Cinque Terre: The Gem of Italy
"Your Italy and our Italia are not the same things. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze." unknown
Cinque Terre is a thread of rugged old seaside villages on the top of the Rivera coastline. The colorful houses built on cliffs, the amazing fresh seafood, the stunning beaches, and the most scenic hikes not only in Italy but in the world. All this makes this region a must-visit at least once in a lifetime. It is my favorite part of the Italy trip because the views are just unique and stunning.
Cinque Terre was forever on my bucket list and this time we could plan a good full three days in Liguria. May is a perfect time if you are thinking about visiting these picturesque villages as the weather is delightful and not touristy at his time of the year. Also, if you are considering hiking between the villages, May is the perfect time of the year to do it.
How to get to Cinque Terre
Either this will be your first stop in the country or you are traveling from Somewhere else. The train is your best option. If you are traveling by car, you'll need to park it at La Spezia train station and catch the train to the village where you'll be staying at.
We drove here by car, we parked the car for three full days at La Spezia parking lot and caught the train to Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is the first stop from La Spezia about 7 min to get there. The train goes to the other villages with many departures every day. It's also a good connection between the towns if you are not considering hiking.
Which village to consider as a base during your stay
Well since I didn't know much about the region. We picked Riomaggiore as our base. It has a lot of hotels and Airbnb for rent. A good selection of restaurants and bakeries and has one of the most colorful strings of houses on top of the cliff.
But after visiting the villages, my base next time will be Manarola as it's just impossibly stunning or Vernazza as a second choice. My husband's favorite town is Monteresso because it has the longest beach with cafes and restaurants all along the coast.
Where to stay
We stayed at Cinque Terre Coast to Coast located on top of a hill in Riomaggiore. It's a newly built hotel with such sparkling rooms and a spectacular view that's worth the hike up every day. The communication with the hotel was great before our arrival, they sent us all the information needed or what to do and where to eat and a map of how to get to their location.
I'll definitely recommend this place if you stay in Riomaggiore:
http://www.cinqueterrecoasttocoast.it/en/home-page-3/How to explore the Cinque Terre
There are too many options for how to discover this region.
Arrived in the afternoon by car to La Spezia train station "La Spezia Centrale". After parking the car, we went to catch the first train to Riomaggiore. Before leaving the Riommagiore train stop, we bought a train card for our stay and a card for the hike (It's mandatory if you are planning to hike). We were then informed that the easy hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed due to some work that changed our whole program.
After getting to our beautiful hotel and checked-in. We were ready to go check out this town.
Things to see in Riomaggiore:
Via Dell'Amore: The stairs that lead to the trail to Manarola. As mentioned this was closed during our trip but check it out and do this easy hike to enjoy some spectacular views.
Top o' the town: to enjoy some stunning sea views.
Marina: it's the most picturesque spot in Riomaggiore featuring some amazing tiny buildings rugged on top of the cliff.
Beach Spiaggia: so inviting and relaxing even though it's rocky but it's quiet and still.
Dinner at Dau Cila
Back to the hotel
Catch the train to Monteresso early morning (we were there by 7 am).
Walk by the coast and check if restaurants or cafes are open if you want to have breakfast in this town (Usually, they open around 8:30 am). But if you are like us and you want to avoid the crowds on the trail, you are better off starting your hike now.
This hike is the most challenging of them all. With narrow and steep steps but so inviting as the views are so spectacular.
Do not forget to put your hiking card (the one you bought at the train station first day of your arrival) on your wrist for security control. Make sure you have your most comfortable hiking or walking shoes on you; that you have enough water for the route, snacks, and another outfit if you'd like (I personally packed a t-shirt and shorts for a change).
Do not wear sandals here even if they are super comfortable. The fine you risk paying is equal to 2000 Euro so make sure you are wearing the proper shoes. We arrived at Vernazza after 1 hour and 40 mins.
What to do in Vernazza
Explore the buildings.
Wander around the narrow streets.
Check the local shops for some great souvenirs.
The town square.
The harbor square: Piazza Marconi
The castle: Castelo Doria
Have lunch at Trattoria Del Capitano for amazing local seafood pasta in front of the harbor.
Ok now after wandering around in Vernazza. It's up to you if you want to hike to Corniglia or catch the train. We went for another option as we wanted to explore the region from the sea. So we opted for a boat ride from Vernazza to Manarola. It won't stop at Corniglia as it doesn't have a port but you sail by. You head to the harbor and ask any boat captain that is available and he'll take you. That was so easy and needed no reservation or waiting whatsoever. This experience was so unforgettable and stunning to see all these rugged colorful buildings standing tall on top of the cliff. Such amazing views that look like a postal card.
