The Secret Alternative to Cinque Terre
People love to give travelers advice on what to do and where to go (I’m no exception); but at the end of the day, the best advice I can give you is some of the oldest out there: Know yourself and “to thine own self be true.”
What works for me, may not work for you. What I find fascinating, you may find boring. While some may love Capri because of the glitz and glamour, others may hate it because they’re looking for a laid-back beach-bum environment.
Know that it’s okay to take advice from other travelers, but filter it through what you know about yourself and throw out what doesn’t fit.
Before I left for Italy, people raved about Cinque Terre, the five picturesque villages that neighbor one another along the cliffs of the Italian Riviera.
The community was once known (or not known at all, actually) for its quiet, rugged, and remote fishing villages strung together by hiking trails and vineyards along rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. But then in 1997 Cinque Terre (translated as Five Lands) was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and just two years later was introduced as Italy’s first national park. Both prestigious events offered an abundance of international attention and quickly placed the sleepy region on “must-see” lists everywhere.
I’d seen it all over Pinterest for years; I’d heard it was an absolute must, but then I started reading comments about how touristy it had become and even found local petitions bringing attention to the damage caused to the natural setting and local culture by the excessive number of visitors. I became conflicted over whether or not this was really someplace I wanted to go, to something I wanted to contribute.
Ultimately, for the sake of research, I settled on visiting for just a day or two to see it for myself and draw my own conclusions.
The sun was setting as my train pulled up to the station, “Holy freaking smokes!” I thought, “I’m not even off the train yet, and I get it! Cinque Terre is everything they say it is! I’m glad I decided to come… ”
The next morning, I set out to hike between Corniglia, where I was staying, and Vernazza, one of the other villages. My hike was quiet and reflective, but as I made my way closer to Vernazza the solitude was lost and replaced with busloads of tourists. But still, I kept my spirits up thinking that once I made it to town the crowds would spread out.
This was not the case. The tiny streets were just as crowded, and, even worse, the entire town was tailored to tourists with shops filled with tchotchkes and souvenirs -- “and this in the off season,” I cringed.
Unimpressed with Vernazza and, frankly, a little overwhelmed with the crowd, I quickly hopped the train to Riomaggiore, another of the five villages, and then on to Manarola. I dined on some delicious pasta in Riomaggiore and went swimming off the rocks in Manarola, but my overall impression was the same.
Cinque Terre was beautiful with a rich culture, and, if I used my imagination, I could recognize the magic of the place and consider what it must have been like a decade or two earlier, before Pinterest and the tourism boom changed it all.
That afternoon, as I boarded the train for my next destination, was the only time during my three weeks in Italy that I was not sad to leave where I was.
After Cinque Terre, I headed to Camogli, a sleepy fishing village I discovered in a Conde Nast article when I Googled “alternatives to Cinque Terre.”
Camogli was everything Cinque Terre is supposed to be and everything I wanted -- a quiet fishing village along the cliffs of the Italian Riviera with empty hiking trails, beautiful sunsets, incredible (and cheap) food, history, shops for locals, the ocean, children running in the streets and playing with their friends, a wedding celebration in the town square...
Camogli was not built around international tourism, so no hostels, no tourists, and in many cases, no English. Yes, it was a beach resort town, but it seems they mostly get Italian families vacationing here and some Germans (evidenced by the restaurant menus).
I had fun immersing myself in the local language, laughing at my own struggle to communicate with local shopkeepers and restaurant servers. This town was full of real Italians going about their lives; they didn’t mind sharing it with me, but they also weren’t going to tailor anything around me. I loved that.
I loved Camogli, and my time there was a dream, but I won’t tell you that you have to go to there. Because you are not me. A quiet sleepy fishing village may not be your dream.
I will tell you that I hope you find your own Camogli. When you plan your travel, don’t listen to the “have tos” and “should dos.” Instead, listen to yourself. Learn to be your own guide, to know yourself, and “to thine own self be true.”