I am sitting on the veranda of a trellised marigold villa, sipping a glass of Italian wine. I feel warm and satiated from the Neapolitan pizza and I’ve just shared with friends, and am looking forward to the pistachio gelato on the way. My legs have that well-worked feeling, from a beautiful day hiking the trails around town. The sun has just hit that golden hour, where the sea has gone afire with the million dancing lights of a nearing sunset reflecting off the water; and the colorful pastels of the local architecture turn a few shades warmer. I can hear the sounds of laughter and banter from the nearby tables. You know how the Italian language has a sort of dance to it, it goes up and down and is wrought with passion and fire. The only other sound is of the waves crashing against the jagged rocks and seawalls that protect this little sanctuary from harm. Life is good.
The Cinque Terre is a unique and beautiful section of rugged Italian coastline featuring five villages, all ensconced in a National Park. The “five lands” (Cinque Terre in English) from North to South are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore; each with their own charm and personality. Even though these villages are within a stone’s throw of one another, the rocky terrain has historically left each town isolated. That is, until the relatively recent installation of a railway at the turn of the 19th century. Because of this, even though they all share a climate and a lifestyle in concert with the Ligurian sea, the “five lands” all have distinct character and each of them deserves a good look when exploring this region.
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Where to Stay
With so many charming little places to drop your bags, you might be scratching your head on just where to make your home base, as you navigate this dramatic stretch of Italian coastline. Look no further, you’ve found it here.
Nestled into the provincial marina of Riomaggiore, this sweet spot has a fourth-floor private terrace with sweeping views of the sea for those famous Mediterranean sunsets. With fully functional WiFi and amenities, it actually includes a humble breakfast (coffee, toast, and jam), as well as (and I thought this was a nice touch) an aperitif with a glass of sparkling white wine and snacks upon arrival. It accommodates up to four people, and with its central location and easy price tag, this place makes all the sense in the world for your stay in Cinque Terre.
Contact: Silvia (Riomaggiore)
How to get around
There are basically three ways to get around Cinque Terre: by train, by foot, or by boat. And while you can get there by car, it is not recommended. Monterosso is easiest to reach by car and has the cheapest parking. But because the Cinque Terre is a National Park, vehicular transport is discouraged and prohibited in a lot of areas.
The train runs roughly twice per hour and is a convenient option for getting around. It cuts through tunnels along the coast so it not much of a sight-seeing ride as it is an efficient means of transportation. For the best deal, purchase the Cinque Terre Train Card (you can do so at any Cinque Terre station or online) which includes unlimited train rides for the day, a hiking pass to access all trails, use of local ecological buses and even access to WiFi at local hotspots.
There is a 12 kilometer (7.5 mile) walking trail that connects the five villages on a coastal track along with many other beautiful hiking options throughout the five cities. You must purchase the Cinque Terre Trekking Card to access the trails (which is available at the tourist info centers, train stations, each village trailhead and online). It costs 5 to 8 Euros per day. Just keep in mind that the trails are weather conditional, so check with the official website to make sure that the trails are open.
*NOTE* As of the publishing of this article, many of the trails are closed for repairs with the exception of Vernazza to Monterosso.
The ferries run less frequently but if you can perfect your timing, the view from the water is spectacular and totally worth it.
Pro Tip: If you are only in Cinque Terre for a day, or your time is short, opt to stay in Riomaggiore and take the boat up to Monterosso so you can see all five cities from the water. Then take the local Cinque Terre train back, stopping at each of the other three cities as you make your way home.
The Five Lands, and What to Do in Each
Monterosso: The Beach
Monterosso boasts the biggest beach of the five and is the usual first stop on a visit to the Cinque Terre. It is the only village that is really accessible by car and is also the flattest in terms of hills and stairs. It is fully equipped with chairs and umbrellas on its beaches, as well as a few resorts where one can rent paddle-boards, kayaks, and boats for hire. It is the largest of the towns and has the most options and covers the largest area, and logically has the most visitors on any given day.
The city is divided into two sections: Old Town and New Town. New Town is where you will step off the train and where the resorts, kayaking, and paddle boarding are. The high street is right on the waterfront with a plethora of shops and restaurants which make this the best place to sit back and do some good people watching. Enoteca International Monterosso and Gelateria La Scoglieria are but a few great choices for food options. It is from the beach in New Town that you can see all the other five lands. An old war-torn statue of Poseidon called “Il Gigante” waits to greet you there.
