Hey guys, I’m back with another blog post in our Italy travel series. Following our adventures in Venice, and Milan & Bologna, this blog post will be about our travel through the Cinque Terre coast and Pisa.
Beautiful Manarola, Cinque Terre
If you haven’t already, read our run-down on public transport passes in Italy in this blog post. We used the Eurail pass for travelling between Bologna and La Spezia (a town adjacent to the 5 Cinque Terre villages), and between La Spezia and Pisa.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Public transport locally was easy—getting into La Spezia from Bologna was the hard part. We had several options, but wanted to make it as cheap as possible since we have already bought our Eurail pass. So instead of going back to Milan or going to Florence and catching two high-speed trains (and paying for the reservations for these) – we decided to take the regional trains and buses, which was, oh boy, confusing as hell. We took the train from Bologna to Parma, and realized when we got there that we had to wait 4 hours for the next train, because our Bologna train was delayed by 20 minutes (lesson learned about leaving extra time buffer between legs!).
Vernazza, Cinque Terre
When we got to La Spezia, our priority was to find out how to visit the 5 Cinque Terre villages. We wanted to do the hike on one of our days here, but didn’t know where to start. We went to one of the information center in La Spezia and they were so helpful to point out where to go (and which part of the trek was closed). We eventually ended up buying a Cinque Terre Card (*essential*) which included unlimited train travel in the Cinque Terre and trekking passes (there were officers on the trail checking the pass, which was so random!). This card doesn’t include Portovenere, by the way, if you wanted to visit this fishing town (which I highly recommend).
Sunset in Manarola (near Nessun Dorma)
In Pisa, we walked everywhere as the town was small and everything was relatively close together. If you wanted to travel a little outside the city to the seaside, you can hire a Vespa for around €100 a day, but in order to do so you will need an international license. We did not get one in Australia prior to leaving and we didn’t want to end up taking the risk of getting caught by the police without a license, so walking it was for us.
We stayed in La Spezia for three nights which was really close to the 5 Cinque Terre villages, and close to Porto Venere as well. Our La Spezia Airbnb apartment was probably my favourite of all our accommodations, since it looked out onto the street downstairs and is right next to an amazing gelataria. It also had a washing machine, which our previous three accommodations did not have. I would highly recommend to stay in La Spezia instead of any of the Cinque Terre villages, as it is only 5 minutes away by train to the rest of the villages, and has so many more shops and activities should you decide to go for a wander at night.
Left - La Spezia | Center - Monterosso | Right - on the trail to Corniglia
We stayed in Pisa for two nights in an Airbnb room adjacent to an Italian family’s home. It had its own kitchen and entryway, so there was plenty of privacy. The neighbourhood was so quiet, and very close to my favourite restaurant (of our entire trip), but more on that below.
Places to see
We ended up spending one day exploring La Spezia, one day walking through the trekking trail, and one day in Portovenere.
Trekking Trail – we were only able to complete 2 trekking legs as the other three was closed. Our itinery was as follows:
- Train to Monterosso and catch the sunrise
- Trek to Vernazza, spend lunch time here
- Trek to Corniglia, spend an hour here
- Train to Manarola, eat dinner at Nessun Dorma (an iconic spot!)
- Train to Riomaggiore to catch the sunset
Oh em gee! How beautiful is the sunrise in Monterosso?
If you were following my Instagram stories during our trip, you would have known that I got engaged! Yes, that is me (in complete surprise and bliss) with the Monterosso sunrise in the background. We didn’t actually end up being able to fit in Riomaggiore in the end, as we were too busy celebrating!
Beautiful seaside Portovenere
Portovenere – we bought bus tickets at the local Tabacchi (news stand/tobacco store), and it took about 30 minutes through the windies to get to Portovenere. I’m so glad we went, because it was the most beautiful coastal island, surrounded by rocks and mountains with the most amazing, tranquil water. I regret not bringing my bathers to swim there because it was such a beautiful and relaxing end to our Cinque Terre celebrations!
We didn’t actually end up seeing many of the attractions because Pisa was PACKED, and we were there on a stinkin’ hot day. The four main attractions were the Leaning Tower, Piazza dei Miracoli, the Pisa Cathedral and Camposanto Monumentale. They were all relatively close together. I would suggest to get skip the line tickets, if you want to see any of these monuments.
Places to eat
I highly recommend trying out La Pia pizzeria in La Spezia – this joint was recommended to us by our Airbnb host and it definitely does not disappoint. The slices were huge and the base is thicker than the rest of the pizza we had in Italy.
Of course we had to give mention to our favourite gelataria next door to our Airbnb in La Spezia, Cremeria Lully, with the most wonderful staff and the best gelato flavours (both traditional flavours and out of the box). I also had the mini tiramisu there which was heavenly as a post-dinner dessert!
Our home-cooked pasta & delicious seafood in Portovenere
We also visited the infamous Nessun Dorma, where you can take the most iconic photos of the Manarola village. Although the food was not the best we had in Italy, it was such a wonderful moment as the background on my computer when I was 10 was LIVE and real, and moreover my heart was so full with happiness from our earlier engagement. Funny story though, we almost didn’t go to Cinque Terre, but Alex (my fiancé) planned it all so that we would end up exactly in the beautiful villages that I dreamed off since I was young, and where he would pop the question.
We also visited the infamous Nessun Dorma (and got a table next to the view, woohoo!)
In Pisa, we celebrated our engagement with an all-out 3 course meal from San Domenico Bistro. It was some of the best Italian I have had on this trip. They had so much variety and flavour within their dishes, and their service was absolutely amazing! When we told the waitress we were celebrating being newly engaged, she surprised us with two glasses of port at the end of our meal!
Showing off my ring! at San Domenico Bistro in Pisa
One of the two best meals I had in Italy was from a restaurant in Pisa called Peperosa, and it was a simple pasta dish. To this date I can’t figure for the life of me how to recreate it, as the flavours were so uniquely wonderful! We stumbled upon Peperosa on Tripadvisor, and came on the dot at 7pm when they opened, but the waiter didn’t let us in until about 10 minutes later. The menu was completely in Italian which we struggled with, but the waiter was so helpful and explained everything for us. I ended up asking for a pasta dish to be made vegetarian, and it was the best decision ever!! I would highly highly recommend trying out this restaurant if you are coming to Pisa.
Our biggest chunk of the budget went to accommodation. We ate in mostly in La Spezia, but didn’t want to cook in Pisa so we splurged there. Here’s the break down in case you were curious on how much we spent altogether at both places!
Transport: €40 for public transport and €30 for taxis from train station to our Airbnb
Everything else: €50 (shopping etc)
We travelled through to Florence and beautiful Tuscany in the next four nights. More on that soon on the next blog post in the series!