From just reading RS information about CT I would be completely in the dark about the volumes of tourists that fill the streets, cafes,trails, and boats. It wasn't until I read blogs and message boards that I found a more realistic picture of CT. And I'm here in October! I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people many of whom were obnoxious and loud. My question is that do you think RS needs to at least be more up front about this issue. I know there are tourists everywhere but because the area is so small it is difficult to escape. I'm in manarola and in the evening it is nice. But the days are difficult to endure when you simy want to quietly absorb the beauty and Rick doesn't warn you that this is most often the case in the summer and early fall
You are suggesting that someone needs to tell you that there are lots of tourist in most of the touristy place most of the time. Unfortunately I think a lot of travelers have an vision of good to some out of the way place, sitting in a sidewalk cafe and being the only tourist. Those days are dead in the era of cheap fare, internet, travel guides, etc. Think it is bad now, should be there in the summer time. Unfortunately that is the by product of easy travel. Then the next is, would you have gone if you know it was going to be that crowded?
I just watched on YouTube the RS episode on CT. He says that it can be crowded during tourist season. That would be now. I did a quick Google for "Cinque Terre crowded" and found pages full of hits. Same result in RS Grafitti Wall. Nearly 1/3, it seems, of the postings on this Helpline refer to visiting the CT. All in all I would be dumbfounded to find it uncrowded.
I seem to recall reading that Rick Steves is almost single-handedly responsible for the popularity of the Cinque Terre among North American travelers. Maybe that's not true at all, but I don't remember hearing about the CT 15 or 20 years ago. I also recall Rick and others declaring in recent years that the "shoulder season" is the new high season especially in Italy.
I was in the CT in August. It was crowded and I enjoyed it completely. I stayed in the Centro Storico in Monterosso and was always able to find a quiet place when I wanted to. Call me crazy, but I find the crowds half the fun. The people watching and stories that come out of a crowded touristy area are great! Everyone, stop the bellyaching and go have a good time, massive crowds and all!
I would like to hear from someone who has been to the CT AND Santa Catalina Island here in Los Angeles. On what magnitude is the CT better?
Reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line - "No one goes there anymore - it's too crowded."
Richard I was for several years a member of the Catalina Isl Conservancy. I am having trouble discerning any similarities between the CT and Cat. The CT's terraced vineyards and fishing towns go back to Ancient Rome. Avalon was built by developers in the 1880s as a resort to attract the growing population of LA. Topologically the CT resembles the Amalfi Coast or Big Sur. Avalon does not. Avalonians uses golf carts. The CT does not. The 5 towns of the CT are connected by a path. Avalon is the only town on Catalina. The CT's rustic Ligurian cuisine is authentic. Avalon has authentic Italian-American cusine. Avalon's ballroom is a stuning classic art deco building. The CT has no ballroom. Both CT and Catalina were in pirate territory years ago. CT never served as a Spring Training home of a MLB team but Catalina did. CT is a UNESCO site and Catalina is protected as well. Avalon can be crowded with day trippers but it is quiet in the evening and in the morning before the first amphibious landing hits the harbor. If you get bored in Avalon you can escape to vibrant Long Beach. If you get bored in one of the CT there are four others just a short trip away.
I think the shouldder season is becoming less and less of a quieter time,, i just watched a RS show on the Amalfi coast and he showed Positano in APRIL and the streets looked very crowded to me,, can't imagine May thru September. I really think that RS has promoted a few places enough that their popularity has grown well beyond them being a true
"back door " experience,, BUT I think there must be other places that still are quiet and not as busy , and I think if one wants to be true to the RS philosophy one needs to PUT DOWN THE GUIDE book and find their own places. Or accept that anywhere , restaurant , hotel, place,,etc, in a guide book that sells THOUSANDS of copies is probably not going to be quiet and non touristy.
John I do understand your point,, sometimes being in a busy area can be fun,, but its not fun for some people,, and unfortunately those are often people drawn to the idea of "back door " travel,, so there is the paradox.
Sacha, In fact I did come to this board while planning our trip and asked if the CT had become too overrun and asked if it was still worth going to. Although a few people warned me about the crowds, the overwhelming response was that it was not too crowded. Even the folks who said it was very crowded said it was still worth the visit. That response, along with the Rick Steves stamp of approval, made us think it was worth the visit. We were wrong. I'm not blaming anyone for our experience there. We made the decision, after all. But I do wish there was more of a voice out there telling people what it is really like in the CT (since Rick Steves isn't doing it). It's not just "crowded", it's overun. It's not even crowded in the way that Rome or Venice is crowded. In Rome you're still among the locals (it is a real, working city, after all, meaning the city would exist without the tourist euro) and in Venice there's still plenty of room for everyone (even if you go just a few blocks off St. Marks square you'll get a slice of Venice all to yourself). That's why I'm on this Board giving my opinion and telling about my experience in the CT. Because I know we aren't the only ones to have that experience and to have that opinon, but those opinions don't seem to get expressed as much. I wish more of those others would've spoken up and warned us before we wasted 3.5 days of our vacation time. Maybe it's human nature to speak up more about things you love and places you really enjoyed, rather than places that dissapointed you and time you wish you had back. I'd love to go on and on about all the wonderful places we've been to, and I will. But I also want people to learn from our experience the way I wish I could've from others, if only they let their voices be heard.
