When you think of the Italian coastline chances are that you are imagining colourful buildings perched on cliffs over sparkling blue water. The amazing yet very pricey Amalfi coast is not the only place where to find these kind of landscapes. Cinque Terre, on the north-west coast of Italy and just a little south of Genoa, is an extremely popular destination for people wanting to experience and capture those iconic images. Consisting of five small UNESCO protected villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with their own charm, should definitely enter your travel bucket list.
HOW TO GET THERE
Cinque Terre is well connected to the rest of Italy by train. The closest city with an international airport is Genoa, which is just over an hour away by train, but you can also catch direct trains from Pisa or Rome.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best months to visit Cinque Terre are Spring (April – May) and Autumn (September – October). Visiting at this time means that you still get temperate climate and blue skies avoiding the huge crowds of locals and tourists that populate these little towns and beaches in the middle of summer, and with far more pleasant temperatures for hiking.
Due to their popularity if you come during the summer months you could risk to not being able to hike at all as there is a limited amount of people allowed on the coastal paths. You can Check ahead using the Cinque Terre App.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to stay right in the middle of Cinque Terre there is a limited amount of accommodation available in the five villages, however, expect these to come with a suitably high price tag.
If you’re looking for something a bit more budget-friendly but still convenient, look at accommodation in La Spezia. This is the closest big town to Cinque Terre lying just south, and only 7 minutes by train, from Riomaggiore.
Trains run frequently throughout the day between La Spezia and Levanto (the town just north of Cinque Terre) and stop at all five Cinque Terre villages.
THE FIVE CINQUE TERRE VILLAGES
Each Cinque Terre village is unique. From north to south the villages are:
Monterosso, the largest of the villages, it hosts the most hotels but lacks a little of the small-town charm and colourful, cliffside buildings that the area is known for. However, it has many restaurants running along the promenade and is also the only village with a proper beach.
Vernazza, is a picturesque bay of colourful houses. Even if you are not wanting to hike across all 5 villages, it worth walking from Monterosso to Vernazza to admire it from stunning viewpoints.
Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre village not by the water. It is perched on top of a hill and is probably the quietest of the five villages. With winding alleyways to wander through you’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants with beautiful views overlooking the coast and the other villages.
Manarola is the most famous of the five villages through postcards and posters as it offers a fantastic viewpoint. The village earned its fame due to its position perched on the cliffside.
Riomaggiore is one of the larger and most hilly of the five. Walk up to the castle for views over the town then down to the harbour for a picture-perfect view of the iconic colourful houses and the harbour filled with fishing boats.
HOW TO GET BETWEEN THE CINQUE TERRE
The easiest and cheapest way to get between the villages is by train. All of the five villages have a centrally located train station and the journey time between them is only 3-5 minutes. Train tickets are a flat fee of €4 per journey and can be bought at the train station or on the Trenitalia App.
An alternative to taking the train is to hike between the villages along the Sentiero Azzurro (the Blue Trail), which Paul and I did. Although it’s up and down and therefore pretty sweaty on a hot day, the coastal trail is well maintained and relatively easy for anyone with a moderate fitness level. As you approach the towns from above you can enjoy the full panoramic view of the colourful facades that make Cinque Terre famous.
You do have to pay to hike the coastal trail. It’s €7.50 and there are ticket booths located at the start of the trail in Monterosso and Corniglia. You can also buy a ticket which combine hike + train for € 16 per person, which is convenient only if you are planning to take the train more than twice in a day.
Note that the coastal path between Corniglia & Manarola is currently closed (until 2022) so you’ll need to take the longer and higher path through Volastra. The park rangers will explain how to get there at the beginning of the walk, otherwise you can download the GPX below. We’d really recommend to take the alternative path as not only will you get to see the beautiful coastal scenery, some parts of the hike are among the sloping vineyards and beautiful woodland. The part of the path which connects Manarola to Riomaggiore – also known as the Lovers Path – is also closed until late 2022 due to landslides. The park rangers will tell you that the alternative path is for expert hikers. I personally disagree.
It was undeniably steep and sweaty but wouldn’t class it expert level as it was very well marked all the way through and there were mostly stairs throughout. The only thing that makes it challenging is the quick elevation gain of about 400 m. But anyone with a good fitness level can do it pretty easily, plus is very rewarding for the beauty of the scenery.
With the path deviation the hike between the Cinque Terre is 13 km long, easily doable in one day.
If you are not a hiker there are lots of boat trips on offer from La Spezia, Porto Venere or the very famous Portofino which would provide great views of the towns from the water.
Finally, if you have a car then it is possible to drive around Cinque Terre. However, we wouldn’t recommend this given the narrow cliff edge roads and minimal parking.