Romance, Charm, & Incredible Views in Cinque Terre
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | October 1st, 2016
Italy is home to the amazing Colosseum, the beautiful Venice canals, the rolling hills of Tuscany, and the five picturesque fishing villages of Cinque Terre.
Located along the Italian Riviera, about eighty minutes northwest of Pisa, the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are known for their vibrant buildings, stunning coastline, and authentic Italian charm. Each village is uniquely beautiful and not one should be missed. The best way to see each village is by hiking the 5T National Park Trail. Starting in Monterosso and ending in Riomaggiore (or visa versa), the hike should take around five hours to complete. That, however, is without stopping in each town to explore. I would plan on spending at least eight hours total in Cinque Terre. That will give you time to hike, eat, relax, and enjoy this spectacular place. If you have the time, three to four days would be optimal to thoroughly explore the five villages.
How To Get There
The surrounding towns of Pisa, Genoa, Tuscany, and Rome all have easy train routes to Cinque Terre. Most trains connect in La Spezia train station, and from there, the first town of Riomaggiore is only eight minutes away. You can also drive to Cinque Terre, however, the roads are narrow and can be dangerous for an inexperienced driver. Therefore, taking the train to CT is usually the best option.
Northernmost, Monterosso is known for being the only town with an actual beach. This beautiful stretch of sand gets very full in the summer months, and has a handful of hotels and restaurants set perfectly behind it. Monterosso is also a great place to begin the 5T trail, offering hikers incredible views as they descend into Vernazza. Be sure to grab some water and a tasty snack from one of the seaside cafes before beginning this gorgeous hike.
(Sigh).....Vernazza. Oh, how you stole our hearts. As avid travelers, there will always be those special moments that take our breath away. Not only were we winded from the intense climb up from Monterosso, but coming around the corner and seeing Vernazza for the first time, took whatever breath we had left away. It truly is a spectacular sight. Sticking out into the ocean, like its own private peninsula, Vernazza has the most charm out of all five villages. In 2016, John proposed to me during a sunset dinner at Al Castello Ristorante. Perched high on a cliff, overlooking the Ligurian Sea, Al Castello is one of the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen. If you're looking to have a nice meal in Vernazza, I highly recommend this amazing Italian restaurant.
Corniglia is the smallest, and the highest, of the five villages. It also is the only village that does not have direct sea access. It does, however, have enticing winding streets, a beautiful main square, and is surrounded by magnificent vineyards. The name Corniglia comes from the Latin farmer Corneliu who produced the local white wine back in Roman times. Be sure to sample a glass while you're here.
In order to get to this lovely village, you will have to climb the semi-strenuous Lardarina. The Lardarina is a switchback-like stairway that takes 377 steps to climb. Once you reach the top, you'll officially be in quaint Corniglia.
Manarola is filled with delicious seafood restaurants, a unique swimming area, and postcard worthy sights. When we arrived to Manarola, we strolled down the main road towards the ocean and noticed the abundance of fishing boats docked in the seaport. It is easy to see why there are so many fresh seafood to table restaurants here. We ate lunch at the incredible Nessun Dorma restaurant, which has jaw dropping views of this picture perfect town. The restaurant, most famous for their cheese and meat plates, bruschetta, and white wine, is an excellent choice while visiting the alluring town of Manarola. Also, be sure to bring your bathing suit and take a dip in the perfectly positioned swimming hole located in Manarola's harbor.
Sitting low in a valley, a delightful collection of colorful houses and buildings make up the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. Named as Cinque Terre's unofficial capital, Riomaggiore has one main street and one small harbor. The village is best appreciated from sea, where you can get a fantastic view of the entire town. Even though they can be a tad pricey, a boat tour is the perfect way to enjoy the town's exquisite charm. Another highlight in Riomaggiore is the Via dell'Amore, also known as Lover's Lane. Linking the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore, the Via dell'Amore provided a connection for young lovers who lived in different villages. Closed for renovations, the romantic walkway should re-open in 2021 or 2022.
There are accommodations in all five villages. Decide which village suits your needs, and then check both TripAdvisor and Airbnb for hotel and apartment options. La Spezia is also a nice area to stay, as accommodations are less expensive, and Cinque Terre is only eight minutes away via train.
The best months to visit Cinque Terre are April, May, September, and October, as the weather is comfortable and the crowds are fairly low. The summer months of June through August are warm, but the crowds are at their peak. November through March brings cool to cold temperatures, but crowds are very low.
Be sure to purchase a Cinque Terre Train Card. For $18 USD / per adult, visitors get unlimited train travel on the La Spezia - Cinque Terre - Levanto train line, as well as access to all trekking paths inside Cinque Terre. On top of that, ticket holders get to use all bus services within the park, and get reduced admission to the Civic Museums in La Spezia.
Note: Always remember to validate your ticket at the station BEFORE you use it. Look for a green stamp machine near the platform. If you get caught on the train with an invalidated ticket, you will be fined.