Bob, I think your voice definitely should be heard, and I applaud your effort to alert others to the problem with Cinque Terre. I hope it convinces people to stay away, and maybe things will calm down. It was only your generalized statement about "RS sheep" in every major tourist area that I objected to, because it didn't make sense. And I did vote for having Rick revise his next book with respect to Cinque Terre. But those evocative videos will still be out there. . . .
Until fairly recently, on this board it seemed to violate political correctness for anyone to suggest the CT was anything other than an idyllic backdoor destination. Seems this board is evolving away from the philosophy that "Rick is my only Guide and I'll stick to his backdoors, even if they aren't backdoors anymore."
Some of the best places in Europe are also some of the most crowded and touristy. RS is not responsible for making a place overcrowded - Europeans, Australians, Japanese, etc all travel too and don't watch RS. And Italy is one of the most popluar destinations in Europe. There are lots of places in Europe that have peace and quiet if that's what you are looking for. But they are normal small towns, not in guidebooks, have few tourist resources, have few "sights", and have fewer people speaking English. I do sympathize though. Busloads of tourists can overwhelm the beauty and serenity of a place, whether a town or a cathedral. Sometimes we love a place too much...
While I have not been put off by crowds in Rome, Paris or NY - I have found that some of the smaller cities/towns that become popular just don't handle the crowds as well and for me at least, I start to feel like I'm in Disneyland. For that reason I've been amazed when I hear people state on these boards that "CT is a must" - it sounds way too crowded for me during the tourist season and then I imagine that it would be more difficult to navigate during colder, wetter weather. We weren't as thrilled with Florence during the one summer trip where we visited the Big Three (including Rome & Venice) - it was hot & crowded and difficult to maneuver, but the same time and circumstances in Rome just felt exciting. At the same time I understand many travelers' reluctance to truly go off the beaten path - it is the reason that so many of us come to these types of boards and ask for the recs of perfect strangers - we are all looking for the NEXT Cinque Terra!
Whether or not Rick Steves is responsible for the CT becoming popular or not is irrelevant. Anyone who puts himself out there as an "expert" has a responsibility to tell it like it is, not how it used to be. And Mr. Steves has failed miserably in that regard. I think Mr. Steves is blinded by nostalgia. He still seems to think of the CT as the quiet little getaway he discovered over a decade ago, not the overun, overpriced and kitchy tourist trap that it's become. Yes, there are plenty of tourist pretty much anywhere you go in Italy. But the CT is unique in that the towns and streets are so incredibly small. There is nowhere to escape to. You're totally hemmed in by geography there. Venice certainly has more tourist than the CT but there's plenty of space in Venice to hold them all. In the CT you're literally elbow to elbow - not a pleasent experience. Beyond the CT question, I have been consistantly shocked by the sheep-like behaviour of the Rick Steves crowd. It never fails that wherever your in a crowd of tourist in Europe, you're surrounded by people holding a Rick Steves guidebook. This is the real irony. Mr. Steves has tried to preach thinking for yourself and "finding your own backdoor to Europe", and has gained fame and riches doing so, yet the mass of people DON"T think for themselves and only go where Rick tells them to.
"Beyond the CT question, I have been consistantly shocked by the sheep-like behaviour of the Rick Steves crowd. It never fails that wherever your in a crowd of tourist in Europe, you're surrounded by people holding a Rick Steves guidebook." That is only so if you are in a "Rick Steves" destination. Doesn't that just make you one of the sheep? Try going someplace that is NOT in the RS books and you will see no RS books (or sheep). It works for us.
coco, Rick has written about the C.T. several times in his Blog recently, mostly describing the current problems that been occurring there with corruption. When I was in Monterosso a few weeks ago, there was a front-page headline on one of the local newspapers about the Mayor of Monterosso being investigated for corruption. While it's probably safe to say that Rick is responsible for making this area popular with North American travellers, that area has been popular with Europeans and people from other countries for a long time. I was in all of the villages a few weeks ago and my impression was that most of the "crowds" were not comprised of North Americans, but rather tour groups from the Orient (with umbrella-toting Guides) and people from other countries (including many Europeans). I spoke with quite a number of people from Scandinavia, the U.K. and Australia. I agree that some of the visitors were "obnoxious and loud", and I didn't note which nationalities were the worst in this regard. However, despite the crowds I had a great time there, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. I'd like to mention a comparable situation that I experienced a few years ago. On a previous trip to Europe, I almost cancelled a trip to Rothenburg as I'd heard it was "too crowded and touristy". I contacted ETBD on this question and their advice was that even though it's crowded and touristy, it's still a very worthwhile place to visit. I DID go there and DID find crowds and many tour groups, but had a fantastic time. Just about everywhere in the six countries I visited this year was crowded! I've kind of taken that attitude that places may be crowded but that won't deter me from seeing interesting and historic places. Cheers!
