When I first started planning my trip to Italy, it was all really confusing. I had seen tons of pictures of the Cinque Terre and made the same mistakes hundreds of other before had made, believing it was a single town when in fact, it’s five! In retrospect it really is so obvious because the of the ‘cinque’ in the name, but my Italian doesn’t really extend further than ordering my favourite pizza from the spot down the road.
Trying to decide where to stay can get even more complex when you just search for ‘accommodation’ in the Cinque Terre!
I opted to start from scratch and started researching the Cinque Terre again. This area of Italy actually forms part of a national park and means ‘five lands’. There are five towns within the Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza,Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Although the photos look very similar, each town has its own distinctive identity. The towns are linked via railway and it’s actually virtually impossible to get into the towns by car because of the rugged coastline they are built on.
Over centuries, locals have built up each town on a series of terraces carved into the cliffs of the Cinque Terre. The resulting towns look as if they’re about slide right down into the sea at a tremor’s notice, but in fact, it’s like walking a series of giant steps when exploring the villages. The decorative colours of each town are what makes this area so gorgeous. Almost like there’s a Mexican wave of popsicles standing to attention on the green hills.
There is plenty of info online about each town, but the reason I chose Riomaggiore in the end was purely because it was the smallest of the five towns and promised a less touristy feel than some of the bigger areas. This did make it harder to find accommodation, but it turned out to be worth the struggle in the end.
We caught the train to Riomaggiore out of Milan. The Italian rail system is excellent, you can book tickets online, it’s inexpensive and the website is in English. The trains in Italy tend to run vertically across the country, it’s when you need to travel across the breadth of the country that it’s a bit harder. Trains run throughout the day too, so no hurry to catch them, and if you miss your train, you can just exchange the ticket for another for a small fee.
We got a booking at an amazing little guesthouse run by one of the friendliest Italians we met, Sandro. Alla Marina Affittacamere is a short walk from the train station and Sandro even met us to assist with carrying our suitcases, but mostly to help us find his place. It’s a little windy and a bit maze-like in the town so we really appreciated that. While we would’ve loved a room with a view, we managed to get Room 1 which was absolutely perfect in any case. Sandro showed us around the guesthouse, gave us a map of the village with suggestions on what to do and even recommended places to eat (there were only two). His helpfulness definitely made the experience for us here.
We were only in Riomaggiore for one night sadly, but I would recommend staying three if you’re going to visit. While it is a small town, there are plenty of gems to discover including a walk up to the Santuario della Madonna de Montenero, a 14th century sanctuary from which you can get the most magnificent views of the coastline, including other towns in the Cinque Terre. The walk can be strenuous so remember to take some water and snacks, but takes about an hour in total.
For dinner, there’s a spot right in the harbour called La Lanterna. It’s quite small, but with us visiting out of tourist season, there was more of an atmosphere here because it seemed ‘fuller’. Sandro also mentioned that he preferred La Lanterna’s food to any of the other restaurants even though it was a little more expensive. That being said, La Lanterna was one of the best meals I ate while in Italy. Fresh seafood and the largest plate of mussels I’ve ever received in my life were served hot and tasty, all accompanied by local wine sold by the carafe. All across Italy, you can order regional wine by the carafe, it’s about a quarter of the price and mostly delicious.
Alongside the harbour is a small path leading to a rocky beach. Some of the rocks were decorated with graffiti, were the perfect spot to sit and reflect on the trip so far punctuated by the familiar sounds of the train rolling through the tunnel on the cliff above. The pathway is a little precarious, but it’s a great spot to get some photos and even have a picnic!
There are quite a few small cafes and pizzerias, as well as speciality stores in Riomaggiore. Taking time to explore them all, and grab a slice whenever we felt hungry, was so much fun here. The only bit I would change would be to have stayed longer and perhaps do the cliff walk between towns to get a feel for another spot along this special section of coast.
Have you been to Riomaggiore? How did you find it?