This once hidden gem is a collection of quaint, charming and colorful villages. A place where locals live and thrive and visitors come to find tranquility. Five colorful fishing villages of the Italian Riviera, make up Cinque Terre.
These “five lands” as it is literally translated, located directly on the Mediterranean (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare) are a welcoming change from the more crowded cities in Italy.
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Travelers are encouraged to slow down and marvel at the beauty these stunning lands have to offer. With no museum in sight, there is little to do but hike, wander, relax and enjoy the romantic ambiance of these cliff-hugging towns.
Each of the villages, with the exception of Corniglia, are built right up to the Mediteranean and all have functioning fishing harbors. Connecting the five villages is an elaborate system of hiking trails and trains. As well as being accessible by ferry, bus and boat.
Starting at the southern-most town, Riomaggiore, make your way north with a walk on the Via dell’ Amore “Pathway of Love” paved trail. The 1 km long lover’s lane wraps alongside the lush, green cliffs that overlook deep blue waters below and leads you to the town of Manarola.
Tourists and locals alike meander through the colorful villages. Spending their days taking in the delightful smells of fresh fish, pizza and locally unique pasta while enjoying the relaxing sounds of the crashing waves.
During the summer time the beaches of Monterosso al Mare are full of sunbathers basking in the sun and enjoying the warm temperatures. You can usually find me at the local gelato shop savoring a cold, delicious treat.
While Cinque Terre produces some of the best local olive oil and wine, they are also known for their Ligurian trofie al pesto. A classic dish in this region and one you should try for yourself. Trofie is a handmade pasta that is short, thin and twisted allowing the pesto to perfectly coat each piece always creating the perfect bite.
As the southernmost town of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore is the first village that you will enter upon arrival from the La Spezia train station. The narrow, winding path in the center of town leads directly to the sea. Stacking upon each another, the traditional stone houses all have colorful façades making them truly unique.
Down by the harbour, crowded with small fishing boats, you can climb up on the rocks that jut out from the sea to capture some stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and vineyards. This small fishing village is also the trail head of the Via dell’ Amore walking path.
Lined with cozy seafood restaurants and brightly colored houses that look as if they are tumbling down the hill, Manarola is my favorite of the five villages. The towns’ church, the San Lorenzo, dates back to 1338 and sits at the top of the town where it was once used to keep watch over the village from potential pirate raids.
The villages carrugi (narrow alleys) and steep staircases all lead to the tiny boat dock by the sea.
There is no real beach there, just rocks and pebbles. However, Manarola has the best deep-water diving in the area. For the perfect photo to sum up your trip to the Cinque Terre, head towards the harbor and follow the trail that leads towards Corniglia.
Reachable by either a hiking trail from the neighboring villages or train (be prepared to hike 377 steps up from the train station) Corniglia is well-known for its rich agricultural heritage.
Frequently listed as one of the most beautiful coastal villages in Italy, Vernazza was recently being rebuilt after the landslide in 2011 destroyed most of the town and harbor.
Now fully restored to its’ original beauty, Vernazza is bustling with visitors and locals. Leisurely stroll up and down the main street, wandering towards the open and inviting Piazza Marconi.
The Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, built into the wall in 1318, stands tall in the main Piazza overlooking the sea. On the opposite end, high on the cliffside, stands the Doria Castle. Climb to the top to get panoramic views of this tiny port town.
Monterosso Al Mare
With its’ long stretch of sandy beach, the northernmost town of Monterosso is heavily populated in the warmer months. Sun worshippers flock to this picturesque village to soak in the bright sun and relax in the clear blue waters.
It is the largest of the five coastal villages with a tunnel that connects the charming Old Town (Centro Storico) to the hip New Town (called Fagina). For a seaside walk, bypass the tunnel bridge and head towards the trail near the water. This path will wrap around and lead you towards the Old Town.
Make sure to spot the old bunker and 16th century lookout tower along the way. The Old Town boasts old world charm characterized by its small, cobblestone streets and colorful houses. The web of typical medieval alleyways all converge in the Piazza Garibaldi and lead to another sandy beach.
How to Get There
Take the train from your location to either La Spezia Centrale or Levanto. You can heck daily train times at Trenitalia.. Once you arrive at the La Spezia or Levanto train station, purchase the Cinque Terre card (which allows access to the hiking trails, trains and buses).
From here you may begin your journey to the first of the five villages. Currently the Cinque Terre Card costs €16 per person for a day pass. You can purchase the ticket at any of the 5 lands. The price increases for additional days.
Where to Stay
- You can stay in an apartment, book through ArbaSpáa, that is quietly nestled in Manarola near the harbor. With gorgeous views of the sea and vineyards from the front patio, this apartment is perfectly cozy for three people.
It has a kitchen where you can make your own pesto pasta. Many of the grocery shops with have fresh pesto to purchase! If you arrive by car, they also offer a locked parking garage for an additional fee.
- You can also stay just outside of Cinque Terre for a less expensive rate. Stay in Levanto or La Spezia. Levanto is a great option because it’s only one short train stop from Monterosso. We chose the highly reviewed A Durmí. Situated in an ideal location, A Durmí is the perfect starting point to hike from Levanto to Monterosso Al Mare. It is also a 5 minute walk to the train station.
This hotel has apartment-style rooms, spacious enough for three people. It also includes a fully equipped kitchen. Each morning they offer an Italian style continental breakfast with your choice of coffee. Additionally, an underground parking space is available for an extra fee.
Where to Eat
- Try the mouth-watering Il Porticciolo. This family run restaurant offers beautiful views of Manarola’s main street. While also serving up delicious local fare at an affordable price. I highly recommend you try trofie al pesto while in the Liguria region.
- For a great view with your dinner try the outside seating at Ristorante Marina Piccola. The Trofie and wine are typical of the region and the seafood is great.
- For lunch, try La Balena Blu in Monterosso Al Mare’s old town near the church. Be sure to order the pesto bruschetta and a refreshing cold beer.
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