"Beyond the CT question, I have been consistantly shocked by the sheep-like behaviour of the Rick Steves crowd. It never fails that wherever your in a crowd of tourist in Europe, you're surrounded by people holding a Rick Steves guidebook." That is only so if you are in a "Rick Steves" destination. Doesn't that just make you one of the sheep? Try going someplace that is NOT in the RS books and you will see no RS books (or sheep). It works for us." What in my reply makes you think we've only gone to places covered in Rick Steves' book? We have been to several places not mentioned in RS book and spoken to countless other tourists. The ONLY time we see that familiar blue and gold book or hear Steves' name, is when we're in the middle of a crowd of tourists in one of the major tourist towns. Look no further than this board. I would venture a guess that 90% of the questions have to do with Venice, Florence, Rome, Amalfi coast or the Cinque Terre. Very few, if any, questions about locations not covered in Rick Steves' boook.
I think that if you do your research, you will find plenty of sources that will tell you that the CT is no longer the idyllic place that we all fell in love with when he first aired a show about it. Frankly though, after starting our trip in Venice, which has gotten totally out of control, CT seemed pretty good. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Rick, because it was his shows and books that gave me the courage to take my first trip to Europe; however, I firmly believe that relying only on his guidebooks is a mistake. On my recently concluded visit, there were several places where my final experience was far different from the descriptions in his books. Again, I would advise anyone planning a trip to Italy to review multiple resources to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of what to expect.
Bob, your response is illogical. I never suggested you have not been to other places, beyond RS destinations. I have no idea where you have been. But your complaint is this: "The ONLY time we see that familiar blue and gold book or hear Steves' name, is when we're in the middle of a crowd of tourists in one of the major tourist towns." OK, so are those tourist towns in Rick's book, like Venice, Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre, etc.? If so, then by going there you become one of the sheep you complain about. And if these "major tourist towns" are NOT covered in RS books (not sure what those might be, but I don't own a RS book to check), then you and the others are to be congratulated for finding a place that is not in the RS books, and none of you are sheep. Bottom line is why go to a place that is KNOWN to be "touristy", and then complain about the tourists? I know you were sorely disappointed by your Cinque Terre experience, but there is plenty of information here and elsewhere that would have warned you. So let's all vote to have RS update his books and include warnings about CT crowds in future editions. But people will still watch the old videos, as they keep getting recycled on PBS stations, especially during pledge week!
1. If you raise your voice about how jammed-up the CT, Versailles, and Colmar are in these forums, you're shouted down as a lout by people who have only been out of the cage once and just 'looooooved' some damn place but have nothing to compare it to. 2. Scan the subjects of the threads in the Boot (or any of the other sections)- - all are asking questions about places packed with tourists and favored by one travel writer or another. If anybody tries to suggest an alternative, they are shouted down as louts . . . . . 3. If you want to see something different: a. read history and base your destination on something besides a tv show or a guidebook and make a guidebook the last thing you read - - if you read one at all b. learn a language (really learn it) and go someplace where using it and drawing pictures is the only way you're going to get anything done 4. Ignore (or take with a large dose of salt) comments by people people who have only been out of the cage once. My thoughts are not aimed at Coco, just the lemmings who have X days for country Y, have no idea how many they really need, have no idea what there is to see, and devote all their preparation to planning where to sleep and eat, finding audio guides, dorking with electronics, and other useless crap.
@Ed: "Dorking with electronics!" HAW HAW HAW! You made me spit Earl Grey on my keyboard. Thanks!
Possibly. The last time that I was in CT was May of '05, and it really wasn't all that crowded. Having been there a couple of times, I got what I needed from that place and moved on. My subsequent trips to Italy have not included CT, but not because of the crowds. If you're going to a place referenced in a guidebook that has sold thousands (or millions, I don't know) of copies, you should probably expect tourists. Does this mean that you shouldn't go? I don't think so. Always assume there will be tourists. Everywhere. Then you've no place to go but up.
Ed: Good points. I think we are all individuals and make our travel choices accordingly. Some people feel comfortable going to places where there are people, aka tourists just like them. Some people don't. Based on input of this board, I've decided I'll skip CT when I travel to Italy. Maybe I will be missing something, maybe not. There is so much more to Italy. Try Sicily. You will love it.
Let me just point out that, every time we travel in Europe, I try to seek out one or two places that aren't in Rick's 'highlights centric' guidebooks. (He clearly states that he's trying to help the reader, most likely a first-time visitor to said places, to avoid the less-than-optimal sights and destinations and "Get the most out of every day and every dollar".) But even so, I really do make an effort to not have myself taken by the hand through the entire pre-approved itinerary, looking to find places that are off the beaten path and just a little harder to negotiate... Just because I'm stubborn that way (as Kent puts it: find your own back door.) Well let's be honest now,... all these spots we've gone to that are 'off-guidebook' have included: the least value-for-the-money accommodations, the most stressful driving (including driving the wrong way down one-way streets on more than one occasion) the hardest time getting simple directions, restaurant suggestions, or other tourist amenities like convenient pharmacies or practical restroom locations. So for me anyway, every Rick-free endeavor has always been MUCH more difficult and not any more intriguing than the one-diamond places in his carefully considered books. I'm pretty sure that no one who's familiar with my comments here would accuse me of being a Rick sycophant. But I've got to hand it to him, for the most part he does not steer the reader wrong. And the nice thing is, I never have to actually lug along one of the books while traveling because I'm assured there will always be someone at a table next to me who's shoulder I can look over to refresh my memory on the destination details when needed.
