Cinque Terre: Why you should visit this amazing part of Italy
“The Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colourful houses and ancient vineyards cling to steep traces, fishing boats bob in harbours and trattorias turn out seafood specialities along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto”.
Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is up there with one of the top 3 Italian holidays we’ve had. The word “Cinque” means five in Italian and “Terre” is the plural form of “Terra” which is land or earth.. so Cinque Terre is a direct translation for Five Lands.
The reason behind this name is because there are five towns or villages that make up this area. Now, if you’re like me you’re probably pronouncing Cinque Terre completely incorrect… Here is a brief lesson to help…
In Italian, a C followed by either an I or E has a ‘ch’ sound. Cinque is therefore pronounced CHEENkweh. Terre is easy, since the E sounds the same both before and after the R’s – it is pronounced TEHRreh… don’t forget to roll your R’s if you can!! Sounds fairly straight forward??
If you’re looking for an Italian beach holiday, you may as well stop reading here as there is only one village that has an actual beach. Cinque Terre won’t give you that amazing Italian beach you’re looking for.. instead, you might want to visit Sardinia instead. However, if you’re looking to see spectacular rugged coastline, postcard perfect colourful villages, coastal walks and hikes then keep reading!
How long do you need in Cinque Terre?
I would suggest at a minimum, 3 full days. That would give you time to explore each of the villages without feeling rushed and even get in a nice hike as well. If you are stuck for time, you could see everything you needed in 2 days, but you may need to look at the train options between some villages rather than the walking between them.
3 day itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Cinque Terre, probably towards the middle of the afternoon depending on train times. Explore your town and find somewhere nice to have a local meal. For us, this was Manarola.
Day 2: Try a hike between Manarola and Riomaggiore (with a map – see below!!). It will fill the most part of your second day. You can then spend the afternoon exploring Riomaggiore.
Day 3: Start your incredible coastal walk from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza, and then have some lunch in Vernazza. Then, take a train to Corniglia and spend the afternoon exploring that village.
2 day itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Cinque Terre as early as you can, but again, this will most likely be mid afternoon. Explore your town in the afternoon and take a train to Riomaggiore to see that village and perhaps have some dinner there before taking the train back to your home village.
Day 2: Rise early and take the train to Monterosso al Mare which is where you will start the coastal walk to Vernazza. When you arrive in Vernazza, have a bite to eat before continuing via train to Corniglia to see what that village has to offer.
Getting to Cinque Terre
You can get to Cinque Terra from Pisa, Florence or Genoa. Once you have arrived at the airport, you then need to take a train to La Spezia, you then change trains and jump on the train that runs through the 5 villages. If you’re planning on visiting in peak time, I would highly suggest pre-booking your train tickets online beforehand so you are guaranteed to get on the train. In peak times, they ask to see your ticket with your allocated seat so remember to keep this in mind if you’re needing to get to the airport!
It is worth noting that you can’t actually drive a car in these villages (with the exception for part of Monterosso al Mare). So, the train is definitely the easiest way to get to and from the villages.
Deciding on which village to stay in
When I (well, let’s face it, Jenna) started looking at accommodation and where to stay, she came to a bit of a holt – which village? Why am I struggling to find hotels? Everything seems to be booked out? So, we had an initial struggle to work out what to do and where to stay. It really depends on what you’re after. Do you like to stay right in the centre of the tourist hustle and bustle? Or, do you like peace and quiet?
Vernazza – this is probably the most famous and most touristy village of them all. It is no doubt breathtaking (especially the view from the top of the mountain) but it is by far the busiest. You have plenty of restaurant choices and more accommodation choice, but it is pretty busy.
Manarola – We stayed in this village. It is a lovely village, with a few lovely restaurants to choose from. It isn’t too busy so you can stay relaxed and chilled out if you like.
Riomaggiore – This is also a fairly small village, but it has a nice range of restaurants to choose from in the main street which leads down to the water. If we were to go back, I would definitely consider staying in this village.
Corniglia – This particular village is quite big, but it isn’t set down on the water like the others. Instead, there is quite a trek up some stairs to get to the village. The views are incredible, but depending on wha you’re after, the stairs are often the last thing you feel like doing to get back to the hotel!
Monterosso al Mare – This village has quite a long beach and swimming area with chairs and umbrellas. If that’s what you’re looking at doing for a couple of days then I would suggest staying here. However, there is so much more to Cinque Terre than that one beach. Monterosso is where you should start the incredible cliff coastal walk so you can always explore this city before starting your walk.
Getting around between the villages
Getting around between the villages is pretty simple. You can either take the coastal walks (but keep in mind that parts of the year, some of the walks are closed) or you can take the train between each of the villages, which is only a couple of minutes between each stop. The other option, if you’re up for it is hiking between the villages. As you can see from the below picture, the train offers incredible views of the ocean as you jump between each of the villages!
The coastal road between Manarola and Riomaggiore was closed when we were there. So, instead of taking the train we decided to take a 45 minute hike (according to the tourist information centre) and head to Riomaggiore, according to the sign, only 1km. Well, let’s just say that 45 minutes turned in to 3 hours!
We didn’t take a map, because who wants to pay a few euros for one? We have google maps after all! So, off we go to start our hike. It was pretty well signed for the most part and like I said, was a 45 minute hike to get to Riomaggiore. Jenna was wearing sandals, but that should be fine she said, it’s only 45 minutes! Little did she know we would get a little lost…
The picture below shows the village of Manarola, which is where we started, and we hiked all the way up the mountain!
