When one thinks of Italy they often think of national treasures such as pizza, pasta and also may also think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (amongst other national landmarks including the Colosseum, the Sistine chapel etc!) However after you see the leaning tower there isn't quite a whole load to do in Pisa afterwards but an easy hour train ride away (direct from Pisa Centrale to Monterosso on an intercity train) will take you to the stunningly picturesque towns of Cinque Terre (5 towns) and in our opinion something you can't miss if you're in that region!
Pisa is an easy flight from London and therefore a very easy city to experience the best it has to offer within half a day before moving onto the coast to spend the bulk of your time (where you can feel like it's more of a break that way!)
The main sights to see in Pisa are centered around the PIazza del Duomo with the Duomo, the Baptistery, Campo Santo along with the Leaning Tower all in extremely close proximity to each other. What I particularly enjoyed watching everyone (I know, in reality I was one of those people myself) striking different types of poses with the tower in the background and looking somewhat (maybe very) silly doing the poses! We have seen some pretty creative poses out there so I say hit us with your best shot!
After we finished posing with the Leaning Tower we were keen to start our gelato appetite we checked out Il Gelato Qualita Naturale right along the river Arno which we liked as not only was it easy to get to, there was also plenty of indoor & outdoor seating to really enjoy our gelato treat! A great way to spend the rest of the afternoon before jumping on the train to Cinque Terre is to stroll down the river and really enjoy the Italian sights & sounds!
Our first stop in Cinque Terre for our long weekend was at the most northern and biggest town, Monterosso al Mare.
We loved Cinque Terre purely for the fact that as the towns are so small you either have to walk from town to town or for those tight on time a train can be easily caught between the towns. We highly recommend doing the walks between the towns if possible and if you're basing yourself in 1 town to catch the train back after completing the walks. By doing this not only do you get to see the best parts of the coastline (between the towns where it's most pure!), the first glimpse of the towns on the walks is definitely something unforgettable!
If Cinque Terre is on your list to visit, we'd recommend visiting early as the Italian government may be planning to reduce the number of visitors into the heritage area (national park where the trails are) to 1.5 million visitors, compared to the 2.5 million visitors that scrambled to see the natural beauty of the park last year.
Pesto is the local speciality of the region, so grab a foccacia that has pesto smeared all over it and you definitely won't be disappointed! Alternatively buy a little pot of pesto to bring home and continue enjoying the flavours of Cinque Terre well after you've left!
Our dinner that night was at Ristorante Miky and to this day I still think it's hands down one of the best pasta's I've ever had. We ordered an anchovy pasta and it came out with some pastry that looked like it had been baked over the pot used to cook the pasta. We also ordered a seafood platter that had a mix of the freshest seafood which Matt & I thoroughly enjoyed. We have recommended and will keep recommending this restaurant to many visiting the coastlines of Cinque Terre. Fun fact: anchovies are a local speciality so even if they're not your usual cup of tea I would say to try them here if anywhere!
We were so fortunate with blue skies when we started the walk through the town of Monterosso to get us to the town of Vernazza. This is a very well signposted walk which hugs the coastline. About 5 minutes after the start of the walk there is a hut where you pay for the national parks pass which allows for you to do the hikes as well as gives access to the trains between the towns (there are different priced passes depending if you want train travel included).
Just a note: we were in Cinque Terre in late May just before summer really kicked in so we were able to continue the walks through to midday, however I can imagine during the summer this would definitely be a scorcher, so I'd advise to be well prepared, but as a bonus you'll be able to jump into that gorgeous water to cool down right? It is also advisable to check which trails are open just in case the pathways are unstable which has happened in the past!
After a couple of hours (2 hours tops including lots of photo stops) we were rewarded with this amazing view and I was definitely so delighted to see this postcard perfect view! The designated viewpoint was not the best place, so we walked slightly further down & off the track - although as always be as careful as possible when venturing off the path - safety first!
We stopped for lunch in Vernazza, although where we ate was largely forgettable although did visit Il Pirata delle 5-terre for another meal in Vernazza and I say it's good to check out!
What we did notice was that the average age of the people visiting Vernazza (and also probably Cinque Terre as well) was well above ours! This only confirms that you're never too young or too old to see the world right? Lots of these groups were well equipped in hiking/walking gear so massive kudos to all of them if they were there to hit up all those trails!
After lunch had settled we started to make our way to Corniglia, the middle of the 5 towns along the coastal walk. The walk pretty much starts off where the Monterosso to Vernazza walk finishes off but from memory the signs aren't the largest or most obvious so you'll just have to keep an eye out for these signs (or other people walking along these trails).
The town of Corniglia is clustered on a hill and although it doesn't offer that postcard view that Vernazza has right by the water, it is still spectacular for its own reasons!
This section of the walk was a relatively easy one with most of it being largely flat however we still treated ourselves to an amazing gelato when we arrived! The cool and delicious gelato paired with one of the best views in the world, a backdrop of amazing turquoise water and clear blue skies, we couldn't really ask for more!
If you do decide to get to Cornigilia via the train, note that it is 368 steps up to the town from the train station level, which is enough to make you want to reward yourself with a gelato as soon as you get there! The gelato to try while you're in Cornigilia is the miele di Corniglia, which is made of the local honey from the region!
Once we had ventured through the small streets of Corniglia we strolled to the train station to make our way back to Monterosso and enjoyed dinner at Ristorante Via Venti upon the recommendation from the lady from our hotel!