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Cinque Terre - How to Make the Most Out of these Beautiful Coastal Villages


When we think of Italy, what first comes to our minds are the iconic and romantic cities of Rome, Florence or Venice... but Italy has so much more to offer than these cities. The country is indeed filled with little heavenly places that seem to come from another world! The Cinque Terre (which literally translates as "Five Lands") may be considered as one of these heavenly places. In this post, we compiled the general information you need to know to plan the perfect trip to this amazing part of Italy.





THE FIVE VILLAGES

Located between Genoa and Pisa in the region of Liguria (North of Italy) lies the Cinque Terre: five amazing and colorful little villages squeezed between sea and mountains. This very appealing part of the Italian Riviera is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, arousing the curiosity of tourists from all over the world which led to the fame of these villages today.

 

The five villages are nestled in a series of coves between steep cliffs, and it is their rugged beauty and isolation that make them the highlight of the coast. To connect the villages, a series of hiking trails were created to facilitate their access to the inhabitants. These hiking trails are still today a great way to hop from one village to another and are far more convenient than using a car.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE

The Cinque Terre's Resort Town. It is the most northern village of the Cinque Terre and therefore is the first city you reach by train if you depart from Levanto. Monterosso may be considered as the odd one out when comparing it to the four other villages. However, this does not mean that it is less charming! The thing with Monterosso is that it is the largest of the five villages (and also the most developed) and has a different structure than the other towns: it has a distinct "old town" (called Borgo Antico) and "new town" (called Fegina) and has the longest stretch of sand. For these reasons, the town feels less intimate and more developed than the other ones. We however feel like by no means Monterosso should be dismissed when visiting the Cinque Terre! It is the perfect spot for people wanting to sunbath by the beach and to enjoy a stroll in the charming old town.


 | For more information about Monterosso, check our post here |



View of Monterosso al Mare
View of Monterosso al Mare

VERNAZZA

The Jewel of the Cinque Terre. It is undeniably the gem of the Cinque Terre, but also unfortunately one of the most visited village. Vernazza is often considered as the loveliest of the five villages by many because it has the perfect combination of all villages. It indeed has a small sand beach, a vibrant old town and incredible viewpoints. The village is crowned with the ruins of a castle and has a colorful marina. These are the perfect ingredients to make you feel as if you were on a movie set of an Italian movie. Vernazza is the perfect spot for people who would like to get lost in a charming little town while being able to find a spot for a quick swim.


 | For more information about Vernazza, check our post here |


View of Vernazza
View of Vernazza

CORNIGLIA

The Laid-Back Town of the Cinque TerreCorniglia is a quiet village when compared to its buzzing sisters. Located perched on the top of a rock hill with no direct access to the sea and therefore no swimming point, fewer tourists choose to visit this village. It is the smallest  village of the Cinque Terre. However, its isolated location has allowed Corniglia to remain the most preserved village of all five. It is the perfect spot for people who would like to discover an authentic village while eating gelatos and being able to enjoy the nice views of the surroundings!


 | For more information about Corniglia, check our post here |


View of Corniglia
View of Corniglia

MANAROLA

The Iconic Town of the Cinque Terre. Manarola is most likely the village you have in mind when talking about the Cinque Terre. With Vernazza, it is often considered as the cutest village of the five. Beautiful and colorful marina, it hits the perfect balance between all the villages, making it just “the right” combination of the Cinque Terre qualities. It is home to a lively old town, a cute little marina and incredible viewpoints. Manarola is the perfect spot for people who would like to stroll around cute and colorful alleys which take you sometimes to breathtaking views of the surrounding cliffs and mountains while also being able to find a spot for a quick dip.


 For more information about Manarola, check our post here |


View of Manarola
View of Manarola

RIOMAGGIORE

The More Real Village of the Cinque TerreRiomaggiore is the most ordinary of the five villages. It is the first city you get when departing from La Spezia and, when compared to its neighbors, has a more real and laid-back vibe. However, we still think it should not be dismissed when visiting the area. You will for sure enjoy its colorful old town, its tiny marina and its hidden beach! Make sure to go to the wave breaker rocks to enjoy the most iconic view of the village (preferably at sunset!). Riomaggiore is the perfect spot for people who would like to unveil a colorful town as you go up its mains street while also being able to find a spot for a swim.


 For more information about Riomaggiore, check our post here  |


View of Riomaggiore
View of Riomaggiore

TRAVEL TIPS

WHEN SHOULD YOU VISIT?

Although isolated in the landscape, the good train system of the region has allowed the Cinque Terre to remain on the map for tourists. It is therefore no surprise that the area is usually very crowded with tourists during the summer months, this is why we strongly recommend visiting during the off-season (May/June and September/October). Besides, in order to avoid the crowds, we advise you to get up early and stay up late! It is important to know that most travelers coming to the villages are day-trippers making the streets of the tiny villages packed (from about 10 a.m. to 16 p.m.). Also try to avoid visiting on weekends!

