The Cinque Terre villages and trail system was our other hiking destination planned for this Italian vacation outside of the the Dolomites. It’s iconic brightly colored buildings on brilliant clear blue are highly recognizable from tourist marketing, blogs and even puzzles (we’ve had one a my house for years). The allure of no cars and being able to reach the villages only by foot or train was undeniable. My mind had romanticized hiking peacefully with my love in the fresh air along the sea to explore the quint shops and restaurants each spot had to offer. It turned out to be more crowded than I had imaged but was a memorable day nevertheless. The views were spectacular, but I could have done without the aggressive speed hiking we had to do to get around the slower hikers.
Trains again for transport. Nothing fancy on this leg of the trip. It was the usual story of chaotic Italian public transit by train and bus. We had no delays and there was not much to report about getting to Massa.
Where we stayed…
We chose to stay in the seaside town of Massa-Carrara for a chance to check out the ocean and its proximity to the train station. October is off season for this part of coastal Italy, and it proved to be completely dead. I had hoped for a little downtime to sit at the beach under a colorful umbrella after being in Florence. This wasn’t the case due to stormy weather and all of the umbrellaed beach clubs being packed up for the season. It was pleasant enough though and served its purpose to get us easily to our hiking destination. We secured a brand-new condo on Airbnb that was walking distance to the beach and the main town.
It was a last-minute booking, and it was lacking basic amenities such as towels or soaps. The host did respond quickly though and got us what we needed. It was quiet, clean and had a laundry machine, so I don’t have any complaints. We were able to rest and take a few gentle, flat jogs along the canal trail on during our off time here.
What we did…
Hiked! Obviously. We had checked out the maps on the train ride up and learned that the southern 2 villages were not accessible by trail due to maintenance from floods during the previous years. We started at the Northern most town and got straight to it. I had read plenty prior to arriving about the need to purchase the trail pass and was prepared for a solid hike of hiking through the speed terraced vineyards and hills along the coast. The weather was sunny and humid the day we visited, so water was a must! It was a bit of a tease not having swimwear or towels to cool off in the clear waters below but getting back on a train all salty and sweaty was not appealing.
The trails were well maintained and spectacular views the entire route. However, they were heavily trafficked with tourists whom were underprepared for the level of hike it was (apparently no one read the thousands of warnings about it being a challenging hike) and the villages between were very crowded to match making it a bit difficult to stop and enjoy the beauty of the place.
We sprint-hiked in order to not get stuck behind multi-generational families or beach goers clad in flip flops. I truly can’t imagine what it would have been like during the high season of summer. My hip was in terrible shape after this day, but we did take appreciate the uniquely beautiful place and enjoyed a very cold beer and local fish at the village we ended at.
What we ate…
At Cinque Terre, we only had the opportunity for 1 lunch. It was cool, the servers weren’t jerks and the food was tasty. I considered it a win for the day. I was in the spirit of eating what’s local and ordered the fish of the day, which I was able to expertly debone from watching the waiter back in Venice doing it table side.
Now in Massa, we ran up against a language barrier and it being off season, so choices were more limited than they had been in week before. We ended up cooking at home after our hike which was a lovely break from eating out every meal. Here are the few restaurants we did enjoy-Ristorantino da Mariano, La Casina, & Bagno Fassoni Ristorante & Cocktail Bar. I left out the lunch we had upon arrival as they were very unfriendly and the fish appetizer they brought out instead of the caprese salad I ordered gave us both sour stomached.
The northwest coast of Italy is spectacular. I am really happy that we took the time to venture up this way to hike the seaside villages even if wasn’t as perfect as I had imagined it to be. Next time, if given the chance to visit here, I would consider staying in one of the villages for a few days in order to enjoy the ocean more and to be able to take it in at a slightly slower pace. Cinque Terre is one of a kind and worth a visit if you enjoy the ocean, and don’t mind dodging some crowds during a moderately challenging hike.