Bill, I respect your opinion and applaud your willingness to get off the beaten path. But I don't think you can attribute the relative ease of getting by in those major cities to Rick Steves himself. Those towns and cities are easier to navigate because they are the major tourist destinations and have been for tens if not hundreds of years. Over the course of time they've developed and instituted several things to help the non-Italian get around. They are much more likely to have merchants and hosts who speak some English. They will have more signs for street names and directing people to the major sites (think Venice - a sign on every corner pointing to every site). But they were like that long before Rick Steves came along. So Rick Steves limits himself to writing about those towns and those towns are easier to navigate. But one did not cause the other. For myself, I actually enjoy the more "difficult" places. I'm dissapointed when a merchant or waiter speaks english. I can speak english at home - in Italy I want to practice my italian! We enjoy meeting locals and getting to know them, their way of life and what they think of America. I find it's much easier to do that when you're not in a major tourist town (where no one cares much where you're from because dealing with foreigners is a daily occurance). The more out of the way the place is, the more likely the people you'll meet will have less experience with tourists, thus, the more likely that they'll be as intrigued by you as you are by them. That's when a true "cultural exchange" can take place. That, to me, is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of international travel. And worth every "inconvienience" that comes with getting off the beaten path.
I gotta say, I hope Rick never does a write-up of the areas of Italy I am partial to. As much as I enjoyed the one trip to each of the CT and Lake Como, they hardly qualify as "back door." Great, crowded, fun-filled, but not my perennial cup-of-tea. I do find it ironic that Rick "finding" places off the beaten path has caused a large path to be beaten to them. It is a paradox to both promote a place and to try to preserve its charm. It only works for a little while. Then its all promotion. To the OP, I feel your pain, and I understand your point. But I might echo some of these comments, as well as Rick's earliest piece of advice: find your own back door. Look on the Rick Steves map, and overlay it onto a map of Italy. Then look at all that empty space between the predictable RS destinations. There is the "Real Italy" if you will.
I was amused by Sascha's response about RS sheep. I love the RS guides and use them as a foundation when planning my trips. If you see me in a town listed in his book, you may well see me holding a copy. But it would be pretty foolish of me to flash one of his guides when I'm in a place he doesn't list. What on earth would be the point in carrying a guidebook that doesn't include the place you're visiting?
I have enjoyed reading the wide variety of perspectives displayed in these responses. We began using the RS guides back in the 90's after seeing his public TV shows. His approach to travelling resonated with us and his practical advice made it possible for us to brave travel in Europe on our own. I am curious at those that blame RS for overpopularizing certain areas. Thomas Cook began the process back in 1841 and "Baedekers" are referenced in many 19th century publications. Both of these gentlemen opened Europe to travel novices and could be accused of bringing too many outsiders into quaint areas. In the late 1970's my parents were fortunate to be among the early travelers into Communist China and fell in love with the country. On later trips they were dismayed to find a huge increase in the number of visitors accompanied by major efforts to Westernize the backward country of their memory. Can't imagine what they would think if they returned today.
I'm rather dissappointed by those that seem to blame RS, or any guidebook/travel promoter, for over-popularizing a place. Tourism is a major industry, and has A LOT to do with many of the "quaint" Italian towns surviving in this age of ubranism. Agro-tourism keeps many a small farm going. And people are constantly looking for ideas of places to go and then where to stay, where to eat and what to do when they arrive. Most tourists are not looking to strike their own path, they want most of it laid out for them so they can avoid the stress and hassle of foreign travel. There is nothing wrong with them if that's what they want. So when you visit a major tourist destination you'll see them carrying their RS (and lots of others) guidebooks around with them. Yes, there is an irony of the RS philosophy that you get off the beaten path, but once published his readers flock to the once "local" places and they become more touristy. But what is the native? Just list restaurants and hotels that cater only to American tourists? I think RS tries to get people more comfortable going off the main routes so they can do more things on their own after hitting the highlights. This board should be about people giving their own opinions and experiences about places. For many, the CT is worth it even with the crowds. For others, their experience was ruined. Both viewpoints are valid and it has to be up to each person whether they should go or not.
Perhaps the CT wouldn't be the mess that it is if Rick Steves actually stayed true to his stated philosophy, which is to promote getting off the beaten path and "discovering Europe through the back door". When you think about it, Rick Steve's hasn't really done that, has he? So he "discovered" the Cinque Terre. Great. But then what? What hidden gem or back door has he "discovered" since? Nothing. Instead, he's chosen to promote the same places (including the CT) year after year after year after year. For a guy who tells us we should get off the beaten path, he certainly does a good job of beating the same path over and over again. If he had continued to discover other out of the way Italian places and give them some promotion, a certain number of people would've flocked to those places as well. The mass of Rick Steves tourists looking for a charming "hidden gem" then would be spread out a bit over several places, instead of swarming en masse to the CT. Maybe, just maybe, Rick Steves should practice what he preaches.
