A Story About Deciding to Travel To Cinque Terre in Italy Alone With My Kids
In Scotland, children have two weeks off of school in April, so back in January, the kids and I had a little family meeting to make some plans for our Easter Holidays. Taido would not be coming with us this time because he needed every possible minute to make his thesis deadline. Plus, he figured that if we left him alone for a week, he could work double time while we were away.
Traveling alone with the kids is always easier if they are on board with the plans so I really wanted them to own this trip instead of me planning everything and then them griping about everything I planned. I gave them lots of options, including staying in Scotland. We all agreed that we would love to try to go somewhere a little warmer, and so I came back to them with a few choices for flying south based on where I could get us with our airline miles: Italy, France or Spain. Then we also brainstormed about how everyone would like to spend the time. I asked them questions.
Do you want to got to a city and spend a whole week hanging out and getting to know it (Rome? Nice?)
Do you want to divide the time between two places or just set up in one place?
Do you want to spend time outdoors? Hiking? Or do you want to sight see?
They were surprisingly resolved together on what they wanted. They did not want to do a big city. (No museums please! – Simon) They wanted to be in a smaller village. (Where is the chill? – Mary Polly) They wanted Italy even though none of us can speak a word of Italian. (Yes, please, pizza + gelato! – Ben)
So I got to work on finding a place in Italy that we could get to on a train from an airport. A place we could be in for a little over a week that we would get to know and love. Where we could chill, eat pizza and gelato and not go to any museums.
Eventually after an absurd amount of internet research and flight checking I found a one bedroom apartment with a pull out couch in Manarola, a small village on the west coast of Northern Italy in an area called the Cinque Terre. (Pronounced CHINK-WA TERRA) Cinque Terre actually means “five lands,” because the area is made up of five towns that are separated from one another by steep hills that have been covered in terraced vineyards for hundreds of years.
The entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because HELLO GORGEOUSNESS! The darling villages. The brightly colored buildings. The terraced vineyards. THE BRIGHT BLUE LIGURIAN SEA!
Also, no cars! So everyone is on foot, wandering through little streets and alleys and stopping for gelato and paper cones of freshly fried seafood (frutti del mare), to be washed down with the locally made white wine.
And the towns are connected to each other by a train that runs through tunnels that are cut through the mountains. IMPRESSIVE!
So from our home base in Manarola, we went for walks to all the other villages and then we made our way back to Manarola each day by train. The trains run all the time and cost around 2 euros to ride, so it was super simple to see the area this way. In fact, lots of people who are doing tours of Italy just spend one or two days seeing all five towns before checking Cinque Terre off their list and heading on to Rome or Florence or Venice or wherever. But I’m not sure I would have loved the area so much if we had done it that way. I am pretty positive that I could have stayed a month or more in our little apartment, wandering the neighboring hills and towns, without growing the least bit tired of it. At sunset every night I walked a circle around Manarola and I noticed something different about the town each time. I really love having some small routine about the days when I travel, and getting to know one place well enough to burn it into my memory for years and years.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post more detail about the walks we did back and forth from all five towns of the Cinque Terre and about the individual towns themselves, but for now, I’ll just leave you with the kids’ lasting impressions of this dreamy part of the world. I asked each of them to write (text me) a paragraph about what they remember and love about going to Italy for our April holiday.
Simon: I will always remember getting gelato and going on walks every day, but we always got gelato when we went for walks. I always got coffee and stracciatella. (So gelato, gelato, gelato.)
Ben: I really liked the walks and the weather. The whole are was beautiful and the food was scrumptious.
Mary Polly: What I remember from our trip from Italy was the all the walking we did – short and long – and the first one that comes to mind is the evening when my mom and I went and got drinks at this outdoor bar and watched the sunset. I remember walking through manarola and eating gelato and eating good seafood and I remember the sun and how good it felt to be warm.
A Few Details:
I feel compelled to say that no one sponsored our trip to the Cinque Terre, so everything we did, where we stayed, where we ate, was all chosen by the kids and me with the help of online searches and guidebooks. Like I said, we used miles to fly into Italy so we had to take what we could get. We flew into Milan and out of Pisa. If I did it again, I would fly in and out of Pisa. The airport is smaller, the train station is closer, and you can be in the Cinque Terre in an hour from Pisa. From the airport in Milan it took us closer to four.
We stayed in an airbnb apartment that I would highly recommend. Our host, Irma, was absolutely wonderful and most of the hikes we did were ones she told us about. Also, there is a small grocery store about two steps from the apartment where we bought all our food. We loved staying in Manarola and felt it was the best choice out of the five towns for our family for a number of reasons. The flat was very easy to get to from the train station. The town was small enough that I let the kids roam it on their own. The best gelato in all of Cinque Terre was a stone’s throw from our flat. And because it seemed like most of the tourists were staying in the bigger towns, the town sort of emptied out at night and become a quiet sleepy haven. The fading sunlight on the empty train platform at night was one of the my favorite views on my evening walks.
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