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If you like trekking, swimming in crystal clear water, breathtaking views, colourful villages, delicious gastronomy, wine tasting, and friendly locals… go to Cinque Terre (five towns)!
I highly recommend to explore this wonderful part of Italy at your own pace. If you want to hike from village to village, have a swim in the sea, enjoy the gastronomy and stroll through the villages, consider one day per village.
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre is a group of five Italian coastal villages; recognized in 1997 by the UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, they are a National Park and Protected Marine Area, to conserve and protect its cultural heritage and natural environment.
What to expect
The landscape is characterised by its steep cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea and its beautiful built terraces; where locals cultivate grapes and olives. Below the cliffs is a wild coastline with crystal clear water. The villages have vibrant colours, lemon trees, narrow medieval streets, laundry drying under the sun, medieval fortresses and, most of them have rocky or sandy beaches.
Where is it located?
Cinque Terre is located in the North-West of Italy, on the Italian Riviera in the Ligurian sea. The villages are located between the cities of Levanto and La Spezia in the following order from north to south: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. They are linked by an ancient system of footpaths; which serve as trekking trails, as well as by a regional train, and a ferry.
The vibe in this part of the world is slow-paced, colourful and designed to enjoy the good things in life. A trip to Cinque Terre promises to be an unforgettable one due to its gastronomy, local wine, breathtaking landscapes, scent of lemons and herbs in the air, colourful architecture, bright blue sea, and friendly locals.
Highlights of the Five villages from north to south
Monterosso is split in two, Fegina; the modern part of town where the train station is located, with many hotels and restaurants, and the old part of town; with colourful narrow medieval streets, small squares, hotels, shops and restaurants. A tunnel which caters to the few small cars in the village and to pedestrians, links the old part of town with Fegina.
Vernazza; classified as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, is a small fishing village with a beautiful pastel colour main ‘piazza’ and a tiny port. You may visit and enjoy the spectacular views of the Belforte medieval castle; built in the mid-1500’s to protect the village from pirates. The main street, the main square and the narrow adjacent streets are full of life, colour, shops and food.
Corniglia is a tiny village located on a cape 100 metres above sea level. It’s the only village in Cinque Terre without direct access to the sea. If you arrive by local train, you may take a shuttle to the centre of the village or walk up the footpath with 377 stairs (~20 minutes if you are in good shape.) Corniglia is small and beautiful. Due to its location, it has many beautiful views of vineyards and the blue sea. Don’t be afraid to explore the quiet narrow alleys away from the tourists, take a peek at the houses and explore like an adventurous child. You will find relaxing views with peace and quiet.
Manarola, although it has a tiny harbour and therefore, access to the sea, it’s streets go up and down, with some steep paths and stairs. The harbour, the piazza and the seafood restaurants with beautiful views are the life of the village.
There is no real beach but it has some of the best deep-water swimming. Many people climb high rocks and jump in the water – it’s quite a show! The people sunbathing on the paved or rocky beach next to the water, add to the beautiful scenery.
Do not be alarmed if you see boats parked along the main road. This happens when the sea is rough and the boats are pulled onto dry land.
Riomaggiore is a village that climbs up from the harbour and is characterised by the bright colour of its façades overlooking the sea. It is best to admire and photograph it from the sea. This is the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre.
Going further south
Portovenere is a medieval and picturesque fishing village south of Riomaggiore. It’s not part of Cinque Terre however, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.You may go by ferry from Cinque Terre or by trekking trail. Portovenere is a charming village with medieval narrow streets beautifully decorated with flowers and pretty shops. It has a castle, a rocky cave where people swim and sunbathe, a beautiful harbour with colourful buildings, and breathtaking views.
The ancient system of footpaths that link the villages
Trekking in Cinque Terre is a must. You don’t need to be extremely fit; you may go at your own pace. I’ve seen children and elderly people enjoying their hikes.
The advantage of walking from village to village through the trekking footpaths is the experience not available from elsewhere. The magnificent views of the sea, the coastline, sandy coves, tiny beaches, walking through vineyards, forests, finding villages tucked in the cliffs, walking along terraced fields with the scent of herbs, lemons, chestnut and pine trees is worth the time and effort.