"So he "discovered" the Cinque Terre. Great. But then what? What hidden gem or back door has he "discovered" since? Nothing." Bob, you are letting your rant about Cinque Terre slop over into generalities, and you are on shaky ground. First, it is a stretch to credit RS with "discovering" Cinque Terre, or anyplace for that matter. Many Europeans already knew about CT. They have been going there for years. You probably saw many of them when you were there. (Germans and Australians in particular.) Manarola was recently on th ecover of national Geographic Traveler, an evocative photo that would entice anyone. The CT coast was billed as among the top ten coastal destinations in the world. Second, he seems to still be on the lookout for new places. He recently started doing a book on Croatia (not sure of the first edition but the 2d came out in 2008). The 2010 edition includes sections on Bosnia and Montenegro. Those are a bit off the usual tourist trail, wouldln't you say? And then there's his video on Bulgaria---the Rila monestary looks like a "hidden gem" to me. You won't have any trouble finding lots of people to agree with you that Cinque Terre has been "ruined." Most of the people I know are among them. But if you are going to choose to visit a place based on RS videos that are many years old (when did he make the CT video?), without checking more recent information (including what is offered here) then you can't blame the messenger.
Sasha is right, RS has been promoting other, "off the beaten path" places for the last few years. Croatia and the Balkans is a very good example. Even in Greece, he avoided the islands and focussed on the Peloponesse. Nafplio is immensely popular with Greeks, but most seem surprised that I was going there. He covers Tallinn, Estonia, which is very touristy but I saw few Americans. But that said, he has to cover the standards too or he won't make any money. People want to go to Rome, Siena, Paris, Toledo, and even the CT. And once he starts covering a place, he has to keep going back to make updates. He won't, or shouldn't, stop updates just because a place has gotten more popular over the years.
First off, we all need to get our terminology straight. Back door travel doesn't mean getting off the beaten path and finding a hidden gem. It simply means: don't go to Rome or Florence and stay at the Hyatt or the Ritz when you can stay at an intimate, family-owned place and truly experience more of the local culture.
I would argue that he's not going off the beaten path, but simply expanding his collection of guide books and TV shows in order to increase his business. And that's a smart move on his part. He's expanding the boundries of his tour guide business to include countries that aren't in his normal repertoire, and that's very laudable. But he's not finding any new "back doors". (Kind of like when Starbucks started selling CDs. They were trying to expand their business and increase their income, not discover or invent digital music.) I like the fact that is now starting to highlight new (or at least new to him) countries like Croatia or Iran. But people have been going to those countries for decades now. Sure, they're not as popular as Italy or France, but they're hardly undiscovered. I've either been to, or know someone who has been to, all but one or two of the places mentioned here. (Also, with all respect Sacha, to say that he didn't "discover" the CT, but somehow did discover Coatia is a bit silly.) And when Rick's done hitting the Top 5 places in countries like Croatia, what will he do? Dig deeper and find a hidden gem there? Or just move to the next country and cover the top 5 there. I can see it now: "Next up, Moscow!" Because, you know, no one's ever been there before. Again, I have no issue with Rick Steves as a tour book writer and TV host. I use his guide books from time to time and watch his shows (more as entertainment and to indulge my travel lust). I only have issue with his continued self-portrayal as a guy who gets "off the beaten path" and encourages people to find "backdoors" when he so obviously does not do that himself. If he'd bothered to find more "backdoors" to Italy, I'm sure the CT wouldn't be so overpacked nowadays.
There is plenty to reply to on here: "Back Door" - see Bill's post above. I think that Bob is missing the point on this one. Croatia & Iran - "But people have been going to those countries for decades now". I would argue that it's more like millennia. Read up on the silk road. MP was still a traveller/explorer/tourist. Rick's just doing his job opening up the world to new travellers. If you don't like his style, find someplace no one's been to. Let me know where that might be, while you're at it. "And when Rick's done hitting the Top 5 places in countries like Croatia, what will he do? Dig deeper and find a hidden gem just move to the next country and cover the top 5 there?" His job is to get a traveller started. Once they have the bug, they don't necessarily need his help exclusively and can use their own resources to expand. "If he'd bothered to find more "backdoors" to Italy, I'm sure the CT wouldn't be so overpacked nowadays." RS is hardly the only game in town, so I think even if he dropped CT from his guidebook, it would still be packed. EVERYONE is promoting it.
Regarding the "backdoors" referenced above, I have found excellent lodging and food stops that are "off the beaten path" through Rick. I've used that philosophy to find many more (and get burned by others, mind you).
Bob, you just sound bitter. And like a handful of others around here you seem to blame some sort of vague "Rick-Steviness" that you think exists in too much abundance. You do realize that, despite the snide characterizations often found in threads like this, the VAST majority of visitors are not big RS junkies. They may not even be Americans. There are many places "overrun" by tourists from other countries who have no idea who RS is. RS practically begs his readers to get out and to explore on their own. It's his style to give detailed information on a limited number of places vs. a short paragraph on everywhere. People like that. They get out and explore and eventually move on to other more independent forms of travel. And yes, "back door" does not mean different places (your back door still leads to the same house as your front door, right?). Back door means a different style of travel - a style that tries to avoid "Americanizing" the experience of seeing a different country. It also keeps costs lower which gets more people to believe they can afford to do it. Many people agree with you regarding the CT. But many people still find it magical. Should he omit it? Should he scare people away in the vague hope that it reduces crowds by 5%? He already warns that "they have been discovered and can often be quite crowded". What else is he supposed to do when many people still want to go there and are still happy about the experience afterward? You didn't like it. Thank you for sharing. It was important to get a (not really that unusual) contrary opinion. But your impression is far from universally agreed upon.
Thanks Randy. I hope we've come to the conclusion of what has become a boring and repetitive thread.
