Italian Vacations – The Italian Northwest Coast
We elected to get a hotel in La Spezia and then take the train to Cinque Terre, a high poinit of our Italian vacations. Once in La Spezia, we wanted to check out all the things we had to do the next morning to park and get on the train. There happened to be a parking place for our rental car, sort of like a motorized roller skate (actually a Fiat 500 ‘Cinque Cento’) right across the street from the hotel. It can fit anywhere.
It was 1.50 Euros (about $2.00) per hour, meaning a few hours would cost us about $2 a foot or more for parking till it became free at 8 pm. We thought that was sort of steep and would require a lot of coin stuffing.
After about 10 minutes of additional driving around, we found a cheaper one where we could go back in the morning, a quick 5 minute walk, and drive 5 minutes to the train station. Our only baggage for this 2-day trip was a day pack. You should ask your hotelier where La Spezia parking is free — there are lots of spots.
The train station underground parking is cheaper at 1 Euro per hour. This is true in general for Italian Vacations. If you are going to pay anyway, you can usually park cheapest at the town train station.
What’s more, it is right there at the train station for Cinque Terre. This would save a lot of wear and tear on the feet, and let us make a quick getaway when we returned to go pick up the dogs at Cane d’Oro. Cane d’Oro near Barberino (+39 558 428 141) is a great place during Italian vacations to board your dog, for those of you who might travel with dogs. Uh… you probably need to speak Italian, though.
There is a train ticket for 10 Euros (about $13), perfect for those on Italian vacations, that allows you to get on and off the train in Cinque Terre anywhere you want, and trains run about every 45 minutes to an hour.
So you get on one, stop at a village for an hour, and then get on the following train, sort of leap-frogging from town to town. Finally you return from the end. Our whole trip would last from 8:12 am to 3:03 pm. We got two tickets. It’s a trip of about 3 minutes average between villages.
After a walk back to the hotel (Hotel Birillo) and a little rest, we were ready for a light dinner. By the way, you will find that Hotel Birillo is the best-rated small hotel in La Spezia, a great value, though really minimalistic. It is under a kilometer to the train station.
La Spezia has numerous promenades where people come out in the early evening and walk. The stores are open from 4 pm or so until maybe 8 pm.
Kids, teenagers, couples, people on bicycles, and a small carousel and rides for the very young all added up to an exciting place to have a couple glasses of vino, pasta and salad (yes, those chunks are fresh mozzarella on the salad) at an inexpensive restaurant.
Yes, the breakfast at the hotel was great. It was like the one at our B&B Le Due Volpi, but because they had a lot more guests at the hotel, they could have more variety: four breakfast cakes, prosciutto (ham), cheeses, cereals – the whole thing, better than any American motels have for a complimentary breakfast. So I can see where they get their good rating for Italian vacations, though it was not a Hilton!
Cinque Terre consists of 5 fairly small villages, Riomaggiore (population 1,700), Manarola (350), Corniglia (200), Vernazza (950), and Monterossa (1,750). Each one has a little different personality, all are very picturesque, and all but one are carved out precipitous craggy rock gorges alongside inlets from the Mediterranean Sea.
We ran into a few people on Italian vacations who used one of the Cingue Terre towns as a destination and stayed at a hotel there for multiple days. There is plenty to do, as you travel from one town to another.
There were torrential rains in October, 2011, which pretty much destroyed all walking paths between the towns completely. Horrible weather for a lot of people taking Italian vacations, and especially for the hikers on the Cinque Terre hiking trail. It was washed out.
But within months, the towns were functional and now ONE trail is back being hike-able. By today, there is very little left indicating the past disaster.
Our first stop was Riomaggiore, and we were fresh and ready to do quite a bit of walking. From the train station, you walk back through a fantastic tunnel of mosaics. There were fish and other sea creatures, birds and all sorts of other odds and ends, including stones and random pieces of tile.
At the other end of the tunnel, the town is the second largest, and has at least three churches or chapels that we saw. You could walk up winding streets barely wide enough for a car, or 4-foot wide alleys between buildings. The houses are all painted bright colors, and it seems to be “the town with the green shutters.”
The tunnel with the relief, mosaic wall. Paintings on the front of a building.
We took so many pictures of the towns, we just put a few of them together here for you. There are terraces that cover the hillsides above all the towns. The towns are solid buildings on these cliffs.
There are boats on the streets of the town, not in the water yet, waiting to go down the ramps when needed. A woman was hanging out wash on lines that extend from balconies – and drying laundry waves from lots of buildings.
Finally, here’s the toilet in the pizzeria where we had lunch. No sitting required, ladies – you just stand there. Yes, welcome to Italian vacations. And here’s me with my shoes off, wading in the Med on the beach at Monterosso. The beach is all ROCK and I have very tender soles. I had to crawl back to get to my shoes.
We had a great time in Cinque Terre. It was an enjoyable day and boy, were we pooped when we finally got home. We would definitely come back here again if we have time for Italian vacations, and spend more time in Cinque Terre.
Other interesting parts of our Italian vacations:
Carol and JB