The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure
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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare
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Monterosso- play time!
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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

Lucca- Walled Historic Center

Lucca is known for its Renaissance walls that encircle the historic center of this city lined with cobblestone streets and mostly closed to car traffic. This is the former home of Giacomo Puccini the famous opera composer. We loved this town and you can totally picture living here.  (Do you see a theme here? I think I said that in Ravello , then again in Positano, then again in Florence. My heart is in Italy no matter where I am.) We did not get to venture out of the historic walled center to the rest of the city however.  Next time!

Lucca is surrounded by high mountains and is a short drive from Pisa and located southwest of Florence. The walls were finished in the 17th century and remain intact. The city was built along the rectangular Roman grid formation seen elsewhere in Italy. Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC.

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Some of the fun sights are the Cathedral, the Guinigi Tower, the Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, San Michele in Foro and of course walking, running, biking or just sitting and people watching on the wall. However, the best thing was just to wander the streets, get gelato, watch people and if you are lucky be here for the Lucca Music Festival. We missed Imagine Dragons by 3 days and at the end of the Festival the Rolling Stones! Bummer!

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The Cathedral di San Martino is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin is located in a secluded area of the old city center. The Cathedral is Gothic and Romanesque style with a marble facade like the one found in Pisa. The front facade has 3 arches where pilgrims on their destination route to Rome traded. The marble inlay floor is a mix of religious themes like the floor we saw in Siena dating back to 1233. Next to the Duomo is the crenellated bell-tower finished in the 13th century.  Inside you see the famous crucifix bearing an image of Christ wearing a long sleeved garment. The Cathedral is found when walking on the main street called Via Fillungo filled with shops and restaurants.

Cathedral di San Martino

Piazza San Michele which including a statue of Puccini and the Church of San Michele in Foro is a Roman Catholic church built over the ancient Roman forum. What a fancy exterior on this church. There is a winged Archangel Michael standing at the top and there are also busts of Italian patriots. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries with its twisted columns, each different and carved marble details.  It is a very extravagant example of the Pisan-Romanesque style. There is an obvious lack of Christian detailing except the larger figure of St. Michael.

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Church of San Michele in Foro

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Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi) a Romanesque Gothic structure built in the 1300’s and one of the few remaining towers within the city walls is unique for the holm oak trees planted at the top to symbolize rebirth and renewal. It is the only remaining tower of the original four. From here take in the magnificent view of the entire city!

Guinigi Tower

Santa Maria Bianca is a Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church.  Each church has its own unique personality.

Church of San Frediano is a Romanesque church that dominates one end of the Piazza San Frediano.  It has a stunning 13th century mosaic that glows brilliantly with gold, blue and pale pinks and pastels.  It was begun in the 6th century and originally dedicated to St.Vincent.  The mosaic is of The Ascension of Christ the Saviour.

Basilica di San Frediano

The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a public square in the walled center. The square is elliptical shaped with four gateways and reveals the old structure of the Roman amphitheatre. This Ampitheatre originally held 10,000 spectators and was created for gladiator games and other events. Today it is surrounded by open air restaurants and shops and is a real lively spot in the evenings.

Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

Palazzo Pfanner goes back to 1660 originally commissioned by the Moriconi family who when forced into bankruptcy in 1680 sold the building to the Controni family of silk merchants. They were responsible for the building of the grand staircase and upgrading the gardens. The Pfanner family became involved in the middle of the 19th century. This was the site of the historic Pfanner Brewery until 1929. They are responsible for the restoration of this property that is now open to the public. The gardens have extraordinary 18th century statues depicting the deities of Greek Olympus and the Four Seasons.  The baroque garden is visible from the city walls and the grand staircase and is right near the Basilica di San Frediano.

Palazzo Pfanner

Even I managed to have my share of gelato here in Lucca! I highly suggest Gelateria Veneta!

Have you missed any of the other towns? Pienza was the last town we visited but you can search the blogs by town if you are looking for one in particular.

Pisa- more than just the Leaning Tower!

Here the Arno River continues from Florence dividing the city into 4 distinct areas as it flows to the sea. There is much to see in this city beyond just The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

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The area of Santa Maria is one of the most ancient districts and during the Roman Empire was a flourishing city. Surrounded by the 12th century wall the Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Tower complex is one of the most dramatic settings in Italy.

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The Piazza is also known as the ‘Field of Miracles’ or Campo deli Miracoli with its magnificent lawn.

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Pisa heralds from as early as the Bronze Age and was populated by Etruscans and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. It was an economic powerhouse in the Middle Ages and was a mighty Maritime city along with Amalfi, Genoa and Venice. The city was heavily damaged during WWII but thankfully the Duomo and the Tower were spared as well as some other Romanesque structures.

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This is also a city to explore on foot like many other Tuscan cities.  Be sure to explore the area around the Arno River after visiting the Field of Miracles and taking your kitschy picture trying to hold up the Leaning Tower.  You know you will!!!

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We only had a few hours to explore Pisa so our journey will have to continue on our next adventure.  The Gothic Baptistry is directly across from the Duomo and is known for the pulpit carved by Nicola Pisano in 1260. In a not to be missed event every half hour an employee will close the doors and chant demonstrating the remarkable, unbelievable acoustics in this amazing place. It was amazing!!!!!!!  Video below!

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The cathedral employs horizontal striped marble, a technique borrowed from Moorish architecture which is found in other Tuscan cathedrals. It is renown for the Romanesque panels depicting the life of Christ on the transept door facing the tower. Note the beautiful carved pulpit done in the 14th century by Giovanni Pisano.

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Look at this ceiling!!!!
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Striped marble facade

 

The Leaning Tower or the Torre Pendente rises high above the Field. Supposedly Galileo conducted experiments on gravity from the 187′ tower. Historians disagree- go figure! The story goes that the tower started settling when construction reached the third story. There was an attempt to compensate by making the remaining floors slightly taller than the leaning side but- alas- it didn’t work and only made the problem worse. You must have reservations to climb to the top.  Sadly, we didn’t know that so we couldn’t get up there but I understand the views are crazy!

Did you miss Montepulciano?

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