Cinque Terre is a somewhat hidden gem in Liguria, north west of Italy. While tourists are certainly present in the area, it’s still not widely known in spite of being nothing short of heaven on earth. Cinque Terre consists of five colourful villages tucked away in the lush and hilly coastline surrounded by water of the perfect shade of blue.
Riomaggiore is the sourthernmost village, and probably the largest of the five. Its streets are incredibly steep but filled with little shops and cafes. You can probably find the biggest selection of local souvenirs in this village – try getting some local pesto, as the yummy sauce actually comes from Liguria.
Riomaggiore also has a small quaint pebble beach – too tight for lying around but provides an excellent chance to cool down in between sightseeing.
Manarola is right next to Riomaggiore and almost appears as its miniature version with more prominent fishing docs. You can actually rent small private boats here as well. As far as swimming and sunbathing opportunities, only the large rocks surrounding the village are an option in Manarola.
Corniglia has a slightly different feel from the other of the villages, as it sits higher in the hills than the rest. The only way to reach it from the train station is by several flights of steps, which can particularly be a challenge in the hot summer months.
Once you reach the village, you are rewarded with some gorgeous views though. The church on the main square is picturesque, and you’ll often see painters on the split level square surrounding it.
Vernazza can be easily recognised from afar thanks to its characteristic yellow tower. Its port is larger than in the other villages and boasts a generous amount of restaurants, which are particularly nice to enjoy at sunset.
Vernazza also has a small secluded pebble beach area – you have to walk through a cave to get there. The cave may or may not be officially permitted to visit due to landslide, so do this at your own risk.
Monterosso al Mare is split into two parts divided by a tunnel in the rocks: the historical old town with a fishing beach, and a significantly less charming hotel area surrounded by the only proper (and sandy) beach in Cinque Terre. There are parasols and loungers available for hire, but the north end of the village offers a free beach – with a large statue of a man carved into the rocks as a bonus.
Monterosso is considerably flatter than the remaining villages and the old town makes for a nice stroll. Pop by Monterosso’s wine shop, they always offer free samples of the local lemon liquor, limoncino. According to the shop assistant, this is much sweeter (and nicer) than the southern limoncello – I’ll leave that to your judgement.
Cinque Terre can be reached by car (2-3 hours drive from Pisa or Florence), however once you get there the car won’t get you far in terms of travelling between the villages. There are parking spaces above the villages, but apart from Monterosso you can’t take your car to the village itself.
Travelling between villages is most convenient by train. There are several trains running every day and will take you between the places in a couple of minutes. Make sure to pay attention to what train you are getting on; the larger trains only stop in Riomaggiore and Monterosso.
Taking a boat tour from one village to another is a must, as it lets you admire the area from a whole new angle. Ideally you’d want to take the boat from Riomaggiore to Monterosso or vice versa to make sure you get a good view of all five places.
Cinque Terre is known for hiking trails. The easiest route would normally be Via dell‘ Amore, the way of love, which connects Riomaggiore and Manarola. Unfortunately this route is currently closed and under construction because of landslides.
The remaining trails are a bit more challenging, but certainly no Mount Everest. Make sure you have good hiking shoes and some water, and you should get between villages in a few hours. The hikes offer beautiful views of the villages along with vineyards surrounding them.
Staying in Cinque Terre
Monterosso makes a great base thanks to its flat terrain and convenient beach. It’s ideal for having a quick swim and then venturing out to explore the rest of the villages. There is an ample choice of hotels here. If you stay in the other villages, you might get a more scenic view, but keep in mind that you’ll need to climb up a steep hill every time you head out and return.
We stayed at La Sirene (www.sirenerooms.com), guest rooms owned by a lovely lady called Ermanna. She does not speak much English but is incredibly helpful and will share all local maps and timetables with you. Her sons own the fish restaurant and the pizzeria at the old town square in Monterosso, and you’ll get a discount in both places as an extra perk. The guest rooms have balconies with a view of the beach and are conveniently right across the street from a grocery store.
I would recommend at least 3 days in Cinque Terre, giving you half a day to explore each village and an extra half day to splash about in the sea. However, if you have more time to spend here, do it. It will allow you to sightsee at a more Italian pace and give you a chance to try out Cinque Terre’s famous hiking trails.