Steve Carmichael was in Cinque Terre in August 1997. His account from memory is a good example of the pace of life in Cinque Terre and of the fact that a lot of time traveling is spent on logistics.
Our first night was spent in Riomaggiore at “Momma Rosa’s”, the only youth hostel in Cinque Terre. [There is a second one now] It was our first experience with any hostel and was pleasant enough, but when we searched for some where else to stay, the hostel owner would not allow us the leave our backpacks for even a couple of hours to make phone calls and try and locate another place to stay without charging us quite a bit for storage. We couldn’t even go get a cup of coffee or anything, so we tag teamed for breakfast and phone privileges.
We located the Pension Sorriso (and they had rooms available), but after paying only 30K Lira each for the hostel, the 75K Lira each sounded a bit high (even including Dinner and Breakfast). We checked our packs at the train station and set out for Manarola. Found nowhere with vacancies, so moved onto Corniglia.
Beautiful hikes both of them and although the stairs up to Corniglia are quite strenuous, it was well worth the hike. Called the local hotel locators and also found nothing available. We also decided that hiking up all those stairs repeatedly would get old pretty fast and we wanted to see the rest of the towns, so we weren’t too upset that we couldn’t locate accommodations there. I did have some difficulty with one of the hotel locators (because I don’t speak a lick of Italian and he didn’t speak any English). I was rescued by a friendly Canadian couple that had been in Corniglia a few days and spoke enough Italian to determine that the locator had no rooms for the night. It was getting late and I was getting tired of looking for somewhere to stay (I wanted to enjoy the little time that we were going to be there), so we called the Pension Sorriso back and they still had an opening so we took it. We weren’t too happy to have our schedule determined by our accommodations (dinner was to be served at 7:30), but we needed somewhere to sleep, and we wanted to get on with our lives. We caught the train back to Riomaggiore to rescue our packs and headed onto Vernazza. The pension is only 50 meters from the train station (up the hill away from the water).
We were in a bit of a hurry to get checked in (and you should never been in a hurry while on vacations), but we wanted to get to Monterosso, so my travel companion could spend some quality time on the beach there. The pension owner was on the phone when we arrived and he was in no hurry to get us checked in, so I wasn’t too happy wasting almost 20 minutes waiting for him to wrap up his phone call. The room was a double bed with a window to the sea and next door to the bathroom, so I didn’t have many complaints after we got our key and were allowed to proceed with our day. We did have to turn over our passports which they only needed to register us, but the owner would not be done with them until 5:30 (when someone else would write down the information that they needed), so we left them there and headed for the beach.
Quick train trip to Monterosso (with plans to hike back to Vernazza around 5PM, so we could make it back to dinner on time). Here, we split up and she went to the sandy beach and I went exploring. I found a quiet plaza with some shade, and wrote some journal entries to catch up from Rome (via Pisa), and our experiences in Riomaggiore. I proceeded to a local wine store and bought a nice inexpensive bottle of Chianti (6500 Lira), and sat at one of the tables in front of the establishment. They were happy to open the bottle for me and provide a single cup. I brought my journal up to date (with our hiking and attempts to find shelter that morning), and then headed up the hill to see what kinds of view you could get from the road that winds out of town. Took some great pictures and finished the bottle of wine before meeting back up with my companion to start our hike back to Vernazza.
It is easy to locate the trail out of town, and our travel guide mentioned that it was not an easy hike, but well worth the trouble. It was a lot more rugged than either of the morning hikes (and twice as long as them combined). It is true that the hike is worth it, but if you want it a little easier, the opposite direction is more down than up. I ended up jogging the last 15 minutes back into Vernazza, cause I wanted to take a quick dip and get a shower before setting down for dinner. I made it with time to spare. I checked on getting our passports back and they said we could get them after dinner. I asked after dinner and the owner was no longer around and no one else seemed to be aware that we wanted them back, because we were going to attempt to catch the train at 8:36 AM. Breakfast is served from 8 – 9:30, so we thought that we could pack up our stuff and eat quickly and get the 50 meters to the train station if we didn’t have to pay and retrieve our paperwork.
Dinner was much better than expected. Multicourse and all with wine, bread, etc. My 1st course was crab pasta (which was wonderful) and my main course was grilled fish (also very tasty).
Breakfast was minimal, but I came to expect that everywhere we traveled (from Turkey, Greece and the southern Italy that we had already passed through). It was fresh OJ or Grapefruit Juice. A hot croissant with some kind of filling. And coffee. I paid for the room and finally got our passports back and we made it to the train we wanted, so … it may sound like I didn’t enjoy the accommodations, but I would suggest this pension to anyone. Forget how much it cost (and if you do the math, like we did, you will find that the total package was comparable to what you would spend anyway).
I got back on September 2nd.