Amalfi Coast versus Cinque Terre
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 bus schedules--waiting for an hour just to get on, and then standing for an hour or more just to get to a destination. The cause? A blood-curdling drive going around hair-pin, cliff-hanging curves at the blazing traffic jam speeds of a mere 6 miles an hour.
As for beaches... well, there really aren't many true beaches to speak of on the Amalfi Coast. Some of the towns can be overwhelmingly crowded in summer. As example, Amalfi-town is a kitschy, touristy hell that you're forced to drive through, but I don't recommend stopping. Towns like Atrani, Minori or Maiori are much more laid back. But, If you still looking for cute colored houses, clinging to rugged cliffs over the sea, then 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 Italian 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, itself including the villages of Fezzano, Le Grazie and Porto Venere, and the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and the tiny Tinetto. If planning to visit the area, strongly consider getting out on the water to really experience this rocky seascape close-up. Take ferries from town to town, hire a captain or (if you are an experienced boater) a bare-boat rental and you will never regret it.
The Terre's 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 is invaded by tour buses 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. If you are staying in Cinque Terre, there are very doable day trips to Genova, Portofino, Pisa, Lucca (our favorite) 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 its Coast Road, Cinque Terre also has paths connecting each village with wonderful views. Keep in mind however, that these walking paths--although well paved and often becoming wide promenades--have lots of people walking them in the high season and some parts can be very rugged in terms of changes in altitude --lots of ups and downs--so you'd better be in good shape. I wouldn't recommend Cinque Terre for seniors or anyone 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. In Cinque Terre, there is Sentiero Azzurro running between the towns, as well as other more challenging hiking trails in the surrounding naturalized park areas for hard-core trekkers.
Want to experience even more of the less-touristy areas of Cinque Terre? Then start at the top, overlooking the the Five Lands. There are many small villages, like Groppo and Valostra, which are all interconnected by hiking paths. To start, you can actually drive to Valostra, park your car in the free lot, and hike from village to village to your heart's content. The villages above Five Lands are definitely less touristy. The views of the sea from over 1000 feet elevation are something you'll remember your whole life. When you get a bit tired, you can always hop on a shuttle bus--they are all over this area.
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 late October the rains and some winds start to come, so plan your trip earlier 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... The trains are very convenient. Cinque Terre trains connect six stops: La Spezia (the large town to the east of Cinque Terre, where you 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. And although some would say the trains run on an irregular, unreliable schedule, you can still catch a train every hour or so. This is Italy, after all. 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. The Via dell’Amore has become a world-famous landmark in its own right with lovers placing locks enscribed with their names professing their unbreakable bonds of love. The keys are tossed into the sea. This is an easy walk when compared to the vigorous hikes on the rest of of the Sentiero Azzurro.
Bottom line? Cinque Terre can be much less touristy than the Amalfi Coast if you don't visit in the high season, has less of that chic element and more of the backpacker feel, and is more suited to serious hikers, walkers and lovers looking for a more intimate getaway.
Copyright 2017 - All rights reserved - Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy