We have 3 days and no plans yet …. what activity? What restaurant? Any cautionary tales or things to avoid??
Be sure to get dinner at one of the spots on the water in Vernazza. I suggest going up to the top of the town where there is a restaurant. Simply head down towards the water and then cut a left just past the archway to the sea and up some stairs. Continue to the right once you go up that initial flight of stairs and you will reach the top -- and a spectacular restaurant overlooking the city and the sea. Perfect for sunset. Perfect. I recently visited CT and will be posting detailed information regarding Vernazza and some of the other places to explore in the coming weeks. www.dtravelsround.com
We stayed in Monterosso and loved it. Try to avoid the weekends in the summer. I highly recommend Villa Steno for a hotel. Great location above the old town, beautiful view, and good breakfast. I thought it was just about perfect for the setting. Make sure you get a room with a terrace or balcony. Almost all have them. Sit outside and look down on the town and you will see the village life- old men cleaning fish they caught and mothers walking their babies on the roof terraces. The people at the hotel are very friendly and helpful. Ask for recommendations. You walk down through a garden with lemon trees to the main street of Old Monterosso.
The one restaurant that stands out was Ristorante Miky. We had dinner there twice. The fish is displayed on ice in a little boat just in front of the front door. It is very fresh and expertly prepared. Ask for their house bottled water and the house local wine to save some money- they are as good as the bottled and half the price. The food is not cheap, but for the quality it is fairly priced. If I were back there, I'd order the pasta with pesto and then one of the whole fish. They will bone it at the table for you. There are tables outside in the front and a winter terrace in the back where most of the locals seem to go. The back didn't look as inviting to me. The dining room is air conditioned when it is hot and is very pleasant.
The train will take you to the other villages in a few minutes or you can take the boat or walk. Hiking is great. The via Via dell' Amore is really an easy stroll between Manarola and Riomaggiore, the southerly most village. Try it and work up from there. You can easily spend three days in the five villages. There are good beaches and hiking trails everywhere.
If you want more, take a boat to Porto Venere, which is scenic and very pleasant. Better yet, take the train to Camogli and from there a ferry (they run in good weather during the warmer months) to San FruttuosoSan Fruttuoso Abbey, a unique, peaceful. secluded place. From there, you can take a boat to Portofino, a beautiful village where the rich and famous hang out. You can then take a boat to Rapallo and train back to Monterosso. It can all be accomplished easily in a day with a little planning and it is very worthwhile. Have a good time.
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Personally, I found Vernazza to be the best of the cities in Cinque Terre. It was adorably small and, although there were tourists, didn't feel as tourist-y as other towns. Definitely head there for a dinner at any of the waterfront restaurants (there are only a handful) and watch the sunset.
Check ahead and see what trails are open if you plan on hiking. We were excited for the path from Riomaggiore but turned out the lower one was shut and the upper one looked extremely strenuous with steep hills/stairs to climb.