Old Town connects to New Town via a pedestrian tunnel. Old Town is more characteristic of the Cinque Terre style that you will become familiar with as you continue to explore the coastline. Old Town is dotted with its signature lemon trees, as well as the Church di San Giovanni Battista located in Piazza Don Giovanni. The yellows and black and white stripes of the church make it a unique and memorable place to visit.
+39 339 681 2265
Via Fegina, 20, 19016 Monterosso al Mare SP, Italy
+39 393 904 5749
Molo dei Pescatori, 19016 Monterosso al Mare SP, Italy
+39 333 687 9249
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 34, 19016 Monterosso al Mare SP, Italy
Via Roma, 63, 19016 Monterosso al Mare SP, Italy
+39 0187 817278
Vernazza: The Beautiful
Vernazza has always been thought of as the most beautiful and picturesque of the five villages. With her colorful Piazza that opens up right to the water, her cozy protected beach, and a centralized high street complete with castle, she buzzes with the humdrum of happy tourists. Even if you are not much of a “hiker”, be sure to make the schlep up to the iconic vista point above Vernazza. It is not uncommon to see groups moving through the village taking pictures and stocking up ammo for their social media accounts. The harbor-side restaurant, Bar Baia Saracena Pizzeria will get the job done with a fine glass of Sciacchetra, a well-loved local dessert wine.
Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 16, 19018 Vernazza SP, Italy
+39 0187 812113
Corniglia: The Hidden Gem
Corniglia is the smallest and least visited of the five villages, only because she is the hardest to get to. Because she is so unreachable, she might be considered the hidden gem of the region. From the train station, you must climb the “scalinata lardarina”, 382 steps of 33 flights of stairs that one must conquer to get to the quietest of the five villages. Because Corniglia has no water access, and because it is such hard work to get to her, she is often overlooked or skipped when making stops on the Cinque Terre. But those who make the extra effort reap the reward. Corniglia touts 20 or so restaurants with regional food and wine, as well as a nude beach (also quite a lot of steps to get to), but if you are seeking peace and quiet, then this is your spot. Corniglia is earned, and worth the effort.
Via Fieschi, 215, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy
via, Via Fieschi, 115, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy
+39 333 844 5842
Manarola: The Handsome
If Vernazza is the most beautiful village of the Cinque Terre, Manarola might very well its rugged, handsome counterpart. The colored villas seem impossibly fastened to an impressive rock edifice that juts out into the water and it has a natural swimming hole from the rock formations at its waterfront. There is a hike up to a cemetery that overlooks the town and adjacent vineyards. And although he is a bit quieter than his sister Vernazza, Manarola also has the famous the Via Dell’amore (“The Way of Love”) which is a stroller friendly pathway that connects Manarola to Riomaggiore.
Via A. Rollandi, 122, 19017 Manarola SP, Italy
+39 0187 920628
Riomaggiore: The Practical
Riomaggiore is the second largest of the villages and boasts the largest harbor in the Cinque Terre. It is also where you can find the headquarters for the National Park. This is also where you will find a hive of international backpackers fresh from their hostels in La Spezia. Riomaggiore offers a different sort of people watching from the resorts of Monterosso.
A great perch to watch them from is Fuori Rotta: a local favorite restaurant serving specialties of the region and tucked up and away from the tourists. The village itself is localized to a main single street, bottoming at the harbor and topped with a castle. The landscape is hilly, has a more modern feel, and offers a vibrant nightlife to the travelers who desire it.
Pro tip: Follow the stairs/trail past Bar La Conchiglia to access this beautiful pebble beach.
Via Telemaco Signorini, 48, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
+39 0187 920838
Via San Giacomo, 149, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
+39 0187 920947
Via San Giacomo, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
+39 366 509 9026
Last tips for a successful sojourn to the Cinque Terre
Realize that the Cinque Terre is more of a relaxing getaway than a party destination. While there is nightlife here, that is not really the point. This is a place where you will find more hiking boots than stilettos. There are no swimming pools at the resorts, but there are swimming holes within the rocky outcrops. And if you are coming in July and August, you must make sure to call ahead to make reservations at the restaurants.
Remember, the most beautiful thing about this part of the world is not the water, nor the rocks, nor the architecture, but the people who live here. Be sure to wear a smile, because it will open the doors to a beautiful lifestyle that has been happening in Italy for the past hundreds of years.