In a country like Italy you need a vacation within a vacation…huh? – a break from museums, art galleries, historical building hopping, and tours of any kind.
Italian riviera is exactly one of those places—a place to chill, dine, and sip some wine! And for a hiking lover, there are spectacular coastal hiking trails right outside your door.
So, here’s your Cinque Terre travel guide.
Cinque Terre, meaning five lands, includes the five coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. Cinque Terre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the villages, and Monterosso is the northernmost.
Airports in Pisa and Genova are the closest. From there, either board a train or rent a car. It is possible to drive down, but many people prefer to leave their cars in La Spezia and take a local train to the villages.
If you plan to drive all the way to Riomaggiore, you can park your car at the only parking garage which is up the hill before entering the village. Monterosso al Mare also has parking facility.
All villages are connected by train. Ferries also run between the villages (except Corniglia).
We took the train (book in advance on Trenitalia) from Roma termini to La Spezia Centrale. It’s a four hour journey and most of it is along the coast. Once we reached La Spezia, we bought the local train tickets to Riomaggiore. (Read: How to spend four days in Rome)
Riomaggiore is the first stop after La Spezia and takes less than twenty minutes to reach.
Choosing which village to stay
This can be a confusing task; every village is beautiful and each is unique in its own right.
Monterosso is on flat-land, has a number of luxurious hotels, has a sandy beach and is the most populated. The other four villages are smaller compared to Monterosso and located on slopes/cliffs with colorful houses stacked like cards.
Compared to large suitcases a backpack is preferable, since you might have to stride through narrow and steep alleys/steps to reach your stay.
Vernazza is the most famous, picturesque, and touristy village. If you have seen a picture of Cinque terre, probably it is of Vernazza.
Corniglia is the smallest of the five villages and is the only village atop a cliff; hence, boats do not stop here.
All villages have various types of accommodations, even AirBnBs. I chose Riomaggiore (for no particular reason) as our base to get a taste of Italian riviera. We stayed in an AirBnB in Riomaggiore, off the main street Via Colombo.
Best way to enjoy Cinque Terre
- One day is just not enough! This is the place to slow down and unwind. Spend a few nights in one of the villages.
It is possible to take a train and hop off at a village, eat delicious food, and then hop on to the next village. But that wouldn’t give you enough time to wander around, marvel at the fabulous coastline, see the terraced vineyards, sample the delectable Ligurian cuisine, see local fishermen sell their fresh catch, watch villagers feed worms to the Mediterranean anchovies, and see the colorful houses brighten up during sunset.
- Take the boat from one village to the next.
Being on a boat while you enjoy the wind in your hair and see the ever-changing blue waters of the Mediterranean is altogether a different experience.
All villages except Corniglia has a marina. Ferries do not stop at Corniglia.
In Riomaggiore, just before the marina there is a counter to buy tickets, and the ferry time-table is stuck on the window.
We took the boat from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare.
- Hike the coastal trail.
Cinque Terre villages and all the trails are part of the Cinque Terre national park, the smallest national park in Italy. To hike the coastal trail (also called ‘the blue path’) you will need to buy a hiking pass (7.50 Euros per person as of Sept’15) or a Cinque Terre card (train+hiking day pass).
When we visited Cinque terre in the end of September 2015, trails between Riomaggiore to Manarola (via dell’Amore), and Manarola to Corniglia were closed due to landslides, which is a common occurrence here.
We took the ferry from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, bought the hiking pass from the trail-head at Monterosso and hiked the coastal trail to Vernazza. This is the longest trail in ‘the Blue path’ and is known to be the most difficult. Distance to Vernazza is approximately 2miles (3kms). This trail route is occasionally steep and narrow at places; you will definitely need proper shoes.
What to expect? Incomparable views of the coastline, terraced vineyards, olive trees and beautiful flowering plants, and that postcard picture of Vernazza.
For those of you who would like to hike to other coastal towns, trails connect Monterosso to Levanto, and Riomaggiore to Portovenere (check the trail conditions and take a map)
- Spend an evening by the beach
Yes, Riomaggiore has a beach! It is a small pebble beach located after the marina. On stormy, rough-sea days, the path to the beach is closed. It’s a good-enough beach to enjoy a quiet evening while sipping wine, listening to the soothing sound of the sea, watching the sun set in the Mediterranean.
- Cliff jumping, swimming, and snorkeling
These activities are possible only in summer; however, we did see a few people swimming in Monterosso.
- Eat your fill of fresh seafood
Seafood is the main part of Ligurian diet. Start with a cone of fried anchovies. This is a typical snack/street-food in Liguria. Pescato Cuninato in Riomaggiore was our go-to place.
Another snack to take on your hike or while lazying on the beach is freshly baked Focaccia, available plain as well as with different toppings.
Of course, dinner or lunch of seafood and spaghetti, seafood stuffed ravioli, fresh catch of the day, pasta with pesto, and other local speciality soups, with a glass of white wine, is something you will remember for a long time to come.
Riomaggiore only has a handful of restaurants. We enjoyed the food at Il Grottino and Dau Cila.
- What to take back home? Buy a jar or two of pesto from the small markets. Pesto is made right here with locally grown basil.
Limoncino, a popular digestive, made from locally grown lemons.
Which is your favorite village in Cinque terre?
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