“Cinque Terre” translates to Five Lands. It is made of five picturesque towns, perched along the rugged cliffside of the Italian Riviera. The coastline, villages, and surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In each of the towns you will find colourful terraces, steep winding streets, fresh produce and wine, sweet elderly men whistling, dozens of fishing boats, mountains covered in vineyards and some of the best sunsets you’ve ever seen over the sea. I suggest at least 3-5 days to lose yourself in each town.
I previously visited Cinque Terre while I was backpacking solo in August 2010 in the very early months of my blog. I arrived on a whim thanks to a change of plans and hiccup in life, and have since reflected on my time there as a safe haven and significant period of personal growth. My own Italian “Eat” chapter of “Eat, Pray, Love” perhaps…. but with substantially more wine. Coming back four years later was just as beautiful as the first.
In 2011 the Cinque Terre was struck by heavy storms, landslides and flooding that killed 13 people and almost destroyed the towns of Monterosso and Vernazza. It has since been rebuilt, making me appreciate the resilient colours of the towns and friendly locals even more. I hope that visitors will continue to appreciate and care for such a beautiful corner of the world.
About the towns-
Riomaggiore is the first village from La Spezia, that sits in a small valley facing the sea. Fishing boats line a tiny beach, with one main road trailing back in to town with slightly more bustling restaurants and boutiques than the other towns.
Manarola is my personal favourite town, as I find it more romantic and quiter. It also may be the oldest of the five towns, with the San Lorenzo church cornerstone dating back to 1338. Walk from the church through the main street to the sea for sunset looking back over the town.
Corniglia sits 100 metres high above the sea and requires a lot of stairs or shuttle bus from the train station below. It boasts beautiful views but I did not prioritise visiting again on my last trip.
Vernazza is the favourite town to a lot of people. It has a main street leading to a main square, that overlooks a protected bay to swim in, or jump off the rocks to the rougher sea on the other side of the break wall. I recommend walking the first hill of the Vernazza to Monterosso trail to get the best view back over the town.
Monterosso a beautifully blue, rocky seaside leading through to the quaint town. Sunbathers flock to the paid beach, but if you continue walking through the tunnel there is another beach for free in front of the town. Monterosso also has the most restaurants, cafes and shops of all of the towns that therefore draws the crowds.
My suggestions for Cinque Terre-
How to get there: The closest city to Cinque Terre is La Spezia. Once there you can catch the local train that takes roughly 15 minutes to the first town of Riomaggiore. I caught a fast train from Milan to La Spezia on the way there, and left via the train from La Spezia to Pisa Airport being roughly three hours each way. If you are already in Europe I highly recommend the train as my favourite mode of travel, being able to store luggage within reach while watching the colourful towns roll past.
Where to stay: During my last stay I rented an apartment in Manarola. I reached out at extremely late notice (the day of arriving!) and was very lucky to find accommodation that is usually booked out months in advance. If you are a thrill seeker like me that doesn’t book in advance, you can try your luck finding a B&B when arriving at each town. When I visited in 2010 I stayed in a 20 bed hostel room in Riomaggiore for much cheaper that I booked on arrival. Please keep in mind that the limited roads and streets/ street names can make it very challenging to find your accommodation address. Make sure to research or ask for specific directions before arriving. And bring as little luggage as possible- the hills are steep and stairs are relentless in the heat!
How to get around: Despite being overpacked with tourists and running on “Italian time”, the train is the best mode of transport between the five towns. Each ticket is a few Euros but remember to stamp the ticket on the platform before boarding as inspectors are common.
Cinque Terre is famous for its hiking trail that connects the five towns from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, with difficulty easing between each town. I walked between Monterosso and Vernazza in 2010’s summer heat and threw in the towel for gelato and the sea as soon as possible. I suggest starting on Riomaggiore to Manarola’s “Love Walk” at sunset and progressing from there.
What to eat: As the Italian Riviera is the home of pesto it is the first thing you should try. Pesto pasta. Pesto pizza. Pesto on breadsticks. I guarantee you won’t regret taking a few jars home. After pesto there is of course the freshest seafood, pasta, pizza and gelato. Oh, and did I mention the local wine?
Where to eat:
Da Eraldo, Monterosso for the best antipasto board I’ve ever eaten. To share with a bottle of local white wine.
Nessun Dorma, Manarola for cheese and meat boards, bruschetta, caprese and a glass of wine with an incredible view over the town.
Il Porticciolo, Manarola for sand lobster linguine or the squid ink linguine with tuna.
Lunch Box, Vernazza for fresh juice and snacks.
Riomaggiore – although not a restaurant my favourite way to eat in Cinque Terre is a takeaway pesto pizza or two from the town, and bottles of wine or beer from the supermarket to eat on the seaside rocks while watching the sunset over the water.
What to see and do: Apart from getting lost within the five towns at your own interest and leisure I suggest eating as much as possible, reading a good book in the afternoon sun and a local bottle of wine, walking the trail, seeing the towns by boat and watching sunset every evening.
If you have any more tips for myself or my readers, please let me know in the comments below. Enjoy La Dolce Vita!