The offseason. The words locals love but tourists despise (and some locals may despise if they have a business reliant on tourists.)
This was our first Christmas holiday away from family, so we wanted to make it extra special. Our very complex planning process began with a visit to skyscanner.net, a review of all Europe routes leaving Heathrow, and concluded with a purchase of the cheapest flight—voila! The winning city was Milan, where we started our trip, and from there spiderwebbed our way throughout Northwestern Italy. As we were originally thinking of targeting the Amalfi coast for Christmas, but chose not to because of the prices, we moved our target to another gorgeous coastal area of Italy, Cinque Terre!
Cinque Terre is kinda like the Cape Cod of Northern Italy–gorgeous coastline made up of numerous small towns (five to be exact.) European families often spend a week or so in the summer swimming in the Mediterranean sea, soaking in the sun, eating gelato and sipping refreshing limoncello…crowded alongside hundreds of other European families.
While this sounds lovely, Nick and I decided to try this summer destination on for size…during the winter. No swimming, but hopefully we could still enjoy beautiful sunsets and…gelato.
Our rationale was simple really, we just wanted to be somewhere relaxing and gorgeous for Christmas. Since things would be pretty shut down no matter where we were in Italy for the holiday, we might as well spend it someplace nice.
As it turns out, we absolutely loved our Christmas weekend tucked away in a coastal town. We fully realize though that this might not be for everyone but if the sun and surf of the summer isn’t a prerequisite for you to enjoy a trip, we recommend considering it for your winter-weather travels. The perks:
1) No Crowds – Cinque Terre’s hilly coastal location gives way to amazing hiking trails. From what we read, they are often shut down in the summer due to crowding, and even if they aren’t shut down, it’s often a game of “you go ahead, no you go ahead”. On Christmas Day, we hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza, about a 1.5 hour hike. The entire time we saw two other parties–a family with young kids we kept playing leapfrog in overtaking, and a couple near our age that we suspect turned around and went home half-way through. The trails were completely open! To the point where I (Reg) may have thought if a rockslide were to occur, no one would ever find us…
2) Live Like the Locals – This is why we opt to stay in Airbnbs, hang out at coffee shops, and eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. We want to get a sense of how people truly live in the cities we visit. The first night—Christmas Eve Eve–we ate at a small seafood restaurant in Monterosso, which was mostly filled with other local families in the area. Laughing, chatting with the staff, casually watching the football (as in soccer) game, and everyone calling “Buon Natale!” to each other (Nick Pro-tip: If you ever find yourself in Italy for Christmas, don’t hold back on your “Buon Natales!” People were pretty much universally delighted to be wished a Merry Christmas in their native tongue).
Similarly, on Christmas Eve morning, as Nick was waiting in line at the butchers collecting the ingredients for our homemade holiday dinners, I (Reg) sat on a bench and just observed. The jeweler took a smoke break outside of his shop, and every person that walked past was greeted with a friendly ‘ciao’ and other small pleasantries about their family, business, Christmas plans, etc. I felt like I was in a Truman Show world where everyone knew (and cared!) about their neighbors…except it’s real life!
3) Cheaper…everything – Our Airbnb literally had 2 bedrooms and a loft, overlooking the water, and we paid less than $100 a night. Done deal.
4) Nice(ish) Weather – Winter weather in many summertime destinations really isn’t that scary! Yes, it’s winter, but the temperature still hovered in the 50s (F) and sunny in Northern Italy. While going in the depths of February might yield different results, December was not bad at all. Halfway through our hike, I took off my peacoat and enjoyed the rest of it in short sleeves! Proof below.
While these perks outweighed the cons for us (closed businesses, no beach-time), you should also consider what makes a trip fun for you. Setting proper expectations is key. We went in knowing exactly what the area we were visiting was likely to offer us this time of year and it led to a magnificent experience instead of disappointment. Either way, we hope these photos help at least convince you to visit Cinque Terre at some point!