I'm a writer, Youtuber, photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.
After 5 weeks of dragging my heavy backpack and moving nonstop to a new city or town every day or two, I was ready to drop everything and settle into one spot for an entire week. Very unlike the rest of my trip (besides that one week in Certaldo – a tiny village in the tuscan countryside of Italy), I was ready for a change of pace. And this time, I wanted to relax. No other perfect place to do that than in Cinque Terre, Italy!
Cinque Terre is composed of five small seaside fisherman villages along the Mediterranean coast of Northern Italy. Each village is tiny – so tiny that you can walk and explore it in an hour.
There are five of them and each of them are distinctly known for different things: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and the largest village Riomaggiore.
1. Riomaggiore (largest and includes the most hostels, restaurants, shops) 2. Monterosso (beach) 3. Manarolo (cliff jumping) 4. Cornelia (the tiniest village, with plenty of small side-streets and alley shops) 5. Vernazza (breathtaking views/walking trails)
I wandered off the train at Riomaggiore – the last stop in Cinque Terre – and trudged up the steps hill until I got to the pink little building with flowers and benches – Cinque Terre Holidays – my hostel for the next 7 days. The owner signed me in and gave me my key as she spoke with a young backpacker who hadn’t made a reservation, telling her that there were no bunks available. Ugh, I’m so glad I made my reservation the week prior, I thought…
Making a reservation a week in advance is practically unheard of for backpackers, as most backpackers reserve the night before or the day of. Cinque Terre was busy this August.
Note: If you’re traveling to Cinque Terre in the summer months, go ahead and be safe and reserve that hostel in advance. Some places you won’t need to, but here you will.
A woman showed up to walk me up the 18 flights of stairs up the steep hill until I got to the highest house. This was my view from my room.
My hostel had three bedrooms with bunk beds, a tiny bathroom that only had ice-cold water running, a kitchen and a balcony with rope strung across it to hang out your laundry to dry. Befriending my bunk mates (one girl whom was backpacking by herself for TWO YEARS! I. COULD. NEVER) and spending my days out alone quiet in meditation and reflection, I used Cinque Terre for little social interaction. I chatted in the evening with my bunk mates, but most of my time in Cinque Terre was me experiencing intentional silence. I thought a lot in Cinque Terre. I questioned my beliefs, my future, my past and my decisions. After watching the sunset, I spent my early evenings in small churches on the hilltops praying and reflecting on religion and prayer. I am not religious at all, but I used that week in Cinque Terre to question myself.
Favorite Village: Manarola
Manarola is where you’ll want to swim and cliff jump with all the other tourists! The only ones you’ll find are restaurant and shop owners and maybe an occasional elderly woman hanging her laundry out the window. Everyone else here in the summer months is vacationing.) After swimming in the salty blue watters for a few hours, I managed the courage to jump off one of the tall cliffs! When children ahead of me were jumping off with no fear or uncertainty, I realized it was my time to do it, too. After that first jump, I ran off two more times before drying off and feeling a massive burn on my back. “Medusa” the Italian men told me. Medusa?? What’s Medusa? After sitting anxiously in a cafe eating gelato and trying to relax with the massive sting on my body, I plugged into wifi and googled “Medusa”. Yep…it was a jellyfish sting. And the oceans of Cinque Terre are full of ’em!
Cornigilia was another cute village, my second favorite, as it was tiny and had walking trails with plenty of beautiful flowers and cacti all around. The walls were all made of bricks and stones and winded through the narrow village until you came to the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the grassy mountains.
I spent a two days in Monterosso. One day I spent 5 hours relaxing on a beach chair, journaling, thinking, and finishing the last 200 pages of Committed: A Love Story (the sequel to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love which I finished reading the week prior). I found a small quiet beach at the far east corner of the village where I found a small dock. I watched an elderly couple and their labrador park their boat…is this how elderly people live in Italy? Life must be good here! I dipped my toes into the crystal clear, salty seas of the Mediterranean and watched the water rock me back and forth. Monterosso is also very big, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and neighborhoods.
During my seven days in Cinque Terre, I did a lot of writing in my journal and spent the majority of my time in meditation. I’d find a quiet spot on a rock near the water in Riomaggiore, where I was staying, and watched the sun go down as I wrote down lyrics and quotes and random questions I had about life in a small, black moleskin. I spent hours floating in the seas, until my fingers and toes looked like raisins. I spent every single evening watching the sunset and eating pesto. Pesto pasta. Pesto pizza. Jar after jar of pesto and slices of bread. Pesto was actually created in Cinque Terre. Needless to say, it was the best pesto I’d ever had in my life. And I had lots of it during that week.
The views of Cinque Terre are breathtaking. And each village has a distinct look to it. Some villages are more beach-y and others are tropical with plenty of grassy hills. A hiking path connects several of he villages, but you have to pay a hefty fee to hike it. Personally, I found skipping the hike to be perfectly fine and found lots of smaller nature paths along each village.
I first heard of Cinque Terre from a friend who told me that it was one of the most beautiful places in the world and that I had to see it if I was going to Italy. My five weeks of backpacking all led to this moment. This final week was my last time backpacking solo across Europe. The day after I would be reunited with my boyfriend, Alex, who was meeting me in Switzerland to finish off the next month of backpacking.
I took advantage of my time in Cinque Terre and completely lived and enjoyed myself during that last week of solo travel. With no stress about train times or hostel reservations, I set up camp in my little bunk bed at Cinque Terre Holidays and relaxed each and every day. From the swims, to the sunset walks, to the heavy amounts of eating pasta and gelato, I indulged.
And for that, I am eternally grate for Cinque Terre.
21st Year Eurotrip: A Week in Cinque Terre, Italy
February 14, 2017
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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.