Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea along the eastern coast of Italy, Cinque Terre, meaning "5 lands," is a must-see destination. Also designated as a UNESCO heritage site, Cinque Terre is composed of five charming villages, each with its own unique style: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
In this blog, I'll take you on a tour of these villages, showcasing the highlights and providing you with some handy tips for your visit. Prepare to discover the beauty of the Italian Riviera in Cinque Terre!
We began our journey in the village of Vernazza, where we chose to stay. Despite being one of the smallest towns in Cinque Terre, it serves as an excellent starting point for hikes to the nearby villages. In the tranquil mornings and evenings, when the crowds of tourists have retreated, Vernazza transforms into a peaceful and serene haven.
Hiking enthusiasts will discover a trail on Vernazza's main road, offering two scenic routes: one leading down the coast to Corniglia and the other heading toward Monterosso al Mare. Each hike takes roughly an hour and a half to reach the neighboring villages from Vernazza.
Even if you're not up for the full journey, a climb to the village overlook is highly recommended. The view from there provides a stunning panorama of the town, making the effort worthwhile.
Cost: To embark on the hike, make sure to obtain the Cinque Terre Park Card, which can be acquired online or at trailheads.
Footwear and Hydration: As some parts of the trail are challenging, wear appropriate footwear (no sandals) and carry sufficient water. Refill your bottles at public water fountains along the way.
Timing: For a more enjoyable experience, consider hiking in the morning to evade crowds and the scorching midday heat.
A Sunset Dinner at Ristorante Belforte
One of our favorite meals in the Cinque Terre was at Belforte, largely owing to its breathtaking sunset view over the water. The restaurant features balconies that offer picturesque views of the harbor.
Our meal included delectable pasta dishes such as Squid Ink Tagliolini with Shrimp and Lobster Tagliatelle, but the true standout was the Tiramisu. It ranked among the best we had during our entire trip in Italy. Be sure to make a reservation to secure your spot for this memorable culinary experience!
During our visit, we opted for a charming AirBnB nestled in the heart of Vernazza's historic center, just a stone's throw away from Castle Doria, the main square, and the harbor. Our gracious host personally greeted us at the train station, simplifying the process of finding the accommodation, as it was tucked away amidst the labyrinthine of corridors and staircases in the village's old town.
Vernazza: Points of Interest:
Castle Doria: Situated atop the town, the castle dates back to the 13th century and offers panoramic views of Vernazza. Climb the steep stairs from the town center to reach it, and note that there's a small cash only entrance fee.
Main Street: Enjoy a stroll along Vernazza's main street leading to the harbor. The path is dotted with charming shops, cafes, and restaurants, including gelaterias and focaccarias, perfect for satisfying your snacking cravings.
Harbor: Down by the harbor, you can join a boat tour to further explore the Cinque Terre or enjoy a refreshing dip at the small beach and rocky cove.
Monterosso al Mare
If you are looking for a beach day, then Monterosso al Mare is where you will want to go. It is the only village in the Cinque Terre that boasts a proper beach.
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the Cinque Terre villages and is divided into two distinct parts, conveniently linked by a pedestrian tunnel: the old town and the new town. The old town features a charming maze of pastel buildings, housing quaint hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants. The new town is lined with numerous hotels and offers options for renting beach umbrellas, providing a modern contrast to the historical charm of the old town.
Relax and Swim with a Sun Bed Rental
Following our hike from Vernazza to Monterosso, we were eager for a refreshing swim! We decided to rent two sun beds with an umbrella for a relaxing break (at the time, it cost 30 euros for two sun beds or 15 euros for one).
Surprisingly, the water was pleasantly cool and comfortable, even though it was early October. Swimming in the vibrant blue waters and gazing at the stunning view of Monterosso was one of my favorite activities during our stay in Cinque Terre.
If hunger strikes, you can easily grab a focaccia sandwich or indulge in some gelato nearby from one of the beach cafes. That's exactly what we did, making for a delicious and hassle-free lunch.
Monterosso: Points of Interest:
Spiaggia Fegina: The primary beach adorned with its iconic orange umbrellas, creating a vibrant and captivating seaside atmosphere.
Il Gigante: Discover the intriguing statue of a mountain giant at the far west end of the beach. There's also a free public beach here to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Monumento a San Francesco d'Assisi: Take a stroll above the city to find this statue that gazes out over the sea, offering a serene and picturesque view.
Church of St. John the Baptist: Constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, admire its main facade adorned with alternating white and green marble stripes.
The following day, we embarked on a hike from Vernazza to Corniglia, which turned out to be the ideal way to reach the town. Unlike the other Cinque Terre villages, Corniglia isn't situated directly along the coastline, so visitors arriving by train need to climb several flights of stairs. Because it's less frequented by tourists compared to the other villages, Corniglia exudes a cozy and relaxed atmosphere.
We stopped by Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia and decided to be adventurous with our choices. We tried the basil gelato and miele di Corniglia, which is made with local honey. The basil gelato offered a distinctive herbal taste, interesting to sample, although it didn't entirely win me over. On the other hand, the honey ice cream was simply incredible! If you adore honey, you absolutely must give it a try, especially since it's crafted using the village's own honey!
Corniglia: Points of Interest:
Via Fieschi: Wander along Corniglia's main street, immersing yourself in the local charm and vibrant atmosphere.
