How to Get From Cinque Terre to Santorini

They say half the fun of a holiday is planning it and I completely agree. Pondering destinations, gushing at hotels and restaurants, weighing up attractions… all against the backdrop of counting down to your departure date. But the excitement can wane when you hit a logistical glitch. Something you thought would be simple becomes a Rubix cube of combinations, dead-ends and frustration. My boyfriend and I had a five week trip to Europe earlier this year, and Italy’s Cinque Terre and the Greek island of Santorini were both essential destinations. We planned to visit them as late as possible into our holiday to try get the warmest weather. How hard could it be to get from one Mediterranean paradise to another? We were about to discover it could, quite frankly, be hell. 

We’d mapped out a rough itinerary while in Australia that would take in the UK, Scotland, France and Cinque Terre so it made sense Santorini would follow. But a few quick Google searches revealed there was no easy route between the two places. Cinque Terre’s nearest airport is Pisa (150 kilometres/93 miles) but the airlines are limited. My boyfriend and I broadened our search to Florence (200km/125mi) and Venice (270km/168mi) airports without any luck. We reluctantly looked at backtracking to Nice, France but didn’t work either . Not a single airport had a direct flight to Santorini. In fact, we couldn’t even find connecting flights with a journey time under 12 hours or costing less than AU$500. At one stage, we even considered flying to Santorini via Barcelona, Spain and spending the six hour layover in the airport lounge. 

A month before our holiday was due to start, it was time to tackle this dilemma. My boyfriend and I sat in our kitchen, post-gym on a Sunday morning armed with laptops, notepads, smartphones and pens. We were like a pair of code breakers during World War II, trying different combinations of trains and planes from Italy to anywhere in Greece. Blogs and travel forums didn’t have any answers. While we could theoretically stop in Athens or Milan, they were significant detours that would cost us precious nights in Santorini. But tea, toast and and three hours later I yelled out “I’ve cracked the DaVinci code!”

The breakthrough was discovering a direct train from Florence to Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport. From there, you could catch a direct flight to Santorini which took just over two hours. The fares were reasonable. The times worked with our itinerary, and in fact, we’d get a night in Florence which I’d never been to before. We booked everything in the following hour and a few months later, we made our way from one paradise to another.  

This route isn’t the quickest way to get from Cinque Terre to Santorini, but it gives you maximum sightseeing with minimal transfers and backtracking. 

Here are the full details:

1. Cinque Terre – Florence 

We were staying in Monterosso, the biggest of Cinque Terre’s towns, so we looked for trains departing here. Using the excellent ticketing website Loco2, we booked:

  • Monterosso to Pisa Centrale (Intercity train 651): departing 9.07am, arriving 10.17am (1 hour, 10 mins) 
  • Pisa Centrale to Firenze S.M (Regional Veloce 3114): departing 10.32am, arriving 11.32am (1 hour)
  • Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Cost: €18.30 each (Monterosso to Pisa €9.90, Pisa to Florence, €8.40)

Unfortunately our first train was delayed 15 minutes, meaning we missed our connection. However, we caught the next Pisa to Firenze train which left 20 minutes later.  Our tickets were still valid and conveniently, we didn’t have to change platforms.

 Monterosso Station, Cinque Terre: Our train to Pisa was delayed 15 minutes so we missed our connection.
Monterosso Station, Cinque Terre: Our train to Pisa was delayed 15 minutes so we missed our connection.

2. Overnight in Florence 

I considered any sightseeing in Florence a bonus, but this walk-friendly city was easy to get around and lots of attractions were open until 9pm or later. We reached our hotel around 2pm and stayed out past midnight. Check out my post One Night in Florence for full details.

3. Florence – Rome Airport

Our late-night sightseeing in Florence meant we slept five hours before our early train to Italy’s capital Rome. As mentioned, we found a direct, high speed train from Florence to Fiumicino Airport which arrived three hours before our flight. Again, we booked using Loco2:

  • Firenze S.M. to Fiumicino Aeroporto (Frecciargento 8401): departing 7.38am, arriving 9.55am
  • Total time: 2 hours, 16 minutes 
  • Cost: €27.50 each

If you need breakfast at Firenze station, Moka Cafe has healthy and allergy-friendly options including vegan croissants and paninis, quinoa salads, fruit salad (“macedonia” in Italian), yogurt and rice/soy milk drinks. There’s an impressive bookstore open from 7am too with English books and magazines, plus a busy cafe. Click here for the station’s website. 

 Moka Cafe, Firenze Station: vegan croissants, soy milk and the New York Times. 
Moka Cafe, Firenze Station: vegan croissants, soy milk and the New York Times. 

4. Rome – Santorini

Spanish airline Iberia (in partnership with Vueling, pronounced ‘velling’) was the only carrier we could find offering direct flights from Italy to Santorini. Vueling is a budget airline, so the usual precautions of checking baggage limits and bringing your own food apply. If you’re particularly tall, consider booking extra legroom. My boyfriend is 175cm (5′ 9″) and his knees hit the seat in front of him. We booked directly with Iberia: 

  • Rome (FCO) to Santorini (JTR): IB 5403, departing 12.50pm, arriving 3.15pm
  • Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
  • Cost: €125 each, which included 23kg checked baggage per person.

Looking for lunch options at Rome airport? I had a delicious, make your own salad (“insalate”) for €11 with quinoa, chick peas, tomatoes, carrot, dill seeds and olives at Bistrot (Terminal 3, section C) . They also sell focaccia by the kilo. Seriously.  

 Vueling Airlines: the only carrier we could find with direct flights from Italy to Santorini.
Vueling Airlines: the only carrier we could find with direct flights from Italy to Santorini.

but then…

We boarded our flight and the plane took off on time. We were both tired but couldn’t wait for four nights of Greek island luxury! I actually wrote most of this post on the flight and then the plane began to descend. I could see Santorini from my window. The ocean looked incredible! 

But clearly, the travel gods had never intended our journey from Cinque Terre to Santorini to be easy. I could practically taste the olives when the plane suddenly shot up, making my stomach lurch. My boyfriend and I looked at each other worryingly. It wasn’t a good sign.

 Santorini, Greece: the plane suddenly shot up shortly after I took this photo. 
Santorini, Greece: the plane suddenly shot up shortly after I took this photo. 

The pilot announced it was too windy to land in Santorini, so we were diverting to the capital Athens. It was already 3pm so even if the weather improved, our chances of a Greek island sunset that night were gone. Our hearts sunk. We’d worked so hard to avoid having a layover. Where would we stay that night? How would we get to Santorini? Would we get there at all? We’d been in transit for nine hours on five hours sleep. All that planning. All that pride. Pointless.

Our plane finally landed in Athens and we sat on the runway for at least an hour. Then, the pilot made a jawdropping announcement. We were going back to Rome.

Find out how we eventually got to Santorini and stay tuned for my travel tips for the island!

QUESTION: When have you nailed (or failed) travel logistics? 

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