I just wanted to say thank you to all the fabulous people who answer questions on this forum.
We just returned from our trip, and had an absolutely wonderful time. We arrived in Monterosso via plane to Pisa followed by a train. The Pisa airport was something of a nightmare, with our baggage taking ages to come off the plane, and with a long, hot line to buy tickets for the shuttle bus to the train station (it turns out that one can also buy these tickets ON the bus, for a small amount more -- I wish I'd known that! Oops.) But, travel nuisances aside, we arrived safely and smoothly into the Cinque Terre.
We stayed at Manuel's Guest House in Monterosso. It was up a few stairs, but (aside from carrying up the suitcases the first time, at the end of a long travel day), really it wasn't a hassle at all. In fact, it was lovely to be up above the town, where we could escape the mid-day crowds and sit on the rooftop patio and enjoy the breeze and the view. We were very happy there and felt very welcome.
The next day, we hiked trail #2 from Monterosso to Vernazza. Although I had been concerned that the trail might be crowded, we started early enough in the morning (around 8:30 am) that it was fairly empty. We saw maybe 10-15 people on the trail. That changed as we approached Vernazza, when we started to meet large group after large group heading up the trail on their way to Monterosso. We were glad that we did the trail when we did - it wasn't too hot yet, and we were glad to have missed most of the crowds. It was beautiful!! We didn't find the trail too challenging. It had a lot of stairs, but nothing that was difficult to navigate. There were plenty of flat stretches, too. The footing felt entirely safe, and the trail was well-marked and obvious.
We had lunch at Belforte in Vernazza, where we tried the anchovies. Although I have to admit that I was skeptical, I did quite like them and we ended up ordering them at almost every meal during our time in the 5T. After cooling down and refueling, we took the train to Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, and then the ferry back to Monterosso. I enjoyed shopping in some of the small shops and eating the amazing focaccia, as well as the requisite stops for (iced!) coffee and gelato and people-watching and view-enjoying. Because the day was hot, we ended up opting not to do any further hiking. It was a full, busy day, but we felt that we had
accomplished a lot.
The following day, we again enjoyed a relaxing breakfast on the rooftop patio at Manuel's Guesthouse before spending some time at the beach and then exploring a bit before lunch at Oscar's. Although there was no one else at the restaurant when we sat down to eat lunch, before we finished eating, a horde of people had descended on Monterosso and everything became very busy. After lunch, during the busy rush of daytrippers in the middle of the day, I retreated to the rooftop patio to catch up on my travel journal and catch the breeze, and my travel partner returned to the beach. We had originally thought about trying to visit Portovenere in the afternoon, but ended up opting for relaxation instead.
We had dinner at Miky's Cantina on our last evening and found it to be absolutely fabulous. I was excited to try the pesto sauce and also the sciacchetra, both of which were, indeed, delicious.
I am so thankful that we stayed in one of the 5T villages rather than taking a day trip in. The advice given on this forum that the villages are so different in the morning and evening proved to be very true. I feel that we would have missed the true character of the place if we had only been part of the busy rush and not had the chance to enjoy the calm mornings and evenings. Although I'm sure that I, too, would've jumped at the chance to do a day-trip if that were my only chance to visit the area, I'm very glad it didn't turn out that way for us.
For what it's worth, I used my USA-issued chip-and-signature (NOT chip & pin) credit card at the train ticket machines with no issues (others have mentioned that this did not work). I did have about a 25% failure rate using my card at stores, etc., throughout Europe. I'm not quite sure why. So, I just made sure to have cash on hand in case, and didn't worry about it too much. I just thought other Americans traveling with our antiquated credit cards might be interested.
Thanks again for all the tips and information! You are all so fortunate to live in such a
vibrant, beautiful place. I hope to return.Edited: 29 July 2014, 20:37