Mixed feelings on Cinque Terre: was it a mistake to travel there?

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Part 4 of my journey from southern Switzerland to northern Italy. (See parts 1, 2 and 3.)

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about the time I spent in Cinque Terre.

On the one hand, the scenery was lovely, I stayed in an amazing hotel, and I was blessed with this unparalleled view from my balcony.

But on the other hand, visiting Cinque Terre made me understand why the coronavirus is surging once again in Europe. It was a bit of a shock to go from northern Italy, where people were heavily masked and a fragile tension lingered in the air, to this crowded beach town where people either wore masks on their chins or didn’t wear them at all. After dodging a group of sweaty, unmasked beach-goers on a narrow hiking trail for the umpteenth time, I genuinely had to stop and ask myself: What am I doing here? Was it a good idea to even come here?

And if I want to be honest with myself, then the answer is simple: It was not a good idea.

I retreated to my hotel room and didn’t leave again until the following morning, when I had breakfast and checked out.

Anyway, here’s what I saw in Manarola, which is to say, not much.

Getting there

Manarola is one of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre, dotting the northwestern coast of Italy. I had picked it based on reading some online guides that said it was one of the less touristy and crowded villages, and had a more “relaxed adult” vibe. I mean, if this is considered “less touristy” — and in the middle of a pandemic, too — then I’d hate to see what the “more touristy” villages look like right now.

The villages are easily accessible by train. After my earlier connection in Parma, I had another transfer in La Spezia and reached Manarola just after 3pm. The station was swarming with people. No one had checked our tickets on the train, but there was an inspector standing at the station exit, demanding to see our tickets. We were then allowed to proceed through a long pedestrian tunnel that led to the village.

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Luckily, the higher I climbed, the fewer people I encountered. My hotel was at the top of the hill, about 12 to 15 minutes by foot from the station.

Where I stayed

I stayed at La Torretta Lodge, which might be one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever booked. I had a double bed and a personal terrace, which came in extra handy for vacationing like a hermit. The staff was super nice and kind and wore a mask at all times. The only drawback was that there was absolutely no Wi-Fi available. Overall, it was delightful.

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They had a hot tub. I decided to pass.
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Unbeatable.

Manarola itself

I had hoped to do a hike from Manarola to a neighboring village, Corniglia, but apparently that trail was closed. There’s not much else to do in the village itself if you’re not into swimming or sunbathing, I guess.

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The village in all its glory.
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The spot from which these iconic photos are taken. People came ready with their tripods!
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The one thing I wish I had done was take a boat tour, but they appeared to be packed with people. Also — see how intense the sun was? I was absolutely DRENCHED in sweat.
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This was the end of the road for the hike. At this point I went back to the hotel and shut myself in, eating biscuits and reading on my phone for the rest of the day.

The next morning I had a truly scrumptious breakfast, cooked on the spot.

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Not a bad deal for 15 euros. Fancy-looking scrambled eggs, granola, coffee, juice and unlimited bread, plus the VIEW.
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Final look from the balcony before checkout.
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Waiting at the train station.
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There’s a cute, heavily graffitied regional train that travels among the five villages.
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Interestingly, even though the train was headed to another coastal destination — Genova — the majority of the journey was through tunnels, so there aren’t really any nice views, save for glimpses here and there.

I was headed back to Milan, where I would stay for one final night before returning to Geneva.

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