Trains connect the five villages of the Cinque Terre and are one of the best ways to get around the area. I usually use a combination of trail travel and hiking. Here are a few must have tips to make your experience riding the rails easy breezy. You’ll feel like a pro before you even get there.
Tickets vs Cinque Terre Cards
Tickets can be bought individually for 2.10 euro which gives you 75 minutes in one direction. Alternatively you can buy the Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card which gives you unlimited local train use in addition to the mandatory park and hiking entrance fees. Cost is approximately 12 euro/day or 23 euro/2 days. The perk here is simplicity, you only need to get in line once to buy your pass. This comes into play during peak season when the stations are packed. The downfall is that breaking even would require you ride the train 3 or more times every day, which you probably won’t. Simply put, you are paying for convenience.
Validate, Validate, Validate
Regardless of the form of your ticket, they must all be validated prior to getting on the train. Forget this important step and risk a hefty fine. How in the heck to you do this? Easy. Every platform at every single station will have this slick little device mounted to a wall or post. Simply slip your ticket into the middle black slot making sure to push far enough in that you trigger the time stamp. Those with passes need only do this the first time you travel.
Reading the schedule
Step one, throw the schedule away. It’s practically useless. That might be a wee bit harsh. Let’s just say the printed and posted schedules aren’t completely useless but they often feel like nothing more than a suggestion for when your train may show up. In fact, some trains are so late they are early. Train times get more interpretive as the day goes on and in high season. If you need to be somewhere promptly give yourself plenty of wiggle room or enjoy the alternative transportation choices we will be exploring later.
The basics that you need to know are the the trains and schedules go in one direction starting from either Levanto or La Spezia. While not part of the Cinque Terre, Levanto and La Spezia are the gateway cities from which the trains originate from. First find out which direct you need to be going. For example, if traveling from Vernazza to Manarola you will be looking for the trains originating from Levanto.
Second, find the correct platform for the train going in the correct direction. These stations are small and the platform direction never changes. Your Italian lesson for today is the word binario or track. Monitors at every station will let you know which track number your train will be departing from, usually either binario 1 or binario 2. For most of the villages you only have two tracks to pick from, so even without a monitor or signs you have a 50% chance of getting it right.
Essential Train Tips
The villages are only minutes apart by train so get in to habit of knowing how many stops until your destination and count as you go so that you are ready for yours. Don’t get too comfortable in that seat. If you are only traveling to the next village I don’t bother sitting down.
Much of the rail system along the Cinque Terre is through tunnels and the village platforms are short. Don’t be alarmed if your train stops in the middle of the tunnel. Simply exit out and continue with the crowd toward the station. For the best peek-a-boo views grab a seat on the water side but don’t blink. You might miss it.
These trains have been well worn and often the doors can be old and fickle. I make sure that I exit from a door that I entered through, that way I know there is a recent history of proper functioning. If the door has a handle make sure to give it a good yank.
First rule of train manners. Let the passengers departure first AND give them ample room to do so. Nothing drives me more mad than trying to get off a train while a hoard of people are crowding the platform. The train won’t and physically can’t leave while the doors are open so relax. You aren’t going to miss it. Rule number two. During high season and whenever there are crowds, get on the train AND KEEP MOVING. Don’t block the doors and don’t stop the flow of passengers boarding. These two rules are often overlooked and cause a severe delay in the trains.
Don’t forget that real flesh and blood locals also use the trains. Show them respect, give up your seat for them and treat the experience as if you were a guest in their home.
Most importantly have fun and don’t freak out. If you miss a stop or mess up it’s not the end of the world. Roll with it and modify your plans or hop on the next train back.
Things are changing in the Cinque Terre. The crowds are growing in alarming numbers without the support of growth in the transportation system. Sometimes taking a train is going to be a bad idea. In upcoming posts I will talk about some great alternatives.
Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel
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