We came there last month (May 2009), when the sun was shining a bit too much on the spring days. I have nothing to complain about that. The only problem that it was 1st May holiday which also marked the beginning of tourist season. Yes, it was packed with visitors, especially on the afternoon when half of the Italy had woke up and came to Cinque Terre. The towns were so crowded and you couldn't hardly get somewhere to sit during lunch time. Fortunately, the trail wasn't as crowded as I expected. I don't recommend to go here on Summer, for sure.
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Hotel Europa, Levanto
We stayed in Hotel Europa in Levanto, a town just North from Cinque Terre. Levanto is one of favorable place to stay as it's not as expensive as in the five villages and plenty of carparks are available. Please note that to get to villages by car are not only hard, but also almost impossible to find a parking place. Also, consider to book your hotel ahead! We're lucky to get rooms for us in Hotel Europa one week prior our stay, the other hotels and B&Bs were either full or had unreasonable price tag.
La Spezia --a bigger town on the South from the five villages, is another option as it's also connected comfortly with train.
Our stay in Hotel Europa was pretty straightforward. We arrived very late --almost at midnight, parked the car, slept, woke up in the morning, went to find a carpark on the other side of the town, had breakfast and then checked out. To save cost, we booked 1 big room for 4 people, instead they gave us 2 double rooms for the same price. Awesome! The staff were friendly eventough not so fluent in English. The hotel was small, a bit rustic, but neat and clean. I must warn that the street outside was loud, even pass midnight. We didn't care because we're so tired and slept easily.
Train to Vernazza
Though Vernazza is not the first village between the five, we decided to skip Monterosso because we didn't have a lot of time. So we were only walking the trail through the towns Vernazza - Corgnilia - Manarola - Riomaggiore.
We took a (supposed to be 9 o'clock) train from Levanto to Vernazza, but the train was late more than half an hour. The good thing was it was only 10 minutes ride until Vernayzza and the ticket was cheap --€1.40 one way. There was an option to purchase a Cinque Terre Train Card for €8.50, which included unlimited train for a day and compulsary Cinque Terre Card (€5).
Walking from Vernazza to Corniglia
Vernazza is located on the sea level, while Corniglia is located about 100 meter above from the sea, so you can guess that there's quite a lot of climbing. To add insult to the injury, between them there are higher cliffs, which means there are more climbing to do.
The best thing from gaining height was the view. One could see how beautiful the area from above. Approximately 90 minutes of walking were needed to complete this part of the trail.
Walking from Corniglia to Manarola
From 100 meter above the sea, you need to go down again. No problem! Well, say it to the hordes of people from the opposite side! There are these stairs with a total of 370+ steps for them to climb. A plank of compliment is available for them who survived and wanted to take a picture of their victory against the evil stairs.
After passing the ugly train station and some abandoned cottages, you can carry on the trail for about 45 minutes until you reach Manarola or go downstair to the rocky beach to have a nice sunbathing.
Walking from Manarola to Riomaggiore
This part is the easiest walk, which is only 20 minutes long. Known as the Via del'Amore or the "Path of Love", this path is flat and favored by the couples in love for the view and romantic symbol. One part was fully written and carved with couples' names and love padlocks. There was even a man proposing a young lady when we went passing by. Yeah, how romantic! I think it was a common event there.
Boat back to Vernazza
This was my most favorite part on the journey. We took a boat trip from Riomaggiore to Vernazza --the beginning of our trail. One way boat ticket to Vernazza was only €6.50. And like many other scheduled things in Italy, you can never know when is the boat coming. The boat was so frequent but the tourists were just overwhelming. Fortunately, we didn't wait for so long.
The main reason we took the boat was to enjoy the five villages in a different prespective, but soon we realized that this way was the most pleasant and have the best view of Cinque Terre. I greatly recommend the boat ride.