How do you turn down a round trip flight to Pisa, Italy direct from Hania, Crete for under 100 euro? Answer: You don’t. And thanks to Gio and Jenn who keep a home in La Spezia while they are working on Crete, our accommodations were not only very affordable (free!) but so very comfortable. Taking a long weekend, we left Hania via Ryan Air on a Wednesday evening and returned on the following Sunday evening. Destination: the beautiful Cinque Terra (Five Lands) on the Ligurian coast.
After spending a day snooping around Pisa, we concluded that contrary to what most travel books tell you, there is more to this little city than it’s famous tower. We did the cursory visit to Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the four main attractions in Pisa are within a stone’s throw of each other. The Duomo (cathedral), the Baptistery, the burial grounds of Camposanto and the Leaning Tower are all on the beautiful grounds of the Campo die Miracoli .
But after leaving the crowds behind, we enjoyed Pisa more from the saddles of our bikes as we peddled down the banks of the river Arno and into back streets that looked as if they had they stopped in time – Medieval time. We spent the good part of a day enjoying off the beaten path cafes and shops and tiny piazzas tucked in the shadow of old 3 and 4 story Florentine-style buildings where today’s laundry flapped in the breeze high above our heads and the distinct smell of garlic and tomatoes wafted out of “Mama’s” kitchen.
Most of Pisa can be easily seen in a short day, which was precisely what we had as our train to La Spezia departed that afternoon. Although La Spezia is known more for being one of the major Italian military and commercial harbors rather than a tourist destination, we thoroughly enjoyed the local community vibe and it was perfect for our “home base” being 15 minutes from the Cinque Terra.
We decided to board the train early in the morning and head to the northern most town of the Cinque Terra and work our way back down to Riomaggiore where we hope to find a great restaurant Gio and Jenn recommended. So, first stop – Monterossa, then Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and finally Riomaggiore.
The scenery in each of these towns is exquisite and easy to see why the tourist business here is booming. Even after devastating floods and mudslides of October 2011 that damaged buildings and buried harbors and streets under meters of mud, the massive cleanup has yielded great results and it’s hard to find any signs of the carnage.
The beautiful path along the cliffs of the Cinque Terra (Via del Amore) that connects each town is always under some sort of restoration during the off season and in April when we were there, we were disappointed that it was closed. But the slow moving train is an easy alternative depositing its riders at each little town that is within 5 minutes ride of its neighbor. Check out the photos in the gallery at the bottom of this posting for more on each town.
A full day of walking in each of the towns (always ascending or descending!) ended with a fine seafood meal at La Laterna Restaurant in Riomaggiore as we watched the sun set from our table by the window. Back on the train to La Spezia where we finished off our visit the next day by wandering the streets and discovering La Dolce Vita on a whole new level. What’s not to love about a piazza filled with free samples of chocolate in every shape, size and flavor!!!