I'm lucky that I've been able to experience travel both as a child and through working in my twenties. However in the last few years I couldn't shake the feeling that I hadn't made the most of travel opportunities in my adult life, and I pledged when I moved to SF that I would travel as much as I could going forward.
When one of my closest childhood friends Hermione sent out her September save the dates for her wedding back in England, I knew I had to take the opportunity to extend my trip and see more of Europe. Fourtunately, the plan unfolded quickly as I was invited by my American roommate Candy to meet in Cinque Terre in Italy, as she also had a wedding in Europe on the same day! I hadn't heard much about the region, which is made up of 5 tiny towns on the Italian Rivera, but once Candy showed me a photo from Google I was sold!
I woke before sunrise to drive 3.5 hours from Somerset to Gatwick airport, trying to remain calm through Monday morning traffic! Luckily the journey was extremely smooth and before I knew it I was at Pisa airport. Traveling from the airport to Cinque Terre was something I was particularly excited about, as it would be the main part of the trip that I'd be alone and fending for myself. I find there is something liberating about navigating your way around an unfamiliar place and I loved the exhilaration I felt when after 1 car, 1 plane and 3 trains I was pulling into Riomaggiore, the first of the Cinque Terre first towns you reach from Pisa and where our bnb awaited. Although I enjoyed those hours alone, it was great to see Candy at the station ready to greet me with a 'Ciao!'
The view from our bnb was stunning and opening the shutters and seeing that view for 3 days felt like such a privilege. Each of the towns is similar but with distinct character; Riomaggiore was the smallest town but very cheerful and more authentic and less touristy in my opinion. The towns are almost solely reachable by train (around 3-5 mins between each town) as road access is limited and due to the steep cliffs not for the faint hearted, but I loved either walking or getting the train everywhere.
Cinque Terre is the perfect destination if you love hiking, sunshine and great food! We had two full days exploring the 5 towns, hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso on Tuesday morning and from Manarola to Corniglia on Wednesday morning, both days finishing our sweaty 3 hour hikes with lunch and a nap on the beach in Monterosso.
There are two main trails between the towns -blue (along the coast) and red (steeper route taking you high above the towns into the hills). Unfortunately the blue routes were closed due to previous weather, but the red routes were so stunning and more challenging due to the incline, so we didn't feel short changed in the slightest!
The red routes were tough for the first 45 minutes or so and definitely required an adequate fitness level as they really got the heart pumping, but you got to experience your departure town getting smaller and smaller and then your new town appearing before you as you descend, plus amazing panoramic views of the sapphire coloured ocean. Along the way we saw beautiful churches, wineries, lizards and met plenty of other hikers. Both hikes were highlights of the trip for me.
Evenings were spent sampling local wine and pasta at many a Cinque Terre restaurant and we ate like queens for a very reasonable price! Although Vegan options were limited as I suspected, I found vegetarian options in all the restaurants and ate without trouble.
To finish off our amazing trip, I suggested that we go and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa before we part ways (me to catch a flight to London and Candy to travel to Florence). The tower is only a 5 minute cab from Pisa Centrale, and even with our bags we were able to enjoy the view and snap the obligatory photo!
I'd recommend Cinque Terre to all my friends, it's a truly magical place. Late September seemed to be the ideal time to go, and Monday was noticeably quieter than Thursday when things were starting to get too busy for me. We had heard that going in peak season is not advised and I would suggest going Monday - Wednesday out of season if you can.
I think Travel really is food for the soul as it gets you out of your comfort zone and helps you to gain perspective on your day to day worries and experience living in the moment. I enjoyed every minute and feel inspired to book my next trip when I arrive back in San Francisco.
My next stop is London where I'll be reunited with some more of my best friends and then tomorrow - the adventure continues in Coppenhagen!