I realize this is somewhat off-topic from the OP's original point, but here goes...Last May, we were having lunch in a very empty-of-tourists Levanto on our way to the CT, andafter seeing our copy of the RS guide bookthe owner of the cafe asked why we had stopped in Levanto instead of the CT, considering RS's coverage of the area. He thought RS sold Levanto short (he seemed especially upset by a line in the book that says something like Levanto is an ok place to stay only if the CT if full) and said a group of people in Levantohimself includedhad contacted RS to try to get him to give a more positive spin to their town so they would get more tourism. As a previous poster noted, tourism is big businessand this gentleman wanted more of it! For me, though (and feel free to call me selfish!), I was happy to enjoy a delicious, very affordable panini on a quiet piazza with only the local townsfolk around.
Randy, I'm not bitter. Although I can see how my writing style, which is a more blunt and agressive than most here, could come across as such. If I've gone over the top here a bit, it's only because I have a long history with Rick Steves, his organization and his "followers". I used to live in Edmonds (where Rick and his company are located) and now live in Seattle, only 25 minutes from Edmonds. I've met Rick several times - at political gatherings and events, at travel seminars, on the street, etc. - and have had several opportunities to speak with him. (Nice enough guy, by the way. Freakishly tall.) I've also had plenty of dealings with Rick Steves fanatics and it's to them that I'm really targeting with my posts here. You may not be one of them Randy, but there are plenty here who simply don't get the "make your own backdoor" message. These people only read RS books. They only want to stay where Rick tells them to stay, eat where he recommends they eat, etc. Moreover, I've noticed in watching the man himself interact with people, that he does nothing to discourage this type of behaviour nor does he encourage people to find their own way. These people seem to think he can do no wrong and a part of him obviously enjoys that type of adoration. As I've said before in this very thread, I LIKE RS guide books and his TV show. I'll continue to use them. But the guy is far from perfect. Pointing out the flaws or shortcomings of his services does not make one "bitter". You may disagree with me and that's fine. It's what makes boards like this interesting. But at this point I feel we're beating a dead horse (actually, that probably started a dozen or so responses ago), so I'll say no more and let others take from my comments what they wish.
I must also agree that Rick has lost a bit of the "fresh approach" that started me using his guidebooks in the 1980's. He still uses the same old chestnut about, "if Italy is getting on your nerves as far south as Rome, don't go any further..." But he only describes Naples and the Amalfi Coast as if the rest of southern Italy doesn't exist (except Sicily). But a mere hour south of Rome is an area devoid of postcard racks, devoid of gangs of roving thieves, and devoid of anything that could "get on your nerves" the way Rick's first experience in Naples has apparently gotten on his. If you drop your wallet on the street someone would run after you to give it back. As to the "back door" philosophy, yes, it is about finding more personal hotels instead of five star Hiltons. But that isn't all it is, as stated by Rick Steves himself. He uses the term, "off the beaten path." I like the man, I like his work, but I find it less and less useful every trip. I admire his measured demeanor, his willingness to work for social justice, his ability to put himself in another person's shoes. But I have gone back to the most valuable thing I have learned from his experiences and advice: find your own back door. There really is no need for people to get so defensive. If his books and advice are still relevant to your travels, great. If not, you have the right to state it here. And if a two page thread is boring you, stop reading it. I think it is a valid topic.
Oops, I meant "in the 1990s" Fat fingers tonight!
This thread follows a similar theme: http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/helpline/index.cfm/rurl/topic/75035/le-montstmichel-what39s-up-with-the-commercialization.html The OP was shocked... shocked at the souvenir stands along Mont St. Michel's main drag. Oh Rickniks, Rickniks, Rickniks... can we please just drop the intellectual and moral pretensions about this whole "back door philosophy" and just admit that you want to see the same cool stuff in Europe that everyone else does? There are a handful of posters on this website who actually quietly go about "finding their own back doors" (I exclude those of us who live in Europe because it's too easy for us) but they never use these buzzwords. They just go, explore and report. But the rest... don't talk about Back Doors until you can report thoroughly about something not in the Blue Book.
I was in CT a year ago and the crowds in oct were not bad. Most of the tourists groups I saw were not american groups. Since I do not like crowds I plan my vacations in europe for the first 2 weeks of may and the last 2 weeks in oct. April and Nov are to cold for my wife. I will be leaving for Istanbul next week and expect a large amount of tourists as the weather will still be nice.
Tom's mention of the Mont St Michel thread brings up an interesting point. I would hazard to guess that the bustle of tourists to that site that make it potentially unpleasant during the heart of the day are 90+% or more non-Rick Steves guidebook owners. We took the advice of the guidebook and and arrived late, stayed overnight and left early and had a fabulous time - a truly memorable visit. Yes, it is an iconic site I wanted to see and thanks to reading his book, I knew how to make the best of it. Seeing the CT will have some of the same challenges. Some people respond better to the challenge than others. Some people are more sensitive to having their expectations challenged than others. None of that is Rick's problem to fix more than he has already attempted to do. "...don't talk about Back Doors until you can report thoroughly about something not in the Blue Book." Tom; If you are interested in the Australian outback, far-flung corners of New Zealand, Iceland or Norway above the arctic circle you can PM me and I'll be happy to share what I know. But I will not apologize for using Rick's help to see parts of Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and this coming year; Croatia, Slovenia and Montinegro. I am thankful for his help seeing parts of the world most other American tourists never see. There is no need for anyone to apologize for that, or to have to ask your permission first before talking about what "back door" means to them.
