I think your website is terrific. It was truly helpful in arranging our visit to the Cinque Terre. We spent the last week in May there, and we had a really rewarding travel experience. I notice that a number of your e-correspondents who are negative about the Cinque Terre have had very brief stays. The full week allowed us the leisure to explore the towns and the trails, and even with the week, all of us (my wife and I, and three other friends) were sorry that we didn’t have a longer time.
There are several problems with the short, zip-in-and-out visits. First, though the trains take only minutes between stops, the time-schedule is not very dependable; trains are often (I guess, usually) late…and really not all that frequent (about once an hour). Second, the quick visits put you into the towns at the busiest times of the day — with trains disgorging groups of thirty or more (with a tour leader yelling, “I want you back here in 45 minutes”). In fact, the platform at the station in Monterosso on Sunday, May 26, was so crowded that for several minutes I was unable to move my arms, jammed in, as I was, with people on all sides. Third, a short visit puts you more at the mercy of the weather (and I note that one of your recent e-responders complained about the grayness and the rain).
We rented an apartment at Da Baranin in Manarola. The accommodations themselves were beautiful — clean, streamlined, convenient. Andrea Somovigo, our host, was unobtrusive, very friendly (and put up with my bad Italian) and really helpful in telling us how to find trailheads. He was the best possible host. The view from our balcony and windows was spectacular with the sea in the distance and the bird-filled vineyards and olive groves. We were surrounded by flowers–in the town and on the hikes. Many of the previous writers on your site have mentioned the incredible beauty of the spot, and though I feel like going on and on, I’ll just say that the coast and the vegetation, the colorful towns, are a continual treat for the eyes.
I want to mention three excursions in particular. There is a nature trail south from the harbor at Riomaggiore, which climbs along the sheer cliffs, into the trees, to a huge panorama overlooking the whole coast. If the standard trails between the village are closed and time is limited, the trail is only about a mile and a half long — a wonderful scenic experience. Another spectacular and less used trail is the upper trail that goes close to the crest of the mountains above. We took the leg from Volastra (above Manarola) to Corniglia, where there were postcard views of the villages below, the rich green of the vineyards and the olive groves, thick chestnut woods and ferns, and a wide, wide view of the sea. Finally, the boat trip from the villages to Porto Venere gives you a whole new perspective, and Porto Venere itself by the blue Golfo dei Poeti is truly worth a visit (a picturesque church on a point of rocks, islands off shore, colorful boats, and super seafood restaurants).
If you go soon, expect a good deal of construction. The Via dell’ Amore is worked on every night from 11 pm to 10 pm in the morning. There’s a lot of machinery, earthworks, etc. there, as in spots is in all the villages. The trail is sometimes late in opening in the morning. The Cinque Terre card gives access for a week on all the trails (except maybe the nature trail) and train travel between Levanto, all the five villages, and La Spezia. The people are hospitable in the midst of hordes of tourists mid-day, and I’d add to other readers’ comments that if you want party-time, instead of a glimpse into a fascinating locale, don’t go to the Cinque Terre. Our friend who stayed in Riomaggiore said that there was party noise from 10 pm till about 3 every night. That’s no way to savor a special culture and a deeply lovely spot of coastline. Manarola was quiet except for the sound of the frogs and of the wind. Back to my main point — don’t expect the magic of the Cinque Terre in a whisk over trip.