Main Square: Pause for a relaxing coffee break in the heart of the village, enjoying the ambiance of the main square.
End-of-Town Viewpoint: Visit this scenic spot at the edge of the village for breathtaking views that stretch to the horizon, capturing the essence of Corniglia's coastal beauty.
Manarola hits the perfect balance for a Cinque Terre town with its colorful houses clinging to steep cliffs, panoramic views of the Mediterranean, and hillsides blanketed with vineyards. My visit included a pesto class and a swim in the sea, rounding out the experience perfectly.
No visit to Cinque Terre is complete without savoring its famous pesto. At Nessun Dorma, you can enroll in a two-and-a-half-hour pesto-making class. Here, you'll master the art of preparing pesto the traditional way, using a mortar and pestle.
After the class, enjoy a delectable lunch featuring burrata, Parma ham, melon, bruschetta, and focaccia. Plus, the restaurant's terrace offers one of the most breathtaking views in town. Perched on a cliff, it overlooks the charming town and its harbor below, making it a dining experience to remember.
After our pesto class, I was feeling incredibly hot. Luckily, Manarola had two fantastic swimming spots that I eagerly explored. The first one, located at the harbor just below Nessun Dorma, had plenty of sunning rocks and convenient ladders for access. The second spot, tucked around the point, felt a bit more challenging to reach, adding to its secluded and untouched charm. With a small concrete ramp and jetty for jumping, this hidden gem felt truly pristine. Without a doubt, Manarola offers the finest deep water swimming experience in the area.
Manarola: Points of Interest:
Two Central Streets: Wander through the heart of Manarola along Via Renato Birolli and Via Antonio Discovolo, experiencing the town's vibrant atmosphere and local charm.
Piazza Capellini: The central square showcasing a vibrant mosaic design depicting local fish in colorful enamel.
Chiesa di San Lorenzo: Visit the quaint medieval stone church, accompanied by its striking yellow clock tower, both of which overlook the village from a charming little piazza.
Upper Manarola: Take a leisurely stroll along Via A. Rollandi and enjoy a breathtaking view of the harbor at the end, offering a perfect vantage point to admire the coastal beauty of Manarola.
Riomaggiore, the second-largest among the five towns, is renowned for its youthful energy and vibrant nightlife, making it a lively destination, especially in the evenings.
Enjoy a Seafood Cone
One thing I had always wanted to try was the seafood cones I had seen all over Instagram. We opted for a "fritto misto," a combination of lightly battered seafood including anchovies, shrimp, octopus, and mussels from Tutti Fritti. Carrying our delicious treat down to the harbor, we dug in. It was a flavorful snack, although a bit tricky to eat!
Riomaggiore: Points of Interest:
Harbor: This charming marina, surrounded by delightful pastel houses and vibrant fishing boats, invites you to relax and take in the refreshing sea breeze.
Swimming: While Riomaggiore's beach may be small and rocky, it offers a tranquil atmosphere, tucked away beyond the bluff from the harbor and past the boat landing.
Castello di Riomaggiore: While often closed, this castle provides an excellent viewpoint overlooking the village below, offering glimpses of its picturesque charm.
Via Colombo: Take a leisurely stroll along the main street, lined with shops and restaurants.
Cinque Terre Tips
Navigating the Cinque Terre by Train:
Traveling between the picturesque towns of Cinque Terre is incredibly convenient thanks to the frequent and closely spaced trains. For example, the longest distance, from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, can be covered in just 15 minutes.
Cinque Terre Cards:
While single train rides between towns can be pricey at 5 euros for the short journey, consider the Cinque Terre Treno card for a more economical and hassle-free experience. This card not only saves you from last-minute ticket stress but also grants access to the hiking trails, enhancing your exploration.
For hiking enthusiasts exploring Cinque Terre, a trekking card is required, contributing to the park's preservation efforts. The card is available at €7.50 for a one-day pass or €14.50 for two days, ensuring your access to the scenic trails while supporting the park's maintenance.
More information on the cards can be found here.
Where to Stay:
The ideal choice depends on your preferences! I personally loved my stay in Vernazza because it provided easy access to the hiking trails I wanted to explore, along with peaceful evenings and mornings.
Alternatively, Monterosso is a great option due to its larger size, offering a variety of restaurants and hotels. However, keep in mind that the sunset views in Monterosso might not be as spectacular. Nevertheless, no matter which village you opt for, you can't make a wrong choice—they are all conveniently accessible by train.
Recommended Length of Stay:
A stay of 2-3 days, especially with 2 full days, offers the perfect timeframe to explore all 5 towns. To truly savor the Cinque Terre experience, it's recommended to visit the villages before and after the bustling tourist rush, ensuring a more authentic exploration.
When to Visit:
The prime months to explore Cinque Terre are May, June, September, and early October, offering delightful hiking weather and more affordable options compared to the peak season of July and August. Early October, in particular, stands out as a fantastic choice; the weather remains warm, and swimming remains a viable activity.
Despite my visit in October, I found Cinque Terre to be surprisingly crowded. Witnessing the crowds during that time, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be during the summer months. Given my experience, I strongly discourage planning a trip during the peak season.
It's also crucial to note that many restaurants and hotels close from November to mid-March, making the mid-winter months significantly quieter and less vibrant.
Thanks for reading!
- The Maine Chick