Cinque Terre tips

This item appears on page 15 of the April 2010 issue.

I’ve led small-group tours to Cinque Terre in Italy five times since 2006, most recently in May ’09. Here are some thoughts.

Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village, is the best place to stay. Although it is the largest of the five villages, it is still quaint and intimate and, I believe, has the most to offer. I recommend staying in the old section, a short taxi ride or 10- to 15-minute walk from the rail station.

My favorite hotel is Albergo Amici (Via Buranco 36, 19016 Monterosso al mare, La Spezia, Italy; phone +39 0187 817544). It is centrally located in the old section, with small but clean rooms (some with little balconies) and a friendly and helpful staff. Half board costs €67-€94 ($95-$133) per person and full board, €80-€105, with a double room €85-€140.

One of this hotel’s best little secrets is the secluded garden terrace behind their property, where you can have a picnic lunch or evening snack overlooking the little village and enjoy a view of the sea.

Monterosso is full of very nice restaurants, but I can recommend three that I know are excellent.

Mikys, north of the rail station in the new section, might be the best restaurant in Cinque Terre. Another wonderful restaurant, with unbeatable ambience and location, is the Tortuga, carved out of a rock overlooking the sea. Both serve fabulous seafood. Third is a tiny place called Andrea (5 Via Vittorio Emanuele), not far from Albergo Amici.

For a group of nine, meals off the menu (two courses plus dessert, wine and coffee) averaged €37 ($52) per person at Andrea and €47 ($66) at La Tortuga. Mikys’ prices are closer to La Tortuga’s, both of which are higher-scale restaurants than Andrea.

I highly recommend you have reservations for any of these places, and the gals at the desk of Albergo Amici will be happy to make them for you.

I suggest you get a two- or three-day Cinque Terre park pass. Buy it at any of the park offices, which are located at the railway stations in the five villages and at La Spezia station, which (heading north) is the last one before you enter Cinque Terre proper.

The three-day pass costs about $25 but is well worth it. It allows you unlimited rides on the train connecting the five villages (basically the only means of transport between them) plus access to all of the hiking trails.

Even if you are not an avid hiker, you will want to take the paths between the lower three villages. The wonderful, wide path from Riomaggiore to Manarola is suitable for all levels of ability and includes the famous Via del Amore, which you won’t want to miss. The path from Manarola to Corniglia, although slightly more strenuous, is well worth the effort as well.

The other thing you might want to do is take a ride on the ferry — wonderful views of the villages. Although you can purchase a ticket that lets you get off or on at each village, we get one-way tickets (€8, or $11) and ride from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, then make our way back north by the trails or train, exploring the villages.

Cinque Terre is one of my favorite places in the world. If anyone has questions, feel free to e-mail me c/o ITN.

Boulder City, NV