You’ve likely read about this picturesque community along the Italian Riviera. It seems everyone is talking about the string of rugged coastal villages known as Cinque Terre. With all the hype, you may have been wondering, “what’s so great about Cinque Terre, Liguria?”
The seaside villages on the Italian coast are picture perfect with terraced vineyards and haphazardly stacked pastel colored buildings next to the glittering Mediterranean Sea. The charming villages, so spectacularly situated, have not gone unnoticed. Millions of tourists flock here each year to admire Ligurian architecture, take in breathtaking views from the hiking trails and savor Italian cuisine.
Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands”, is located in the Liguria region of Italy and is made up of 5 villages: Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore & Monterosso. The area has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1997. Tucked between sea and mountain, the villages were largely undiscovered until recently, when they were connected to the rest of Italy via train.
An interesting fact – The houses of Cinque Terre were painted different colors so the fishermen could easily identify their house while fishing offshore.
I think the key to making our visit to Cinque Terre so great was actually staying in Cinque Terre. Many visitors to Cinque Terre are day trippers. And while the area is fabulous in the afternoon, our favorite time of day was early evening. Most of the tourists had headed home for the day and it was just the locals and a few other remaining visitors strolling the narrow streets, visiting shops and admiring the sparkling sea and vineyards. The sunset is sensational and something the average traveler doesn’t get to enjoy.
While there aren’t a ton of Cinque Terre hotels, we did find plenty of accomodation choices that suited our needs. We rented an apartment with a balcony overlooking the sea. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of local wine after a day of exploring.
If you’re not a fan of touristy places, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit! It just means, you should be a bit smarter about when you visit. The best times would be April and October in the off season. Our first trip was in October and it was perfect. The weather was a bit chilly but it was great for hiking.
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy:
Of the five Cinque Terre villages, our favorite was Manarola. While many travel books recommended Vernanzza, we found that village to be more touristy. Yes, there were more options for restaurants, nightlife and places to stay, but it didn’t have the same feel as Manarola. However, many people do say the best swimming spot is found in Vernazza.
The lovely perched village of Manarola still had that quaint old village charm. The kids loved seeing the fishing boats down by the water, giving the village a more authentic feel. Traditionally, Manarola’s main industries have been fishing and wine making. The local wine, called Sciacchetrà, is worth a taste and would make a great gift if you can get it back home. Just don’t buy limoncello in a long, thin necked bottle. That’s a sticky mess when it breaks in your suitcase!
In Manarola, we walked the village, allowing ourselves the opportunity to get briefly lost along the narrow streets. The village is small, so you won’t be lost for long! Then we walked a small portion of the coast trail for the views, taking advantage of some of those incredible Cinque Terre photo ops.
We also walked down along the rocks on the seaside, letting the kids dip their toes in the sea. It is possible to wade or dive in the water, but we didn’t swim during either of our visits.
Another great way to see the village is via the walking the path along the vineyards. It’s fascinating to see how the crops grow on the hillside and to imagine the work involved to create the vast network of terraces. It’s estimated that it took 200 years to complete!
We also took a lovely, yet exhausting, hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore. The views were stunning as we hiked up over the hillside. As the coastal paths are still closed due to landslides, we decided to get in a workout and go over the hill. After touring Riomaggiore, we took the train back to Manarola.
Our favorite restaurant in Manarola was Trattoria dal Billy. The food was superb and the view from the outdoor terrace couldn’t be improved upon. During your visit, take time to sample some local fare. In addition to local white wine and olive oil, try Tagliatelle (a broad pasta), mussels and pesto.
Monterosso, is a completely different village from its sisters. For one thing, you won’t find all the stairs in this village. For another, it’s more of a resort town, so it has the biggest hotels and a large sandy beach. You’ll find free and paid beaches here. Arrive early to find a spot during peak season.
We haven’t had a chance to visit Corniglia, but this village is perched high on the cliffs. You’ll need to climb 365 steps to get to the center of the village. Since it’s more difficult to reach, you’ll find the village quieter and a nice escape from the other four Cinque Terre villages.
Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre Liguria:
- Get a trail map from the tourism office. You can see a list of all the trails on their website, but the site is rather confusing.
- You won’t find cars down in the villages, so bring your comfortable shoes for exploring the villages and hiking.
- There is the opportunity to purchase an all day train pass which includes the hiking pass for 13€ – 16€ depending on the season. Consider if you’ll actually use the pass enough to make it worthwhile.
- The coastal trails from Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia are open, but require a hiking pass. One can be purchased for 7.50€.
- Cinque Terre is a region, so you won’t book a train ticket to “Cinque Terre,” rather you’ll need to know which villages you’re visiting – Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore or Monterosso.
- You’ll find the greatest surge of tourist coming in from around 10am – 4pm. This is when day trippers and cruisers arrive. Plan to schedule your visit around these times to avoid some of the crowds in the village.
- We didn’t find a large selection at the grocery stores within the villages. If you’re looking to cook multiple meals, I’d suggest stocking up on groceries in La Spezia. However, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to grab a bite to eat. You definitely won’t go hungry!
How to Get There:
By Train: During both of our visits, we arrived by train. The villages are well connected via the railway, so it’s easy to get from village to village. The main station, La Spezia, connects with major cities such as Genoa, Milan and Florence.
By Car: There are parking opportunities near the villages, however, you will still have to walk a good distance into the village. The parking fees can be quite high and the roads are a bit precarious, so it’s recommended to park in La Spezia and take the train in.
By Plane: The closest airports are Genoa and Pisa. Florence isn’t too far away either, so you could fly into there. From there, I recommend taking the train to La Spezia where you can connect to the village of your choice.
Save time during your Italian vacation to spend a couple of days in Cinque Terre. Visit the seaside villages of Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore & Monterosso. Then come back and tell me your opinion on what’s so great about Cinque Terre. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the pastel hued houses and terraced vineyards just as we have.