My gateway was La Spezia. From there I travelled by bus to the top of Manarola whereby I walked down into town to catch the beginning of the trail to Riomaggiore. There's a cute cafe in town right by the tunnel leading to the train station run by a young couple. I had a freshly squeezed orange juice there. Only 2 Euros!
Manarola is a small sleepy laid back town. I think the locals are so used to people coming to and from the trail they don't pay you much attention. As you'll notice in some of the pictures, the main town roads often leads to the water and I mean right into the water. These villages really do live up to being as stunning in real life as you see in photos.
If you aren't into hiking (I use the word loosely because the trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore is paved and flat with railings, making it too sterile for my liking. Trails to the other villages are more rugged.) you can always take the train. I understand there is a day pass you can buy which allows you to go to all the Terres in 6 hr. No train for me this time. It was either walk or ferry. Apparently trains go mostly through the rock so views are limited.
Ferry tickets are frequently sold literally on card tables by the ferry "dock" and schedules are printed on small coloured pieces of paper. It is first come first serve so consider yourself warned. If you are going to walk between the villages, you have to buy a ticket. It isn't free. And be prepared for numerous tour groups going both ways.
People with physical limitations will find it difficult in the Terres. Wheelchair accessibility is not a priority. I saw one gentleman with crutches try to get off a ferry and it was a struggle. Ferries have a narrow walking ramp (one person width) that they roll off the bow of the ship and as the boat bobs up and down, so does the ramp.
The most picturesque of the villages for me is Riomaggiore. It has all the visual elements, the right size to make life there convenient. The village I felt most at home was Vernazza. As the ferry approached, I could already feel its warmth. It wasn't the most picturesque Terre I saw but I did not know it before the disaster last Oct. They are still rebuilding. Along the coast you can see where the landslides are still blocking part of the trail and train passages. I didn't make it to to Corniglia this visit.
There is a photo gallery exhibit hidden away off a clothing store/cellar, just to the right once you get off the ferry in Vernazza that shows pictures of the aftermath of the storm and mud slide. They really need to do a better job with advertising as it is well worth the time to view and they would likely get more donations if more people knew. The lady who was manning the gallery told me people had to move away for at least 3 months before they could come back home. She was there when it all happened. It was really touching speaking with her.
People don't have insurance (she didn't know what that was) and are paying for the rebuilding themselves. There is a published book of those photographs that won an award last year you could buy. All proceeds goes back to the town. On the website link above, you can see before and after pictures of the town. I am happy to report the gelato and art store have reopened and looks like the before pictures again. People in this town have a very gentle demeanor. If you feel moved, please consider making a donation.
La Spezia on my way to Manarola
Top of Manarola
Super spot to have a coffee
You can see the trail behind leading to Riomaggiore
Notice the slope
First come first serve
The water wasn't calm
Just took the shot as waves retreated
Poster boards found around town in Vernazza
You felt out of place here if you weren't
sporting a bikini or bathing suit
People just put towels on the rocks and sunbathe
Monterosso al Mare
They say the water by the beaches are still
"dirty" from the mud slides
but overall, the town was in way better shape than Vernazza