Staying in one of the villages of the Cinque Terre can be very expensive so we opted to stay in La Spezia, a town 10 km South-East of Riomaggiore.
Not only does La Spezia have great transport links to the rest of Italy but it is also a good starting point for a day trip to the Cinque Terre.
I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to visit for a long time but you could definitely spend a day there exploring the town as well as a day trip to the Cinque Terre.
Italy may not be known for its reliability when it comes to public transport but the train system ran to schedule and was fairly easy to navigate for the duration of time we were there.
The train from Florence to La Spezia was direct and took 2h20min. The price of the one-way ticket in 2nd class was 26€.
Before boarding the train it is essential that if you do not have a seat reservation specified on the ticket, you validate your ticket before travel. There are machines on the platform to do this but if you forget, you can be given a hefty fine if checked on board. The Italians are not very forgiving with tourists!
One thing to note is that we bought our tickets to La Spezia the previous day in Florence as had learnt from previous experiences that tickets needed to be bought in advance to avoid disappointment! (On arrival into Bologna we were unable to get a ticket for the 30 minute train journey to Florence for 5 hours so were stuck in Bologna with nothing to do.)
For future trips to Italy I would also look into booking tickets in advance online as prices appear much cheaper on the website than at the train station. http://www.thetrainline-europe.com/
Within a 5 minute walk of La Spezia Central Station, we stayed at Affittacamere Alta Marea. http://www.affittacamerealtamarea.it
Not only was the apartment in a great location, but also the price was very reasonable for what we received.
The apartment is split into 5 rooms, each with the name of one of the Cinque Terre towns; we stayed in Manarola. The room consisted of a double bed with en suite facilities and the whole apartment has been recently renovated.
It cost us 90€ per night and the tourist tax of 1.50€ pppn,
This price also included breakfast and on arrival you receive a business card voucher that can be exchanged at a nearby café ‘Bar La Reserve’. We had to leave early the next day but even at 7am the café accommodated us and we received juices and delicious croissants to take-away.
Andrea the owner is very friendly and even though we arrived early at approx. 11am he let us check-in and the room was ready for us. Andrea also gave us advice on the best way to navigate the area, the best route for the Cinque Terre and even places to eat in La Spezia. A great host.
Day Trip to Cinque Terre
Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, but they cannot be accessed by car and this is part of the appeal.
In order to visit the Cinque Terre, it is necessary to buy a 1-Day Pass from the La Spezia Central station (I am sure this is also available at other stations). This is easiest and most cost-efficient option as the pass covers all train journeys from La Spezia and in-between the five villages. There are booths on the walking paths at the entry to the villages where you need to pay an entry fee but this pass also has this included.
We were restricted on time and only had the afternoon to visit the Cinque Terre so we were not able to walk between all villages. We took the train from La Spezia all the way to Monterosso, which is an approx.. 25 minute train ride and the most northern village of the Cinque Terre.
It is worth spending some time in Monterosso as it is a pretty coastal village and in the warmer months there is the option to swim so bring your costumes to cool off in the sea.
From here we walked to Vernazza. Although the longest distance between villages, this walk is known to be the most picturesque and I certainly agree. Be prepared for a lot of uphill and steps however so wear suitable footwear and bring adequate water supplies. I am sure the walk takes longer in the peak season but in early April it took us 2 hours and this included water breaks/photo taking opportunities.
As we were working on a limited time frame, once we had wandered around Vernazza, we got on a train and skipped Corniglia and continued on to Manarola. The plan from here was to walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore as this is only 1km or so but unbeknown to us the path was closed.
The villages of the Cinque Terre were severely affected by torrential rains in 2011 and this resulted in floods and mudslides with caused excessive damage to the villages.
Work has been done to repair the damage caused but this is still ongoing so it would be worth checking which paths are open before your visit.
Instead we pottered in Manarola a while and got the train back to La Spezia from here at the end of the day.
In terms of food during our 24 hours in the Italian Riviera, we purchased it all in La Spezia to save money.
Before heading to the Cinque Terre we grabbed some lunch to take with us from a bakery near to La Spezia Central station. Prices were reasonable with doorstop sandwiches and quiches at approx. 3€.
On return to La Spezia, we were tired from the days walking and didn’t want anything with too much hassle for dinner so the suggestion from the apartment owner, Andrea, was perfect; La Pia.
La Pia is a chain of four restaurants and it couldn’t get more local. There is a great, busy atmosphere and the prices were amazing; we had 2 wood fire oven-cooked pizzas, 2 beers and the local delicacy of Farinata (chickpeas, flour and egg) for under 20€.
To top this off, we then went to Stella Marina for some of the best gelato I have ever had! For a large cone and 3 massive scoops of gelato it was 3€. Our recommendations include the meringue and ‘passe a due’ (hazelnut, caramel and chocolate).