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY?

This question is not an easy one... We would say the longer, the better (though the crowds might get on your nerves)! According to us, the ideal stay in the Cinque Terre is between two to three full days. Depending on the length of your stay and your pace, you will have a very different experience. This will vary considerably whether you decide to visit all five villages in one day (hopping on and off the train) or choose to visit only one or two villages per day (hiking from one village to the other and allowing yourself some time to get lost in the small back alleys and take a dip).

WHERE SHOULD YOU STAY?

For a better experience, we highly recommend you to stay in one of the villages of the Cinque Terre. Most tourists choose to stay in La Spezia (the larger city nearby) and to reach the villages by train, but it is not ideal! As said above, the experience you will get from the Cinque Terre will be totally different and you'll miss a big part of it. It is priceless to stroll around the villages once the night has fallen, it gives you a different perspective, a less crowded and agitated version of the Cinque TerreAs for us, we decided to stay in Riomaggiore, the most southern point of the Cinque Terre. The village proved to be an ideal base, offering excellent accommodation options and plenty of places to eat. We also think that Vernazza and Monterosso can both be very good bases for a stay in the area.

The iconic view of Manarola
The iconic view of Manarola
Beautiful beach in Monterosso
Beautiful beach in Monterosso

HOW TO GET FROM ONE VILLAGE TO THE OTHER?

As previously mentioned, the villages are really well connected, either it is by train, by boat or by walk:

  • By train: a train line connects the five villages: 16 EUR per day per person for unlimited rides (more information here).
  • By walk: many trails link the five villages of the Cinque Terre7.50 EUR per day per person (more information here).
  • By boat: the price for unlimited boat trips costs 27 EUR per day per person (more information here).
  • By car: well, we strongly recommend not to visit the area by car due to the narrow roads and the fact that cars are not allowed in the villages, except for residents. However, please note that all villages have at least one car park but prices are high and parking spots are limited.
The Cinque Terre Train Card is the card you need! This card costs 16 EUR per day per person and includes unlimited train rides AND access to all the hiking trails (more information here).

 

To sum up, we think the best way to enjoy the Cinque Terre is to hop from one village to the other by boat as it allows you to see the villages from a different perspective, however, it can sometimes be slow. Trains on the contrary are the fastest way but are usually very crowded and do not provide with any view of the villages. Also, we highly recommend you to at least hike from one village to another as the hiking trails offer wonderful views.

The iconic view of Vernazza
The iconic view of Vernazza

RECOMMENDED ITINERARIES

Keeping in mind all the above information, please find below three different itineraries based on the number of days you will spend in the Cinque Terre. Of course, many alternative ways of discovering these villages are possible but we thought these sample itineraries might give you an idea to plan better.

ONE DAY IN THE CINQUE TERRE

If staying one day in the Cinque Terre, we would recommend to visit Monterosso, Vernazza and Manarola. Three villages seem to be a reasonable number for just a day, you'll be able to enjoy them at your own pace instead of rushing from one place to another.

 

Tour: Spend the morning in Monterosso visiting the old town and then sunbathing on a nice sandy beach. Then, take the train to Vernazza for lunch and spend some time strolling in the nice cute little alleys of the old town. Finally, take the boat around the middle of the afternoon to Manarola to walk in the vineyards and take a swim in the marina before watching the amazing sunset from the often crowded Manarola scenic viewpoint.

Monterosso - The only long sandy beach in Cinque Terre
Monterosso - The only long sandy beach in Cinque Terre

TWO DAYS IN THE CINQUE TERRE

If staying two days in the Cinque Terre, we would recommend to visit Monterosso, Manarola, Corniglia & Vernazza. Indeed, four villages seem to be a good balance, this sample itinerary will allow you to get a glimpse of what the Cinque Terre look like.

 

Day 1: Spend the morning in Monterosso visiting the old town and then sunbathing on a nice sandy beach. Then, take the train to Manarola around the middle of the afternoon, spend some time walking in the vineyards and take a swim in the marina before watching the wonderful sunset.

 

Day 2: Start visiting Corniglia and stroll in its cute little alleys, enjoy some gelato before taking the hiking trail towards Vernazza around midday. In Vernazza, enjoy a nice swim before exploring the village and enjoying the sunset from the hill of the castle.


THREE DAYS IN THE CINQUE TERRE

If staying three days in the Cinque Terre, we would recommend to visit Monterosso, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Riomaggiore. All of the villages! Indeed, three days will give you plenty of time to enjoy fully the villages. For the first two days, just read the sample itinerary we suggested in the section above.