The boat ride from Vernazza to Manarola takes 40 minutes. It gave us some time to sit back and relax before getting to our next stop.
What to do in Manarola
Manarola is so a charming little town with a population of 300. It's considered one of the best coastal towns in Italy in 2022. It is the most picturesque of the villages and that's why I fell in love with it. There are a lot of restaurants and cafes as well as produce and dairy shops if you want to stop for a quick bite. We planned to return here the next day to have breakfast and wander around in this stunning town as well as to stop in Corniglia and explore as it's the only town we didn't visit yet.
Walk around the town
Check the harbor
Top of Manarola
Stop for a gelato (who doesn't like that)
Catch the train and go back to the hotel. Or if you still have some energy, head to Corniglia by train or by hike. We couldn't explore anymore, we headed back to our hotel to rest a little bit and go out for dinner later.
Head to Corniglia to discover this tiny beautiful tiny town on top of the cliffs. It is located in the middle of the Cinque Terre with a population of about 150. It lays on a small cape, 100 meters above the sea. It is the only town without access to the sea.
Tip: Once you arrive at Corniglia, take the shuttle bus to avoid the hike up to the downtown area.
What to see in Corniglia
Town square: it's where the shuttle bus stops.
The main square.
The beautiful shops: the gelato and coffee shops that are all rugged in cobblestone alleys give this town a unique charm.
The Santa maria belvedere: this is the scenic end of the town.
Catch the train and head to Monteresso, for a relaxing time at the beach. This pristine beach is the biggest in the Cinque Terre region. We were stunned by the crystal clear waters the day we hiked but we didn't have time to stop. Have lunch here and head back to the hotel or free time to explore your favorite town and buy souvenirs then head back to check out.
How to get around in Cinque Terre
By Train: The easiest and the quickest way is by train. Buy a card as I mentioned in the tip above as this will save you time and money.
By Boat: The second and the most stunning of them all is by boat. You can catch a boat from any town to the other except for Corniglia as it doesn't have a port but you do seal by on your sea route between the Terres. Or combine a boat ride with a hike as we did and it turned out to be a great idea to see the most of it.
By hike: There are many hiking paths in Cinque Terre from easy to steep and challenging. The easiest hike is the one between Riomaggiore and Manarola. It's called Via dell'Amore. A twenty minutes hike with pristine views. Unfortunately, this one was closed during our visit but it would be interesting to try it next trip.
So instead of starting off easy and keeping going until we get tired. We caught the train to the last town Monteresso and started our hiking journey with the most challenging and steep hike of them all which takes from Monteresso to Vernazza or vis versa. The nice part is that the weather early morning was beautiful, Less crowded and it didn't feel as tiring as we thought it would be. It was all worth it since the views on this path are so breathtaking. As we were getting close to Vernazza, it started getting busier, that's why I'm emphasizing starting the hike so early if you want to manage your pace. In total, it took us 1 hour and 40 minutes and we'd do it all over again next time as it was so scenic all the way.
Where to eat
The food was of course homemade and so so delicious. The manager was very knowledgeable about each dish and her recommendations were beyond description!
We indeed enjoyed our dinner facing the ocean of Riomaggiore and tasting some local dishes.
Il Pescato Cucinato
For a quick bite, this place has very fresh and delicious fried food. You can combine fried seafood, vegetables, and French fries.
This place was so good. Usually, by the smell, I can tell if the oil is fresh or old, and trust me this is the place you need to try. We ate twice here and every time it was crispy and fresh.
They have nice seating in front of their store facing downtown of Riomaggiore.
Taverna Del Capitano
After a long hike from Monteresso to Vernazza, there is no better way to treat ourselves than a local homemade dish and this place had all we were looking for. I ordered a seafood pasta that was so delightful. I still dream about the sauce up today.
For breakfast, there are many bakeries and cafes in every town. All of them have homemade fresh croissants or bread or local pastries and offer coffee either you sit or to go. Breakfast will never be a problem here. Make sure you enjoy it as you'll need it for the long walks you'll be doing the rest of your day.
How many days do you need to see everything?
I think two full days are enough to explore the five towns. Either you'll hike or take a boat or catch a train to check each town, that's the time needed. I heard some people hike and check everything on one day. It's possible but I doubt they'll explore every single town and get the feel of it.
It depends on what type of activities you'll be doing and if you'll combine hiking and boat trips, you'll need to manage your stay in a way to enjoy it and not exhaust yourself. And this is what we've done and we'll do it again next time we get a chance to come back here.
Safe travels and stay tuned for the next post!!!