La Spezia e Cinque Terre 🇮🇹

Sun, Jul 12, 2020 7-minute read

I don’t exactly recall what drew me towards La Spezia and the surrounding area when planning the trip, but I received a lot of positive reviews about the area from those that had preivously visited. I was told lovely tales of hikes between the five villages (the five lands, Cinque Terre) and the beautiful coastline, and yet somehow the reality was much better.

Between the 8th and 12th of July I was staying exclusively in a hostel in La Spezia. The hostel itself and the town were great and very lively, and I even got the chance to visit a local brewery with a concise range of creative beers. But the real highlight has to be Cinque Terre, a very brief train ride away from La Spezia. If you don’t make it all the way through reading this post then I encourage you to at least read the Cinque Terre section!

La Spezia

La Spezia is a coastal town in the region of Liguria. When I arrived in the city by car I was first greeted by the commercial port with large ships and cranes which didn’t seem so appealing. The reality is after passing that port the town itself has a very modern marina and a city with many bars and restaurants and an atmosphere to match.

The first stop was the hostel, Cinque Terre Backpackers City Hostel. This hostel is really unique compared to many I’ve stayed in. It has an onsite bar with dedicated bar staff and a comfortable seating area exclusively for hostel guests. The owners and staff are, like many Italians seem to be, very hospitable and incredibly knowledgable about the surrounding area. Whether you wanted to go on a hike, to the beach, or just for some food, they knew exactly where you should go!

This is also the first hostel I’ve stayed at during this trip where the atmosphere feels almost as it should in normal times. A mixed group of us: Danes, Dutch, French, Swiss, Italian, and myself, spent a lot of time together and even went out drinking in these unusual times. The lack of indoor bars and music meant that we were playing music on the street in the early hours of the morning.

Cinque Terre Backpackers City Hostel with characteristic hostel atmosphere

I can’t mention drinking in La Spezia without giving some much-deserved credit to one of the local breweries, Birrificio del Golfo. This brewery brews a wide range of beers including a summer ale, an IPA, and even an oyster stout! Most of their beers were available at the hostel, again a real luxury to have good craft beer on tap at a hostel!

In my curiosity I asked about the brewery and they got in touch with one of the owners at the brewery to see if I was able to take a look around. One short phone call later and I was off for an 11am brewery tour! The brewery is a modest-sized warehouse but has a lovely bar at the front. I am told in normal times they have many small events there with food and music, for which I will undoubtably return in the future.

The bar at the entrance to the Birrificio del Golfo

In the end I left the brewery with 9 beers to take with me, which hopefully will make it back to Germany intact all the way through Greece!

The brewing equipment in the back, where the magic happens

Cinque Terre

This area of the coast is just great. There are 5 villages that run along the coast, the start and end of which are Riomaggiore and Monterosso. They are set into a fairly steep hillside which is almost entirely covered with vineyards and all end at the sea.

A section of the hike which which offers a nice view of the hillside and vineyards

The villages themselves are characterised by pastel-coloured buildings and narrow roads that lead down to the sea. They are all connected both by a series of hiking trails and also a surprisingly direct trainline.

The village of Manarola. Most of the villages look quite similar with pastel coloured houses atop cliffs

I decided I was going to try and hike as much of the route as I could, so from La Spezia central train station I bought a 16 euro Cinque Terre Card which entitled me to unlimited train travel for the day as well as access to the paid hiking routes. There are currently two paid open routes, one between Corniglia and Vernazza, and other between Vernazza and Monterosso, each costing 7.50 euros. Strangely a single train fare for anywhere on the route costs 4 euros so a nice tip is just always by the longest route in the direction you’re going just in case.

My hike started at Riomaggiore only one stop from La Spezia, or so I thought. The route between Riomaggiore and Manarola, also known as Via dell’Amore was unfortunately closed. Instead of taking a much more intense route to start the hike I decided to hop back on the train and start at Manarola.

A view at Riomaggiore station into the very clear sea

The first section from Manarola is probably the toughest passing through a village called Volastra which is uphill from the coast. From there I descended through vineyards, and to my surprise even passed a little stall selling the local wine on what I would describe as a very narrow hillside section of the trail.

After a brief visit at Corniglia and focaccia for lunch I got back onto the trail for the paid section between Corniglia and Vernazza. This was a longer section but also not overly challenging. The views out into the sea and amongst the villages was of course beautiful.

A view from the Corniglia - Vernazza section of the trail

Upon reaching Vernazza I was so warm that I immediately headed for the sea to cool down, and it felt great. At this point it was getting a little late and I decided I’d done enough for the day and avoided the final section between Vernazza and Monterosso. You can see my final route below.

The next day I felt it would be nice to at least see Monterosso and get some swimming and snorkelling done, and so I jumped on the train for one last visit to Cinque Terre. I stopped briefly for some snorkelling at Riomaggiore where there were a few fish to see, before heading on to the more recognisable beaches of Monterosso.

Unfortunately most of the beaches at Monterosso required a reservation. I was reassured back at the hostel that this was COVID related but I had observed that a couple of the beaches did also require payment which was a little disappointing. Nevertheless I did find a free and relatively quiet beach just up the coast. I enjoyed some swimming and relaxing on the beach before saying goodbye to Cinque Terre for this trip.

Monterosso beach, unfortunately requires reservation

A word to cuisine

It’s a little curious that I’ve been writing about my trip through Italy for a full 2 weeks now and haven’t really spoken about food. My diet has been dominated by the availability of great pizza (amongst other great dishes of course) and I will pick out two pizza highlights from La Spezia.

The first was simply a very tasty pizza Napoletana from Pizza Gourmet, a worryingly touristy sounding name. Thankfully it was not too touristy but the pizza was great, the pine nuts and the quality of the olive oil made it particularly tasty.

Pizza at Pizza Gourmet, thumbs down for plastic use

The second is more of an interesting story around the establishment. La Pia Centenaria has a history going back to 1887 starting with Mrs. Pia who made farinata, a sort of savoury pancake made from chickpea flour, as well as a sweet chestnut version, for the poorer people of the town. The sit-down restaurant opened in 1998 and following the tradition you can get pizza and farinata together for less than 4 euros.

Pizza e Farinata at La Pia Centenaria

I wouldn’t say the pizza tastes particularly special but, given that they have stuck to their roots in feeding people without much money, I am more than happy with my dining experience there!

After a day of total relaxation in La Spezia I got back on the road for my next stop, Firenze!