 

Day 3: Spend the first part of the day in Riomaggiore visiting this tiny village before going sunbathing in the marina or by the beach. This last day is also a great opportunity for you to do more hikes or to go one last time to your favorite village, for us, it was to Vernazza.


HIKING THE BLUE TRAIL

GENERAL INFORMATION

As previously mentioned, the five villages of the Cinque Terre are connected by hiking trails (marked with red and white paint), also known as the "Blue Trail" (Sentierro Azzurro), which have been used for centuries. In order to have access to the hiking trails, you need to buy the Cinque Terre Trekking Card: 7.50 EUR per day per person (more information here). Please note that if you bought the Cinque Terre Train Card, you do not need to purchase the Trekking Card.

THE MAIN COASTAL TRAIL (RIOMAGGIORE - MONTEROSSO)

The main trail links the northernmost village of Monterosso to the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. In total, it would take around 4 to 5 hours to walk from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. Note that the hikes can be done in either direction but that some of them are easier when done in a certain direction, this is why we highly recommend to get local advice before you start hiking.


The most scenic and rewarding stretch of the trail is considered to be the section from Corniglia to Vernazza which offers amazing views. We did that stretch and we must say we absolutely loved it (although we felt exhausted and were delighted to be able to take a dip in Vernazza as a reward!). More detailed information can be found in each of the posts dedicated to the five villages.

Rafael hiking
Rafael hiking
Beautiful views to enjoy while hiking
Beautiful views to enjoy while hiking


DETAILS OF THE TRIP

GETTING THERE

The five villages of the Cinque Terre may be easily reached from larger cities of the Italian Riviera, and more generally from all the major cities of Italy. Below are some information on how to reach the area:

  • By plane: the nearest airports to the Cinque Terre are located in Genoa and Pisa. It is also possible to fly to bigger cities such as Florence and Milan, however these are not the best options. Pisa is however the closest International Airport:
    • By PisaMover: tickets to reach Pisa Train Station costs 2.70 EUR. This train runs every 5/8 minutes and takes around 5 minutes to reach the city.
  • By train:
    • From Pisa: a stop in La Spezia is necessary, the trip from Pisa to La Spezia takes around one hour and costs 10 EUR.
    • From La Spezia: direct train line to the Cinque Terre; the trip to Riomaggiore lasts only 7 minutes and costs 2 EUR.
    • From Genoa: direct train line to Monterosso; the trip lasts around one hour and costs around 7 EUR.
  • By car: the Cinque Terre may also be reached by car, but keep in mind that cars are not allowed in the villages. We therefore think that it is not the best option to reach these remote villages by car. Another disadvantage for travelers coming by car is the high price and limited numbers of parking spots available. Below are some information for the adventurous travelers who decide to come to the Cinque Terre by car:
    • From Pisa: 114 km, approx. 1 hour and 30 minutes.
    • From Genoa: 94 km, approx. 1 hour and 40 minutes.
    • From La Spezia: 34 km, approx. 45 minutes.
    • From Sestri Levante: 45 km, approx. 55 minutes.

STAYING THERE

As we mentioned in this post, we highly recommend to stay in one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre to have the full experience. We decided to stay in Riomaggiore, the southernmost point of the Cinque Terre. The village proved to be an ideal base, offering excellent accommodation options and plenty of places to eat. We stayed at L'Ancora in Riomaggiore (80-150 EUR per night during the high season). The room was very clean. The location is ideal, it is located only 5 minutes away from the marina of Riomaggiore and the main attractions. We also think that Vernazza and Monterosso can be very good bases for a stay in the area. 

EATING THERE

Here is a list of the places we liked during our stay in the Cinque Terre (from the southernmost village to the northernmost one):

  • Tutti Fritti (Riomaggiore): delicious seafood cones, it is one of the most iconic snack you can have in the Cinque Terre. Local residents love this type of snacks.
  • Alberto Gelateria (Corniglia): probably the best homemade ice-creams you can find in the five village. We advise you to try the "Miele di Corniglia" flavor made from local honey!
  • Gelateria Vernazza (Vernazza): another place with delicious homemade ice-creams. Try their original flavors such as rice, ricotta and fig. You won't be disappointed!
  • Trattoria da Sandro (Vernazza): in this restaurant, you can try the Trofie al Pesto con basilico di Prà (delicious pasta with homemade pesto of the region).
  • Gastronomia San Martino (Monterosso): fresh food with a menu that changes daily, this restaurant seems to be very popular amongst locals for takeaway food and offers excellent and affordable homemade dishes from the region.
  • Pasticceria Bar Laura (Monterosso): we went there for dessert as we read that they have a delicious pastry specialty: the Monterossina, a delicious chocolate pie.

*All prices are referred to August 2018


And now it's your turn to let us know about what you think about the Cinque Terre. Did you also fell in love with these beautiful coastal villages? What other piece of advice would you give?


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