Good to know… In October 2011, there were floods that devastated this area, especially Vernazza. Some trekking footpaths are still closed and under renovation (2018).
A brief description of each footpath
The footpath from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza takes between 1.5-2 hours. It’s quite challenging but very rewarding due to the views. You get a panorama of all five towns. The hike goes up, then straight, and then down.
The footpath from Vernazza to Corniglia takes about 1h45. It is very green with beautiful views. You can take wonderful pictures of Vernazzawith the blue sea in the background. Expect some high steps.
The footpath from Corniglia to Manarola has two options, a short one (~1hr15’) which is currently closed (2018), and the long one (~3h). This route starts with steps going up for about 45’ and then it is all straight with a change of scenery from forests to vineyards on terraces and magnificent views. This trail was my favourite. You will even go through the backyard of a house up on a cliff. Before you reach Manarola you arrive to a tiny village called Volastra. You may take a bus from there to Manarola or walk down the stairs all the way to Manarola. My knees suffered a bit on the way down and there are no views so, next time I would take the bus.
The footpath from Manarola to Riomaggiore is called ‘Via dell’Amore’ and it is flat and paved therefore, the easiest one and the shortest. Unfortunately, it is closed due to renovation after the floods. You may walk along this trail from both ends up to the middle and then go back, but you cannot access the other village.
Tips for your trekking experience
Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the high temperatures in summer. Remember that the footpaths are narrow and people go both ways. Hopefully, you are not afraid of heights.
Bring a water bottle. An aluminium one which keeps drinks cold or hot for hours is the best option. You will be grateful to have cold water when hiking under the sun and heat.
Backpacks are more comfortable for hikes than shoulder bags.
Do not forget to bring a camera.
Look at the weather forecast. If it rains the steps get very slippery.
Use sunblock and a hat.
Hiking shoes or trainers are the safest option footwearwise.
Unforgettable eating experiences in Cinque Terre and beyond
Ristorante Belforte – Vernazza, exquisite food and breathtaking views. The manager, Andrea, is such a fun and professional guy. Try the fish baked in sea salt and the grilled octopus. It is beautiful to have dinner at sunset on an outdoor table.
Ristorante Miky – Monterosso al Mare, located in Fegina. This is a chic venue with great service and delicious cuisine.
Ristorante Belvedere – Monterosso al Mare, is a family run restaurant that specialises in fish and seafood. It is located in the old part of town in front of the beach.
Torre Aurora – Monterosso al Mare, is a beautiful place to have dinner with a view from above. The music, the décor, the service and the food add up to a beautiful experience.
Ristorante Ciak – Monterosso al Mare, is located in a small ‘piazza’ in the old part of town. The food is freshly made in the kitchen with a window. Feel free to take a peek at the action on the stoves.
Antica Osteria del Carugio – Portovenere, is located on a narrow colourful street, not far from a great pesto shop. Try the fizzy wine on tap!
Highlights of the local gastronomy
Tasteful juicy tomatoes,
Olives and olive oil that taste ‘out of this world,’
Peppery, fresh, and delicious rocket salad,
Fresh fish and seafood beautifully cooked,
The best green pesto,
An array of pasta selection cooked to perfection,
Delicious white wine with a salty aftertaste due to the sea breeze hitting the terraced vineyards,
Limoncino, a delicious sweet liqueur made from lemons and used in desserts, cocktails and as ‘digestif,’
Big bright yellow and tasty lemons everywhere.
Take the ferry at least once to see the villages from the water, it’s a different experience, very relaxing and beautiful. Be camera ready!
Regional trains run very often, especially in high season. The ride from village to village will take between 2-4 minutes. Feel free to go out for drinks and/or dinner to another village.
Go wine tasting – there are many vineyards that offer wine tasting and tours. In Monterosso al Mare you may walk to Buranco vineyard in the old part of town, and have a relaxing wine tasting experience paired with food, in a beautiful green setting