The signs started to get confusing and it felt like we were weaving up and around the mountains but not actually getting close to the village. We passed a few people along the way, each were going to the other village… so they were no help for us.
Every now and then, we stopped along the way to check out Google maps, but as you can imagine the walking trails weren’t all marked up. At this point, the guide from the tourist information centre seemed like a good idea – a little too late for that now!
We kept seeing these signs (like the one below) but they stopped saying Riomaggiore… hmmm I am sure we’re still on the right track!
So, we continue walking.. and what do you know.. It starts raining! Of course it does. But, a bit of rain won’t hurt us so keep on walking. Then, we get to what appeared to be a dead end. There was no way we were walking back the way we just came.. so again.. we turned to google maps. We saw what seemed to be a walkway just a bit up the hill, though what looked to be private property. But we were desperate.. so off we went. We finally got to another walkway and continued our walk… in the rain…
After about 2.5 hours we could see the church we intended on visiting 2 house earlier. We knew were were nearly there! When we finally made it, it all seemed worth while. The view was incredible.
We then started the hike down to the village, which was a further 30 minutes.
Downhill with a slippery surface isn’t that easy to walk on, especially for Jenna who was wearing her sandals. But, we made it down to the village, injury free. It was a really fun experience, although at times we didn’t feel it was too fun!
The best part of finishing in the gorgeous village of Riomaggiore is that there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from!
It seemed so well deserved after buying so many calories!
The view was certainly worth it!
I would suggest hiking, but definitely buy a map from the information centre so you can work out where you need to go!
The coastal walks in Italy are like no other country and Cinque Terre is no exception. After quite a bit of research, Jenna had worked out that you need to start the coastal walk at Monterosso al Mare and walk through to Vernazza for the best experience.
Now, if you’re planning on doing this in summer, I would highly suggest starting your walk as early in the morning as you can. The initial 1/4 of the walk is up fairly steep stairs with minimal rest spots.
The paths at times can be quite narrow! There are railings… sort of so you’re pretty safe! We were just lucky the path was fairly quiet and everyone seemed to be going the same way.
When you get to the top, the view is amazing and the steps are totally worth it. Make sure you carry some water with you!
You continue the walk around the coast line and you eventually reach the lookout over Vernazza. It is THE photo you see when you google image Cinque Terre. It is absolutely breathtaking.
Here is a quick 3 minute video of our walk from Monterosso to Vernazza!
The walk down is fairly easy, we had some buskers along the way which was a nice touch. When you get to Vernazza, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from or grab some gelato, but not before walking through some pretty cool Italian laneways in the village!
That gelato I mentioned – absolutely delicious!!!
Now, it is worth noting that you do have to pay to enter the national park, but it isn’t too expensive and it is worth every penny. You’re best to buy a Cinque Terre Card. It includes access to all parks paths and facilities as well as transport amongst other things. You can read more here for an up to date price list etc.
Where to eat
On a whole, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the food in Cinque Terre, particularly the fact that they advertise some of their foods are frozen (such as pizza and some seafood). I would have expected it to be super fresh!! In saying that, there were a couple of stand out restaurants in our opinion.
Marina Piccola – On our first night we arrived late and were starving! We met up with our friends who were already at the restaurant and decided to order Tagliatelle al Ragu Bolognese (as recommended by our friend who had eaten it earlier that evening!) It was absolutely delicious. We both ordered it so it came out in a large serving dish with two side plates – safe to say we demolished it!
Bar La Plancia – We stopped here for breakfast one morning. The service was friendly although it did take a while for the food to come out. They have a pretty varied menu which means you can find something substantial here, like bacon and eggs!
Aristide – The morning of our hike, we stopped at Aristide for some breakfast. The staff were very friendly and the food came out pretty quickly. We also ate dinner at this restaurant one evening. This was little more disappointment, mainly for Jenna who ordered the lasagne. It did seem to be a re-heated piece of lasagne and was only just warm. Was a shame as the rest of the food seemed to be pretty fresh.
As mentioned above, the Gelato in Vernazza was delicious and something I would definitely recommending to everyone. We also had some lunch at a pizzeria, but we didn’t make a note of the name! It was a little off the main road, on a corner and they had an outdoor area to sit at. The key factor for us was that the pizza’s were made in a woodfire oven – we were happy and they were delicious!
Vice Muin Pizzeria -We ate at only this one restaurant in Riomaggiore and the food wasn’t anything to get excited about. The key lesson we learnt here is that you need to read the menu and the fine print – the pizzas were cooked from frozen! I feel I could have made something tastier at home and it certainly didn’t feel like traditional Italian pizza. The plus side of this place was that the hot chocolate was pretty much pure chocolate… so much so that the spoon stood still…
Where to stay
After realising that Air B&B would be our best option, we started looking in to our options. Given there were 5 of us, we ideally needed 3 bedrooms. We came across this lovely Air B&B which advertised 3 bedrooms – perfect! We arrived to find out there were 2 bedrooms and a fold out lounge in the sitting room. This wasn’t ideal as the couple in the front bedroom, had to walk through the ‘third’ bedroom to get to the kitchen and bathroom! But, in Italy, it is classed as a bedroom as there are walls and a bed! Not to worry, we learnt our lesson there!
Our apartment was set high up in Manarola, which means plenty of stairs and walkways to climb before you get there!
However, it was all worth it for the view from the apartment.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury