Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bucket-List Italy: Touring Sorbet-colored Cinque Terre

     When I found myself in Pisa, I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to witness the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’ve seen too many beautiful pictures, received too many postcards and watched way too many documentaries. Now it is for real, I am going to see Cinque Terre with my very own eyes. One more dream destination from my travel bucket-list, checked!
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
     It could have been a disaster. Travel exhaustion is real and I experienced that for the first time when I reached Pisa. I had to cancel my plans to Florence, just booked a nice B&B and slept in for the whole day. When I woke up, a fellow traveler from Sienna let out a sign of relief “God, you are alive!” Yea, it was that bad.

     I was glad that I booked this BellaItalia small group tour to Cinque Terre earlier. If not, I would have had this plan canceled too. It was easy to book a tour from BellaItalia over the phone or the internet. Email with my booking reference was sent out once my booking was confirmed. The communication about the pick-up was excellent. Two days prior to the tour, I was given clear instruction on where to wait for the van, which was also my choice of pick-up location when I booked my tour. They met me at Hotel Pisa Tower right on time. It was exactly 8:05 in the morning when I saw my pretty tour guide Emilia waving to me from across the road. I climbed into the comfortable air-conditioned minivan and claimed the last seat at the back (as usual, my happy place!).

     There were initially 5 of us in the van, 1 couple from the States and another from Canada. Our tour guide Emilia is an upbeat and friendly Italian lady who I could have easily mistaken her for being my age. Seriously, she has such a young spirit, highly motivated and the talent she possessed, being able to keep interesting conversations going, was just incredible. She managed to spark conversations on the van, letting us mingle and so we spent some time to get acquittance with other travelers on the van as we made our way to pick up 2 more tourists from England in the countryside.

     As we approach the first village, Emilia told us some fun facts about Cinque Terre and also the rest of Tuscany. Her knowledge of the area had definitely added colors to the journey. The Cinque Terre was one of my most anticipated destinations in Italy, and I was more than happy to gain understanding on the way. It is touristy, yes, but my trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this most beautiful village in Italy.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore beach, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
     Finally, after about an hour drive, we arrived at Riomaggiore, the most southern village of the Cinque Terre. If you decided to embark on a self-guided tour taking the  train from La Spezia, this would be the first city you reach too. Emilia gave us each a packet of wet tissue with green tea essence to beat the scorching summer heat. She walked us downhill into the heart of the village, showing us the everyday life of the locals. After pointing out our waiting point as well as some tips and recommendations given, She left us to enjoy some free time discovering the stunning colors of this quaint fishing village. The houses built along the cliff face looked surreal. I simply couldn’t put down my camera… every step I took, I found a new incredible angle to photograph the picturesque village. I even walked down to the rocks where other visitors enjoyed a sweet deep in the refreshing water.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
     After 30 minutes, Emilia was already there at the waiting point with pre-validated train tickets. She also advised us to hug our personal belongings in front so that those sneaky pickpockets wouldn’t be able to get their hands on them. “They must have hated me so much for shouting at them every time,” According to Emilia, this happens a lot on trains and visitors have to be extra careful. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to shout if you see someone getting pickpocketed. Always help others like how you would want others to help you! Just my 2 cents. As much as I enjoy other train rides, I adore this one too. The view of the Ligurian Coast from the track was simply spectacular.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Vernazza, Cinque Terre
     Getting off the train, we reached Vernazza, arguably the most beautiful of all five villages. Framed with a large open harbor, castle, and church, Vernazza made me fall so deeply in love! I went up to Castello Dorio where I could appreciate the beauty of the village from high above, all for only $1.40!

Monterosso pie, Cinque Terre
Monterosso, Cinque TerreMonterosso, Cinque Terre

     In Monterosso, we had the most of our free time (nearly 2 hours) to enjoy exploring around. I had chosen to stay with Emilia first and let her walk me through the backstreets. After that, I had a delightful local pie at one of the open-air cafes and grabbed a Frito Mixo in a cone for lunch. I also managed to buy a Gelato (only 2 Euro for 2 scoopes!) from a busy ice cream parlor at the waterfront, then took a stroll along the impressive coastline enjoying my ice cream. Perfect day, isn’t it? I thought so too! The Monterosso beach was sensational, just as I imagined it to be — the typical European seaside scene with glittering Golden sand, gentle waves ironing the shore, Italians sunbathing, playing beachballs near to the colorful rows of umbrellas…  

Corniglia, Cinque Terre
Corniglia, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
     Next, we boarded a ferry which passed by all 5 fishing villages, giving us all a taste of Cinque Terre from the sea. Scattered along the beautiful stretch of the Mediterranean coast, to me, the 5 villages of Cinque Terre are like 5 different flavors of sorbet, each unique, addictive and full of character… I couldn’t get enough of it. I caught a glimpse of Manarola from the ferry, and I have only one word to describe it: Spectacular! I wanted to visit Manarola so so badly but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do so this time. More reasons for me to come back!

Porto Venere
Porto Venere
Porto Venere

     The last stop of our tour was pretty unexpected… unexpectedly great! Porto Venere was the highlight of the trip. I haven’t heard of Porto Venere before the tour. I had zero ideas on what to expect but as recommended by Emilia, I followed the narrow alleys up to the top where the church was located and guess what? I was rewarded with the magnificent view of the coast! Back on the ground, I was captivated by the pretty pastel squares lining the waterfront, they look so neat and delicious (I always think of food when I see something colourful, sorry not sorry! )

Would I recommend this tour? 

     Yes. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Italy. However, it is a fact that I could easily dedicate the whole day for each village in Cinque Terre if I were given a chance (and more time).
     Anyhow, if you have limited time, this day tour from BellaItalia is a great choice as it gives you a taste of each village. We covered a lot of ground in 10 hours, however, I did not felt wear out. I do not consider the trip rushed, as we were given ample time to walk around. Perhaps it is due to the fact that we were well informed of the interesting sites in each village, we are able to seek out the sights that interested us the most instead of trying to visit every single thing.
     Our guide Emilia was informative and charming. She gave good recommendations to restaurants, cafe, what to buy as souvenirs during our free roaming.
     Another thing I loved about the tour is the fact that it was a small group consist of 7. Emilia managed to keep the group on time and ensured the smooth running of the itinerary. I’ve been on large group bus trip and believe me moving from one place to another was the toughest thing to do.
     There was also no hard-sell at sponsored establishments during the tour. All recommendations given by Emilia was genuine, from the heart and in line with all recommendations I’ve found on TripAdvisor prior to the trip (if not, only better!).
     In a nutshell, the tour was well-paced, fun, stress-free with a small group. So, yeah, I highly recommend this tour if you want to experience most of Cinque Terre in a limited time, hassle free. Seriously I would have need 1 more sleeping day if I were to stress myself out navigating through the 5 villages myself.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Porto Venere
Porto Venere 

Note: 


- There is no hiking on the itinerary, but people with walking difficulties might find it challenging to walk downhill or down the stairs to reach most interesting sites. 

- Bring sunscreen or a hat.
- Bellaitalia offered free pick up and drop off to most of us, but not to the 2 visitors who stayed in the countryside. If you opt for a pickup outside of the city of Pisa, you’ll have to pay extra.
- Depending on the weather, some changes on the itinerary might be applied. I traveled by train from Rommangiore to Vernazza but some tourist on Tripadvisor experienced a boat ride. So bear in mind the experience may vary!


Porto Venere
Porto Venere 
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Thank You for Reading! 
My Cinque Terre tour from Pisa was fully sponsored by BellaItalia Tour, however my opinion is as always my own. 
Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!

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