Where to base yourself to explore Cinque Terre? One of my biggest challenge when planning the Cinque Terre leg of the trip was where to base ourselves. I had friends who based themselves in Manarola and friends who based themselves in Genoa. I even asked Amex, and they said their patrons usually stayed at Portofino. They also suggested the surrounding towns of Rapallo, Santa Maghuerita and La Spezia. So how did I end up at La Spezia?
- One of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre: You would think that this would be the most obvious answer. Wouldn’t it be nice to stay in a quaint B&B at one of the seaside facing villages of Cinque Terre? But I soon realized that this was not feasible for us because a) there are almsot no cars in these villages – the two boys on the trip couldn’t possibly carry our humongous suitcases from the train station to the quaint B&Bs wherever they are (likely up a hill) b) upon extensive research on Tripadvisors the B&Bs available do not appear to be as quaint and charming as I had imagined them c) the villages are served by a local train. So if you are coming from Turin or any of the big cities, you will most likely have to change trains. Since I’m a great believer of direct everything, I couldn’t come to grasp with the concept of having to change trains (or planes) unless absolutely necessary.
- Genoa: One of the first places I checked out was Genoa, because that was where my friend stayed when she came with her parents. And indeed being a moderately sized city, Genoa is a major train hub and did have some decent choices of hotels. I had my eye on the Grand Hotel Savoia, which is classically beautiful (but not too old and moldy), decently priced and right next to the train station. But then I realized that Genoa is actually 1 hour 22 mins – 1 hour 43 mins away from Monterosso the closest of the Cinque Terre villages. That would make it a 3 hour transit everyday! Since the primary purpose of the visit was to visit the villages, I decided to go back to the drawing board and look for somewhere closer.
- Rapallo, Levanto and Santa Maghuerita: I came across a few times a bit closer to Cinque Terre (about 30-40 minutes by train). But again the accommodation options were just not that attractive…. Except perhaps for a farm house in Levanto which I briefly considered. But this farm is not even close to the train station, you actually have to wait for the owners to come pick you up each way. And because these are not major towns, the train doesn’t even come by that often. We would have very little flexibility!
- Portofino: At this point I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a nice, decent and easily accessible place to stay near the Cinque Terre. How did rich people visit the Cinque Terre? I highly doubt they were staying at the “quaint” B&Bs I was seeing on Tripadvisor. So I asked American Express. Turns out when rich people visit the Cinque Terre, they stay in Portofino (the real one, not the fake one in LA) and they stay at the seaside Belmond Hotel Splendido! Its closest train station however is still Rapallo or Santa Maghuerita (indeed it is another 5K away), so you encounter the same train schedule inflexibility problem. The hotel rate is also exorbitant – probably because it is the nicest hotel in the area and well its Portofino. Even I have heard of it. It was waaay out of budget.
- La Spezia: Going along the train route, the next place I looked at was La Spezia because it is only 8 minutes by train to Riomaggiore (the closest Cinque Terre village from the other side). Compared to other towns, trains to the Cinque Terre villages were relatively frequent (maybe once every 15-30 minutes!). At this point I had come to the conclusion that besides the Belmond at Portofino, there are simply no nice hotels in the area. The Le 5 Terres B&B did catch my eye though for being newly renovated and relatively modern looking (and apparently close to the train station!). Alas everyone else must have thought so too, because it was booked out for our dates months ahead. The rest of the accoommodations in La Spezia looked depressingly dismal. We ended up at the NH La Spezia. I figured that when all else fails, go for the name you have heard of.
NH La Spezia
Location: Near the waterfront of La Spezia, the NZ La Spezia is about 5-10 minutes away from the train station by cab. According to Google map it is a 20 minute walk away. But I wouldn’t recommend it, especially at night. From what we could tell La Spezia is not exactly the safest of towns.
On our first night back to the La Spezia train station, there were absolutely no cabs (and not even the hotel could find us one!). Luckily the line was not too long (we couldn’t figure out where everyone else went!), but we still ended up waiting over 30 minutes for a cab. We briefly considered walking, but then we thought about the very sketchy looking tunnel we passed by on the way there and decided to wait. It was a looong night.
For some reasons (maybe because we were there over Easter?), cabs in La Spezia were really expensive!! Our 5-10 minute ride to the train station and back always came out to be 10-15 euros. We took many cab rides during this trip, and this leg stuck out as quite pricey!
HINT: If you are calling a cab at La Spezia and you don’t know Italian, do not be put off by what appears to be voicemail. It is apparently an automated system, where you are supposed to say your pick up point/ destination and they are supposed to come back with how long it will take for the cab to get there. But yeah.. just call the hotel. If you don’t know Italian you would never be able to figure it out….
The hotel: As expected, the hotel is like a motel (or Holiday Inn) from maybe 20 years ago. It has a small corner entrance, and guests have to go up a small flight of stairs to reach the lobby (thank you boys). The staff was nice though and the elevator works!
The rooms: You basically get what you see. The rooms are good sized, very basic and functional. We also had a peek of the ocean from our small window. One of the first things I did was to open it since it was super stuffy when we entered our room (the ventilation was somewhat poor). The next thing I did was check the bedding to confirm what I suspected – yes they are still using those icky heavy brown blankets. Later that night, I also found that the walls are paper thin. You can hear people walking pass in the hallway. And I swear I could hear my friend laughing from two rooms away! I consoled myself that I have been to worse, and that this is probably already the best this area has to offer. And besides, at least the wifi worked! The other thing to note is that you have to after you flush the toilet, you have to remember to manually pull the lever back up. Otherwise it just keeps on flushing and flushing…
The service: I am 50/50 about the service. I emailed earlier to ask them to make restaurant reservations for me, and they just responded and told me the restuarant was closed that day. On the other hand they DID help me find a very decently priced driver to drive us to our next destination for which I am extremely grateful for. So while service was not top tiered, I do think that the staff try.
Breakfast: Breakfast was “included” in the rate. It is very busy at around 9am, though they quickly dispersed to catch the train. The offering looked broad, but the only thing I found to eat was kiwi. It was very very basic, so don’t expect much.
Conclusion: Would I recommend this hotel to a friend? Only if they have no other options. It is livable. More likely though, I would tell them to give Le 5 Terres B&B a try. At least it is closer to the train station. Cab fares are pricey!
- It was basic, functional and clean enough
- Free wifi
- Reachable by car
- At the end of the day, it was still probably one of the best accommodations in the near vicinity of Cinque Terre
- The hardware was super outdated
- Not walkable from the train station, and is a pricey cab ride away (even though it is only 5-10 minutes by car)
- Icky brown heavy blankets
- Thin walls
- Stuffy room
Ps. I double checked last night, and I’m sorry I forgot to take pictures. I guess it was just not that inspiring…
NH La Spezia Address: Via XX Settembre, 2 | La Spezia City Center, Golfo dei Poeti, 19124 La Spezia, Italy
Telephone: +39 0187 739555
Read more about my trip to italy here!