Of course, we had to see some sights in Rome and Florence along with the throngs of other tourists (many with their ubiquitous "selfie sticks" which made me want to hide my camera away and not take a single picture), but the sights in Cinque Terre were so beautiful that my camera came out.
We chose Manarola for our base in Cinque Terre and liked the smallness of it and it's quiet nature when the day trippers were gone in the evening and early morning. We were warned about pickpockets in the Cinque Terre train stations and, in fact, in all of Italy, but we were conscious and deliberate and had no problems. We were a little surprised when the train ticket seller in one of the towns said to us, "be careful, there are two pickpockets on the platform right now." They know who they are, but apparently still can't control them.
We had a little apartment to ourselves, the Limoncino apartment, that we rented from Nicoletta at Manarola Vista Mare. It was on a quiet Ligurian alley (really a steep walkway with some steps just off the main "road") where we could hang our laundry out to dry from our second-story bedroom window on the clothes lines provided. Dinner options in our little town were varied and our favorites were Trattoria dal Billy and Nessun Dorma. Nessun Dorma has outdoor seating only and beautiful views out over the Mediterranean and the village of Manarola. Trattoria dal Billy is up higher on the hillside and reservations are recommended, especially if you'd like outdoor seating. Again, a beautiful setting, wonderful food including a regional specialty of Trofie al Pesto (a pesto pasta dish) and the BEST Panna Cotta with dark chocolate sauce, and entertainment as we watched the waiters run up and down the steps as they served food on at least three different levels.
For this trip, my husband and I decided to travel with only carry-on luggage and I thought I would miss having a hiking pole, which is restricted by TSA regulations. The hiking in Cinque Terre is very challenging - there are many stone steps and very steep trails rather than switchbacks, and I prefer to use poles for this type of hiking. However, it turned out that we were able to rent poles from Cinque Terre Trekking, a small gear shop in Manarola, and we were very glad we had them!
Start of the trail out of Manarola
Hiking up to the crosses above Manarola
The roads in these towns are not designed for cars. You might see a few cars or trucks making deliveries early in the morning but then the road is only open to foot traffic the rest of the day. To travel between the five towns, there are trains, boats, or many hiking trails. Although three of the four sections of the most-hiked coastal trail were closed (landslides cause much trail damage in this hilly region), there are still many trails that will get you from one village to the next. It just requires going higher up the hillside to travel from one to the next.
Our first day-hike was from Manarola to Corniglia via Volastra, a fairly strenuous hike that I had read about on the Life in Liguria blog:http://lifeinliguria.blogspot.com/2014/05/wednesday-hiking-corniglia-volastra.html
Another helpful blog about Cinque Terre hiking was Italian Fix:
My husband on the trail above Vernazza
Still life in Monterosso
Another day, we hiked the coastal trail from Vernazza to Monterosso. This was a much busier trail than the prior day's trail. It is the most difficult section of the coastal trail but also the only section of the coastal trail that was open to hikers. We finished that hike fairly early and after a look around Monterosso and its various bakeries (yum!), we hopped on a train to Riomaggiore, the fifth of the Cinque Terre towns. We did one more hike up to the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero, high above Riomaggiore with a view out toward Portovenere before we returned to Manarola where a gift of wine and grappa was waiting for us from our host, Nicoletta.
Unfortunately, the Via dell'Amore, or Pathway of Love, was one of the closed sections of the coastal trail, but walkers are allowed to travel a little way down the path before access is denied to the rest of the trail. The Path of Love may be blocked, but the many, lovely (and more strenuous) paths of Cinque Terre are waiting to be explored!