My time in Cinque Terre was like a dream. A sun soaked, pastel-coloured, flowery, delicious, friendly dream. Everywhere I looked, I wanted to take a picture because every single vista there is worthy of a postcard (and luckily they sell lots, which was great for me because it was the perfect opportunity to send out a few letters to my loved ones from this beautiful place).
I was staying in a hostel that was more like a shared apartment. To get to it, you had to climb about seven flights of steep stairs and were constantly winded by the time you got inside. But the windows were always flung wide and we had views of the adorable houses (complete with little old ladies hanging out their underwear to dry and lots of little flower boxes), lots of sun, and could always hear the humble bustle of the little street below. It was such a perfect place to stay. Everyone I met there was friendly and awesome, and we became fast friends.
There are 5 little towns in the Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. I was staying in the first, Riomaggiore, which is the most southern of the five. I explored all five and loved them all, but Monterosso less so (it is much more resort-like, more touristy). I would highly recommend staying in Riomaggiore or Vernazza. The towns are all similar, but each has its own unique views and setup. To get to Corniglia, you have to climb about 400 steps from the train station, but it's nestled into the cliff and the views are wonderful. Vernazza has loads of character (it has a little castle overlooking it and lots of places for rock jumping), but Riomaggiore was my favourite. For all intents and purposes it has two streets: one that leads from the train station to the town and on to the harbour and beach, and one main street packed with little restaurants, gelato shops, and souvenir shops. There's a little cathedral (I was lucky enough to stumble into mass there and hear some beautiful singing) and an old fortress on the top of the hill (with amazing views over the water and nearby cliffs), but not much else “to see” which was such a happy change. It was wonderful to just relax and enjoy and not have to be a tourist for a few days.
Every night I was there, I went down and sat on the rocks and watched the sunset over the water. We drank wine and ate fried seafood out of paper cones and sandwiches with spicy cheese, pesto and sundried tomatoes. We always ended up staying longer than we thought we would, lingering as the sky changed colours. One night we drifted from the harbour to one of the two bars in town and then back again for a late-night swim (during which I sliced my foot open on a clam, but whatever it was worth it, yolo!)
During the days, I explored the other towns. My favourite day was the one where I did the two hikes that were open (there is a trail connecting all five towns, but the trails between the first 3 were closed due to storm damage when I was there), from Corniglia to Vernazza and then Vernazza to Monterosso. I loved those hikes. It was hot, and it was actually quite difficult: so many stairs and ups and downs. My legs were shaking after the first one, but I'd enjoyed myself so much that I did the second one anyways (after a much needed break for pizza, beer and gelato – hiking fuel..). But it was so worth it. The heat brings out the essential oils in the herbs and fruit trees that grow wild along the trail, so the whole walk smelled like pine and lemon and rosemary. It felt so good to work hard and look back on where I'd hiked from and just be totally spoiled by all the completely gorgeous views on either side of me as I walked. It is unbelievably beautiful. By the time I got into Monterosso I just felt so happy: I guzzled like three bottles of water filled from a little fountain in the square and waded in the sea and was just so happy.
I can't say enough about how much I loved my time in Cinque Terre. I don't really have any “favourites” for this post because I don't know the name of any places we went to. Except for Pizzeria Fratelli Basso in Vernazza, that place has the best pesto pizza. Outstanding. But as for Riomaggiore, just walk up and down the street and try the take out pesto pasta or numerous pizzas or the little sandwich shop. You'll see. You'll be happy.