Especially in the peak tourist months, the Amalfi Coast is bumper to bumper tour buses and its towns are chock full of tourists stepping on one another's toes. I wouldn't dream of driving the Amalfi Coast in summer--it was crazy enough in October when we were there! And I wouldn't want to rely on the sporadic local buses where you'd have to wait for an hour just to get on, and when you do you'd be standing for an hour or more just to get to your destination... a blood-curdling drive going around cliff hanging curves at the blazing traffic jam speeds of 6 miles an hour. Well, I have a suggestion... Instead of going to Amalfi, go where the tour buses aren't dumping off thousands of tourists--Cinque Terre in the northern region of Liguria!
Cinque Terre literally translated means Five Lands, a reference to it's five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, and even it isn't technically part of the Five Lands, I would include the wonderful port town of Portovenere just to the east with its naturalized island of Palmeria just opposite the town. The rugged coastline rivals the Amalfi Coast in beauty and its five villages along with the surrounding cliffs are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The advantage of visiting Cinque Terre is that cars--as well as tour buses--can't reach the villages. They are only accessible by local trains, by foot paths (old donkey paths) running between them or by boat-taxis and ferrys. While the Amalfi Coast gets bus tours from cruise ships and has more tourists because of its proximity to Naples, Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii, the Cinque Terre villages stand on their own. But, if you are staying in Cinque Terre, there are very doable day trips to Genova, Portofino, Pisa and even Florence if you have the extra time to take a train or rent a car.
Tourism in the villages is more laid back than Amalfi. Here you will find more low modest hotels and rental apartments and more B&Bs than in Amalfi where chic Luxury hotels abound. And although Amalfi has some great hiking with its Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) high above the towns and villages of the Coast Road, the Cinque Terre has its paths connecting each village... and they are wonderful walks with gorgeous views. Keep in mind however, that these walking paths--although well paved and often wide promenades--have lots of people walking them in the high season. They are also rugged in terms of changes in altitudes--lots of ups and downs, so you'd better be in good shape. I wouldn't recommend Cinque Terre for seniors or people with heart or breathing difficulties. In Amalfi, the Path of the Gods is for more serious hikers with some easier parts paths mixed in all throughout the peninsula, but most of the tourists are going to the chic towns of Positano and Amalfi Town--the place is very touristy.
When visiting Italy in early spring or fall, you might have better weather in the south, but by American standards, the weather is still warm enough to enjoy a slightly off-season trip to Cinque Terre. In later October the rains and some winds start to come, so plan your trip later in the month. If you want to swim in the sea, plan your trip at the shoulder of the high season. If you don't mind more crowds, humidity and heat, plan your trip in summer. Personally, I would also squeeze in some time in Portovenere and perhaps have a water taxi drop me off on the Isola Palmeria--a national park with wonderful naturalized beaches that look back at the the town. There are hiking tails on the Island with amazing views and lots of nature to enjoy.
Of course, you might not want to hike between all of the towns... You will want to take the trains also.
The Cinque Terre trains connect six stops: La Spezia (just down the coast to the east of Cinque Terre, it's where you would make connections to other major Italian cities) the official "Five Lands" of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, and the town of Levanto. If you're coming from elsewhere in Italy, you would have to connect to either Florence, Milan, or Venice and then move on to La Spezia to connect with the Cinque Terre train system.From La Spezia to Riomaggiore is about 10 minutes, and then roughly 5 minutes between each town thereafter. The trains run an irregular, perhaps some would say unreliable schedule, but you can usually catch a train every hour or so. You can also travel between towns by water taxi which leave every hour or so.
The simplest walks between towns are between 3/4 of a mile and 2 miles so you might plan on walking through all Five Lands... The Monterosso to Vernazza path is the most demanding and can easily take about two hours, while the By comparison, the Via dell'Amore which clings to the cliff above the sea, is all paved and relatively flat and can be walked in as little as 30 minutes.
Bottom line... Cinque Terre is a bit less touristy than the Amalfi Coast, has less of that chic element and more of the backpacker feel, and is more suited to serious hikers and walkers looking for a more intimate getaway.
If you enjoyed this post, please, please share it with your friends and help make Grand Voyage Italy more popular than ever... We had over 700 page views just yesterday! Grazie!