Shannon Wolf | November 28, 2015 9:11 PM ET
Florence Side-Trips: Make Cinque Terre Itinerary Item 1
PHOTO: No matter which Cinque Terre village you choose, each will have something special to offer. Although one day is doable, if you don’t want to rush, stay for a few days to take in each place! (photos by Shannon Wolf)
I woke up as the sun rose and walked to my little cafe on the corner to order my espresso and croissant before catching the train from Sesto to the famous coast of Cinque Terre for the day.
It was my first day off and I couldn’t help but smile as I walked down the quiet streets of Sesto. I was living my dream and, yet again, ticking off another thing on my bucket list: Seeing the romantic coastline of Cinque Terre.
The journey itself neared five hours one way due to delays but I didn’t care. I had a book, beautiful views of the countryside from my window and music softly playing in my ears.
I took the train from my little village in Sesto, all the way to Monterosso; stopping at each of the five villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) and falling in love by each step I took. I walked out into its picturesque streets, feeling as though I was dropped into a fairytale. I took my time, taking in every detail: the smell of the salty ocean air, the brilliant colored flowers accompanying its many colorful buildings and the sound of the ocean as I stood in its turquoise waters as the sun kissed my shoulders.
I walked slow and I walked for miles up the many trails until I was as high as the trees and spent an hour just sitting along the cliff’s edge, taking in the coastline and feeling so blessed to be alive and to see Cinque Terre with my own eyes.
PHOTO: My first stop: Riomaggiore — Although the village is small, the panoramic views will leave you speechless!
The best things to do while visiting the five villages in Cinque Terre consists of hiking the many trails, such as the coastal walk (Blue Trail); swimming in Manarola, Corniglia or my favorite — Vernazza which is suitable for everyone; explore castle ruins in Monterosso and the churches in every town and, of course, wander from village to village to take it all in!
Thanks to the many train-lines and the introduction of Megabus in Italy (although never on time) Florence is one of the best cities in which to base yourself to see surrounding towns easily, taking the train from main station Santa Maria Novella.
Top Side-trips from Florence:
• Cinque Terre: Make sure to allocate a full day or two to fully experience the richness of each village.
• Pisa: It’s boring, but it’s touristy. Personally, I think there are far better things to see than a leaning tower.
• Lucca: A short ride from Florence; famous for its still-intact Renaissance city walls.
• San Gimigano: If you do a wine tour, you will get brought to this medieval town. Get your sugar fix eating unique ice cream while wandering through this tiny locale.
• Siena: The arch-rival of Florence, hence the only way to get here is by bus. Worth checking out of you want a scenic hour drive.
(If trains aren’t your thing and time is on your side, you may want to look into renting a scooter for a more authentic experience driving through Tuscany and its fields of sunflowers!)
• Chianti area: Attend a wine tour and drink your way through the area.
• Val d’Orcia: The most iconic landscapes in Tuscany.
• Belvedere: See the iconic farmhouse.
• Montepulciano: Renowned for its pork, cheese, pici pasta, lentils, honey and world-renowned wine.
• Bagno Vignoni: Situated on a hill above the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany. Well-known for its hot springs.
• Montalcino: Where Brunello wine comes from.
Although I never made it to the islands, I have heard nothing but incredible things about them, as many friends have gone and fallen in love with the natural beauty.
• Elba: Tuscany’s biggest island and Italy’s third-largest.
Italian transit lesson (some learned the hard way):
• If you’ve got time on your side, take the Megabus through Italy for the cheapest prices. I paid €1 from Florence to Naples and €3 from Naples to Rome.
• Buy your train ticket online to save money (we paid €11.80/one way from Rome to Naples. At the station, it was double the price).
• Leave at least 1.5 hours before your train departs to ensure you will have enough time. Secondly, you will need to get your pass printed at the ticket-office if you buy online and the queue is long. Luckily, they are all open-tickets so unless you validate it, you’re golden!
• Be sure to validate your ticket at the little green box before getting on the train — they ALWAYS check and you will be fined €50.
• If you want a seat, arrive even earlier or you’ll be standing or sitting on the ground for a while.
• There are no trains from Florence to Siena due to their mass rivalry — but you can easily take a bus.
PHOTO: Vernazza was by far my favorite village in Cinque Terre. Between the cliff jumping, calm waters and a backdrop so perfect you could think it was fake, this village was the perfect spot for those who love sand and sun.
More by Shannon Wolf
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