"I would hazard to guess that the bustle of tourists to that site that make it potentially unpleasant during the heart of the day are 90+% or more non-Rick Steves guidebook owners. " Exactly right Randy. It was the same in the early 60's when I first went there as a child.
Without pouring too much more gas on the fire, I think CT days as quaint out of the way place are done. Put a fork in it. Still beautiful, just not the same as when RS started selling it.
New CT, if you have a car, Elba. Just spent 3 days in the off season this week on Elba. Beyond beautiful, although from brochure pics, it looks like it is a mob scene in the summer, so go in the spring or fall. well worth the cost of the ferry. Great base for touring, le stanza de le Casale. Wonderful B and B run by a great group of women.
So I don't totally understand the logic behind a tourist being upset that there are crowds in places people go to visit. Everytime I take a trip, I expect to find out tourists. It tends to be human nature that we go to places that are beautiful. Cinque Terre happens to be one of them. I am by no means an expert on Italy or the CT, or Rick Steves and his influence, perceived or otherwise, of the CT. However, I just recently visited CT and stayed in Vernazza for 3 nights from 9/27/11 to 9/30/11. Personally, for my wife and I it was a welcome break over the hussle and bustle of our previous stops in Venice and Florence. We felt it was very peaceful. Sure during the day with the tour crowds it was worse than at night, but it still felt beautiful. I personally think what tears it down is the tour crowds. You have these tour groups of 20 or more people come through, it is quite frustrating. But that happened everywhere - Venice, Rome, Florence, you name it. But if you sneak in front or let them pass you are fine. But the only time I remember the crowds was when we took the hiking trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, just because the trails were small and there were a lot of hikers. But so be it. It didn't affect our time and our enjoyment of the area. We still found seclusion and we still found it beautiful. I guess if you are someone who wants peace and quiet, don't go where tourists go, but then also don't complain that where you go isn't the best. People go to beautiful places, period. Everytime I visit Maui, or Cozumel, or the Bahamas, there are crowds also. I felt way more at ease on our stops in Vernazza and Positano then I did in Venice, Florence, and Rome, our other stops. There were still crowds there, but it wasn't overwhelming. CT is fine, and there will be obnoxious people everywhere you go, that is unfortunately a part of life.
I have never felt over-crowded in Europe, except maybe in the elevator going up the Eiffel Tower, and I go to Europe every summer. Perhaps that is because I live in Waikiki Beach in Hawaii most of the year. Now if someone really wants to see crowds, come visit me.
Just have to add that I spent two nights in Monterosso in September and only wish I could have stayed a little longer. Yes, there were lots of people walking around the shops and on the main hiking trails, but even in our short time there, it was possible to get away from the crowds. We took a very short walk (maybe 10 minutes) above Monterosso, and found a church (San Francesco) and cemetery that were beautiful and peaceful, with views that rivaled any on the hiking paths. We felt a world away from the crowds below and just wished we had time to take some of the other. less traveled paths above the villages. Also, we had dinner (pizza and local wine) one night on the terrace of a Rick Steves recommended B&B, and watched in amazement as a religious procession with adults and children walked by. We followed, and ended up at a local church with lots of locals and maybe five or six other tourists. I know that we were lucky to be there that night, but I'd say there are still plenty of wonderful experiences to be had in Cinque Terre if you just keep your eyes open.
coco, Yeah, the CT is packed now. Still cool, but not as good as when we first there in 2002. You have to remember that traveling, and the places that we travel to, are in constant flux. Always changing. We just got back from driving the entire east coast of Italy, from Venice to Villa San Giovanni. We made dozens of forays into the hills from the coastal roads. Went to the abandoned hill towns of Craco, and Comune Di Matera. Not one person in Craco, just lots of birds, and four Canadians in Matera. We must have found a half a dozen or more CT's that we WILL return to. Met up with our friends and went to two islands off of Sicily. Didn't know they existed. Just locals there, too. We only use the RS books to get some ideas, but then make our own plans, and go by impulse sometimes. We love the big cities and the bustle, but love to picnic alone in a deserted 3 century BC hilltown also. Never know what's around the bend in the road. 10 and a quarter months to go until Germany/Poland trip. Sigh......big eye roll....
I visited CT this past May, and I knew in advance that there would be crowds. Still, it didn't prepare me for just how crowded it would seem. Maybe like others, I arrived mid-day when the streets were stuffed with noisy, jostling tourists, and after the stress of taking a bus and three trains from Volterra, I was in no mood for the hoard I found in CT. But – when evening came and the crowd thinned out, it was the most wonderful, peaceful place of my whole trip. Today, when I think about CT, it is the evening and early mornings that come to mind first. I accept that it's full during the day, but I won't stoop to blame RS or anyone else.
