To describe this place is a challenge. A good one though- it's paradise. Beach, hikes, cliffs, vineyards... What else is there? Biarritz has some serious competition.
Cinque Terre is a national park, consisting of 5 towns on hilltops along the coast of the Mediterranean. There are trains, boats and walking paths that connect the towns. You do have to buy a park pass if you want to hike. I was there on a weekend, so mine was more expensive. The park is big into being environmentally friendly, so there are sorted recycling and trash bins everywhere. Obviously it's beauty is worth being preserved.
I hiked from Riomaggiore to Manarola, to Corniglia. R to M is a famous hike called Dell' amore, aka the lovers path, where people put locks on the barriers along the way and throw away the key their love is forever). M to C is much harder- mostly because the sea wall path is closed due to a landslide(!) so i had to walk the upper path. Path number 6D goes up along the mountains, through the vineyards. Cinque terre has fertile land and is covered in vineyards. Along with the vines are amazing sea views, as well as views of Manarola and Corniglia from above. I don't think my pictures will do it justice. Of course some parts of the path are on the mountains with no barriers... It's quite an experience. Don't trip! It was difficult with the hot sun and uphill stairs made of stone, but it was absolutely worth it. I also saw this cool contraption that they use to transport grapes down the mountain, except it was transporting people down! So cool.
The other towns are called Vernazza and Monterosso. Vernazza has a small castle where you can get a great view. Of course it has cute shops and restaurants too. Its port was where the main shipping of local wine took place for many years (yay lol). Monterosso is the beach town, with the most sand in cinque terre. I went to the beach here. It was so nice. Of course most of the beach is covered in businesses that rent the beach, thus charge money for loungers and other services, while my beach (the public one) was in the corner, but was still great. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep briefly. Nothing is better than jumping in the water after a nap, in paradise lol. The water is clear near the shore, then a bit darker farther out because of the greenest green seaweed on the ocean floor. The ocean's colouring was apparent during my hike. So beautiful. Near the public beach in Monterosso is 'Il Gigante,' the stone carving of a man holding up the cliff.
The most unique swim spot was in my home base, Manarola. 'Rocky beach' is awesome- there is a huge rock that people jump off of, and you can even swim between rocks. The river that runs throughout the town (you can see and hear it higher up) empties here. Of course I couldn't resist. It was like 5 pm though and I hesitated, wondering if the water was too cold. Then some Americans tried to count down my jump, but before I knew it, I was pushed in!! Hilarious. Luckily it wasn't too cold- it seems I had already gotten used to the water in Monterosso.
Swimming there... Wow. The rocks, the salt... Lovely.
I have to say, in my opinion, Manarola is the best of the towns. It is charming but not too touristy, it's a true hillside town (Aka all up hill), good restaurants, there is an amazing lookout point, the train and the water are accessible.. and it looks amazing at night. I love it here!! Speaking of the lookout point, I went there after dinner at the hostel (great pesto!) to watch the sunset. I met 3 americans including a girl named Kelley, her fiance and a guy named Joe, who has family in Italy. Apparently Kelley loves Vancouver and applied for some nursing jobs there. I had fun chatting, drinking and watching the incredible view with them. That sunset, with a couple mountains in the distance... It doesn't get much better.
Now about my dining adventure- I went to a place called Billy's trattoria near my hostel. It gets rave reviews so I decided to splurge. They are true fisherman there, and have pictures of people and the fish they caught on the walls. So when I asked what the fish of the day was.... My waitress brought it out. Sliced open, dead on a plate. Ha. Another American in the joint thought it was funny and laughed at it too. Needless to say I didn't order it- too expensive. I got some great spicy spaghetti and "various fried fish" including shrimp (with eyes), little octopuses (with eyes) and sardines. Lol. I tried to finish, I did!! Anyway I was stuffed after- it was an experience but very good!
As if Cinque Terre couldn't get any better, I found out there was a wine tasting in riomaggorie so I paid my 10 euros and got to try 4 local wines. I was even given a nifty bag to put my wine glass in. White wines are much more common in the area, so I tried 2. I also tried 1 red and 1 glass of the area's special sweet wine called scaicchetra (better than ice wine!) At this winery, the guy showed me pictures of him working, completing the process. Its very much a family affair, especially when the grapes are ready. Very cool. All the wine was very good but the white was better than the red! (There are only 2 red gapes in the region and I've never heard of them.) I was talking to a lady at one wine tasting table and she was telling me about how difficult it is to work in the region. Obviously growing grapes on steep mountains is hard work. Terraces are built with stone and there are always landslides, she said, so they constantly have to be rebuilt. A huge mural near the train station in Riomaggorie is a testament to the locals' hard work.
I had a great time. Such a beautiful place. A must-see & experience!!