop out at you and the sea looks calm and welcoming.
On the day we visited that was all true. Our guide, Zsofia, had us take a boat from Riomaggiore, where the train from Viareggio let us off, to Vernazza, probably the most photographed of the villages. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we enjoyed a picnic lunch by the water, making it even harder to believe that in 2012 Vernazza was buried under 10 feet of mud after a heavy rainstorm caused massive landslides.
They had no water or electricity and spent months rebuilding and making the area friendly to tourists again.
Since I’d never been before I couldn’t tell how much the town had changed, but it looked vibrant to me, with no more scaffolding or signs of construction than I saw anywhere else in Italy.
I think I first read about Cinque Terre maybe five years ago, and most of what I heard focused on the fact you could hike from one town to the next, enjoying the cliff views and fresh sea air. Since the mudslides some of the trails haven’t reopened, so you have to use the train to get from village to village (there are no roads or cars connecting them), but there are still hikes you can do.
Zsofia led us from Vernazza to Monterosso, the last village of the five and one with a sandy, slightly rocky beach you can relax on after your hour and a half hike. (You can do it in less time if you’re really in a hurry, or take longer to stop for photos or just enjoy the views.)
Bring water with you and make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes. The trail is steep going up and down and sometimes it’s slippery. There’s a checkpoint you go through to begin where they ask for your trail tickets (ours were included as part of the G Adventures tour), and we saw them turn away people wearing flip flops, because it isn’t safe.
Some people chose to do a second hike, but since we hadn’t had our gelato yet for the day, others of us decided to grab some dessert, write postcards, and relax by the beach. We wanted to be well rested for our time in Venice.