I'm writing this from my hotel room in Riomaggiore. Have to agree that the tour groups (mainly older Germans) are the most frustrating part, but as others have said, it's easy to get away. I recommend doing the high trails for more alone time. Vernazza seemed very touristy to me, I'm glad I chose Riomaggiore which is very quiet at night and has some good restaurants. Cannot imagine the crowds in summer...on weekends. Just don't. It's really a very beautiful and unique place though.
so, the good news is, you can still enjoy CT, but we had to be a bit more strategic than we had expected. Wandering onto trail as the spirit moves you, as opposed to going early or late in day, not great idea. We got to Monterosso after 5 days in Rome. Weather gorgeous, and it was a welcome break. Stayed 4 nights at Buranco Agriturismo, which we loved (if you think of booking there, be aware that the climb from town is only 10 minutes but VERY steep, and not all the "apartments" have kitchen or eating area: ours was actually 2 lovely bedrooms and bath with a small vestibule and terrace.) Also, suggest you negotiate on the price, as high season is over. Be prepared for the rooster crowing! People are great and you are in the middle of the vineyards. We knew is was closest to the "hill towns" experience we would get on this trip. We actually skipped most towns, because we hiked to Vernazza fr Mont. and the crowds, mid-day in Vernazza, were terrible. We could not wait to get out of there. Monterosso is a bit bigger and seems to absorb the crowds better, and the beaches are lovely. There's lots to explore around there. You could also take shuttles to higher trails (we were too lazy)
I had planned to hike and take trains between towns, too, to explore all 5. Since the train ticket is now only good for 75 min instead of 6 hrs, and part of trail is closed, we got lazy and just spent most time in Monterosso. Departing area, Took an a.m. train right from Mont train station to Venice via Milan (thanks, Laurel, for suggestion!)
I'd also like to point out that I saw way too many fat or old people that can barely walk in CT. I really don't know why these people go to a major hiking destination. The hikes were much too strenuous for half the people attempting them. As they say, follow the leader...
I took this video in the abbey above Monterosso al Mare this past August. Not one person in the church, listen to the signing! No crowds! https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1904288369162 Here is another one of a street band. https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=2041717524805&saved Crowds or now crowds, it is great!
I have never been to the CT, but am addressing the issue of RS tourism and tourism in general. Last year I chose to spend a couple of weeks in Hallstatt, another RS fave, and totally expected it to be over-run with tourists, but I fell in love with the place and found the perfect room so I planned to stay a while. According to my hostess Anne-Marie, the problem seemed to be between day-trippers and over-nighters. While the good citizens of Hallstatt truly welcomed everyone and are very proud of thier little town, they were dismayed that not that many chose to stay longer or at least overnight. There was no shortage of available rooms when I went in may. During the day the place was pretty busy with crowds of Asians, but it emptied out very quickly as the busses left in the late afternoon. I was actually surprised that Hallstatt was not MORE touristy than it is. I spent the days hiking in the area (rarely saw anyone out on the trails) and visiting the surrounding towns such as Bad Ischl, returning in the evening, when the town was peaceful and pleasant. But the economic downturn had affected them as well, and Anne-Marie told me that tourism was down in the area, which was a huge concern for all the small shop, cafe, and B+B owners. So IMO, if a given tourist destination feels overcrowded, this could largely be due to the number of daytrippers, and staying overnight for a couple of days would be a much more enjoyable experience, which is what Rick suggests. I don't consider myself a "riknik" but I don't know if I would have visited Hallstatt without seeing it on his show, and in this case, his advice was spot-on.
Kpf, I felt the same way about Venice. I know I would have hated it had my only impression been as a day tripper. Staying 4 nights gave me time to 'get it'.
to quote the great Yogi Berra: "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded." Very interesting question with a lot of valid points. The large influx of tourists to the CT based on ricks endorsement of the area does kind of take away from the charm of the area. The reality is once a "hidden gem" whether it be a music band or a restaurant becomes popular with the masses it invariably changes to a degree. The same even goes with a hip catch phrase---when adults start saying a phrase that there kids were saying chances are that phrase is no longer hip. Rick does acknowledge the crowds so I don't know how more candid he needs to be. It is up to the individual traveller to do the research to determine if it is a place to visit. The CT might be played out now, but there are other "undiscovered" places out there.
"I'd also like to point out that I saw way too many fat or old people that can barely walk in CT. I really don't know why these people go to a major hiking destination. The hikes were much too strenuous for half the people attempting them. As they say, follow the leader..." Above is from Kevan's post: it made me laugh! First, "old" is not necessarily the same as unfit. I'm 61,about 35 lbs overweight, and have a slight knee injury... and definitely needed to use the walking sticks I'd packed for the challenging and hot path from Monterosso to Vernazza. Having hiked several rough portions of the Superior Hiking trail in Minnesota, I knew my limits. However, I saw many people throughout my Italy trip who appeared to be my age but much more fit. In general, people should tackle the hardest parts of the trail early or late in the day, and just be sure to have the right shoes and clothing. The trail was crowded but not horribly so when we walked in late a.m.
I was sweaty and tired when arriving in Vernazza after the hike, but found the hordes of tourists there much more tiring than the hike, itself. (still loved the CT, though, and glad we stayed in Monterosso) Happy Travels, all, and thanks for all the previous postings, which definitely helped me on my trip.
Coco Did it ever occur to you that YOU were an intrusion on someone/everyone else who was there for peace and quiet? Going somewhere and complaining there are "too many tourists" is hypocrisy. Stay home and enjoy the quiet of your backyard and help alleviate the problem of "too many tourists"