Visiting Cinque Terre totally justifies the reputation of Italy and Mediterranean Sea as being listed in the world-top travel destinations. Situated on the north-west side of Italy, Cinque Terre (Five Lands) or Italian Riviera is composed of five beautiful and colorful medieval villages perched along the Ligurian Coast. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t wonder why … such places should definetely be preserved !
The five villages from South to North are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza και Monterosso al Mare. Each one has its own character and unique characteristics with diverse things to see and do. What is common is of course the stunning beauty, great food and relaxing ambience they offer.
Cars are not allowed (which is an added value), and the only way to travel between them is by the regional train (distance from one to the next is 3-5 minutes) or by hiking. There are several hinking paths, with the most famous one being the Via dell’ Amore (Path of Love), a scenic and romantic path that connects Riomaggiore with Manarola and offers splendid views to the coast. Unfortunately, when we visited the place, most of the paths were closed due to safety reasons. It is unknown when and whether it will re-open.
You will not find the typical must-visit attractions, such as great museums, churches, palaces, art-galleries. The place on its own is the main attraction. Simply strolling around, enjoying the breathtaking views, walking through the narrow streets squeezed by the colorful traditional houses, fish restaurants, cafes, tasting a local focaccia with the topping of your owr preference or a gelato, capturing with your camera the most iconic views, swimming are the main things you will enjoy doing.
If you stay for more than one day (recommended), you can pick the village you prefer to be your base and visit the other villages in a daily trip. We picked Riomaggiore because it is considered one of the most beautiful ones.
So, let’s explore the five villages from south to north.
Riomaggiore is the first village you will reach if you come from the south and one of the most famous and most-photographed villages. It is a small fisherman’s town, nestled between two clifs with a picturesque harbour where colorfour houses are like climbing on the rocky hills. Apart from enjoying the stunning scenery and trying to find the best view point to capture your best instagram photo, you can also swim (weather permitting) or have a lunch or dinner at one of the fish restaurants that serve fresh fish and seafood.
While the Marina is the most famous attraction of Riomaggiore, the main street Via Colombo surrounded by local shops, eateries and the typical houses is also very iconic and worth spending some time.
What you should not miss is grapping some fried seafood in a cone. Tutti Frutti is considered one of the most popular place for tasting the fried seafood. You will easily realise it from the crowds around it !
Following the signs to Via Dell’ Amore, you will be excited but unfortunately the path is closed … You can get an idea though of the magnificent path.
And what I should not forget to mention is that according to the tradition, Riomaggiore was first founded by a group of Greek refugees. It doesn’t surprise me ! We know where to find and settle at the best places …
Heading north from Riomaggiore and in just 3 minutes you will reach Manarola, which also has a harbour and a main street packed with shops and restaurants. This is the village where the most typical photo of Cinque Terre is taken from and I don’t wonder why. It is like it was made for that reason, to be photographed and become the most iconic symbol of the region. Coloroful houses are built on a rocky outcrop synthesising a splendid scenery.
One of the best viewpoints is the cafe-restaurant Nessun Dorma, where you can also enjoy a bite to eat combined with local wine, called Sciacchetrà. The only downside is the long waiting queue, but at least you will have amazing views while waiting.
Other place of interest is the Church of San Lorezo which dates back to the 14th century.
The path towards Corniglia is idyllic but unfortunately closed … So, we took the train and arrived in a few minutes.
Conniglia is the exception to the rule, in the sense that unlike the other villages this one doesn’t have a harbour and it is built far above the ocean on the cliffs 182 meters above the sea. To reach Corniglia, you have to climb up 365 steps (as many as the days of the year) ! It is tough especially if it is hot. However, the village itself and the views are totally rewarding.
What we really loved was the area around the church Saint Catherine. Narrow cobblestone streets nicely packed with restaurants, cafes, gelateries, shops and everything so colorful.
I think here is your best chance to enjoy a gelato, you deserve it after all for the effort you made to arrive ! The best one is the Alberto Gelateria … not hard to guess it from the crowds.
Many of restaurants and cafes offer awesome views to the coastline. The best way to enjoy your coffee or even better an aperitif limoncello made from local lemons.
Vernazza is considered the beauty queen of the Cinque Terre. Even though I am a bit biased with Maranola, I have to admit that Vernazza is really beautiful. It is love at first sight, either if you arrive by train or hiking from Monterosso al Mare. There is also a harbour and a main street.
A very pretty waterfront piazza called Piazza Marcone, just next to harbour, has a lot of restaurants, bakeries, shops. It is hard to resist the smells from the pizzas and pesto !
There is also a nice church built on the water, remains of the old Genoa fortification walls and a castle from where you can have great views.
5. Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the northemost and biggest village and it is quite different from the others. I would fairly say that it more looks like a typical resort lacking the unique character and landscape of its neigboring villages. It is divided into two parts: the old town and the new town with a tower in the middle. The main feature, however, is the long sandy beaches where you can spend your entire day enjoying the sun and the sea.
Compared to the other villages, much more restaurants, hotels, shops can be found here. For that reason, it is considered as one of the most convenient options for setting your base for exploring Cinque Terre.
A Few Tips
- How to reach the place: If you travel from abroad, you can reach the place by train from Genoa, Milan, Pisa or Florence. It is around 3-5 hours from Milan’s airport (depending on the schedules), but when you arrive you realise it was totally worth it. The place is like a card-postal !
- When to go: It is mostly a summer destination, which means however that it gets more crowded and the prices are higher. We visited it end of March and we were lucky the weather was great but this is a bit luck.
- How long to stay: You can see the main highlights in a day-trip, but I believe 2 days is the minimum to better enjoy it. I think 3-4 days is the optimal duration.
- Where to stay: This depends on many factors, such as your budget, convenience. Monterosso al Mare is maybe the most convenient, since it is flat, with many options for hotels, restaurants but also more touristic and less typical Cinque Terre experience. Corniglia is calm, less crowded but it is built on a hill and therefore not the easiest way to reach it more than one expecially with luggage. We picked Riomaggiore because it combined the typical beauty of the region and a good range of hotels, restaurants, and shops. I think Manarola and Vernazza would have equally good options. Staying at La Spezzia (3-5 minutes from Riomaggiore) is also a good option since there you find cheaper hotels.
- Where and what to eat: This is the easiest part … you are in Italy ! Of course, there are touristic highly priced restaurants. In Riomaggiore don’t miss having a cone with fried seafood from Tutti Frutti. A great option with view is the Fuori Rotta. In Manarola, Nessun Dorma combines great food and the most outstanding view of Cinque Terre. Local seafood, pesto, focaccia, ice-cream are must !
- Moving around: Cars are not allowed. You can either use the regional train that connects the villages and it is very frequent and fast. Alternatively, if you like walking and fully exploring the regions there are hiking paths. Some of the them are closed however for safety reasons. In both cases, you have to buy a travel card (Cinque Terre card) from the train stations. There you can also get for information regarding the trailing paths.
- Relax and Enjoy this dreamy destination !