Cinque Terre Guide
A stretch of coastline where charming fishing villages rise up from the Mediterranean Sea, where vibrant coloured buildings are perched on cliffs, and a winding historic trail connects it all. This is Italy’s Cinque Terre. Set on the Liguria coast, Cinque Terre – Italian for 5 Lands – is one of Europe’s most picturesque places to visit.
The five lands, or five villages, of Cinque Terre include; Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglua, and Monterosso Al Mare. All are within the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cinque Terre has something for everyone. For outdoor enthusiasts there are amazing hiking trails. For relaxed beach bums there are beautiful beaches, gelateria shops, and swimming in the Mediterranean. And for explorers and history buffs there are winding alleyways, hidden gems, and plenty of historic sights.
Air – The nearest airport is in Milan. And an easy 3 hour train ride will get you to Cinque Terre.
Train – Taking the train is the easiest and best way to not only arrive, but also explore the region. Each village is only a few minutes from the next by train. It’s also very affordable to train hop between villages, as each ride is less than €2. Or you can purchase a pass, one day is €12, and two day is €23. Train announcements are in both Italian and English. But be sure to pick up a timetable as not all trains stop at all the villages. Also, make sure to validate your ticket or pass prior to getting on the train. You can easily do this by using the machines on the platform.
Note: The train does not stop directly in Corniglia, but there are stairs ascending to the village, or you can take a short bus ride.
Ferry – Another option between villages is the ferry. While it’s much more expensive, it does offer a beautiful view and different perspective on each village. One day hop on/hop off ticket is €26, or €15 one way. Stops include; Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore, and Portovenere.
When to Go
The best time to visit is in the late spring (May), and at the end of summer (September). Going at these times will help you avoid peak tourist season, all the crowds, and the heat. But you’ll still enjoy beautiful sunny, warm weather.
What to Eat
Being on the coast, it’s no surprise that local seafood is a must try. This includes anchovies and sardines. Another must is pesto. The surrounding region has some of the best pesto in all of Italy. And to drink, try the local white wine, Sciacchetrà which is considered a dessert wine.
If you’re on a budget you can easily grab a slice of pizza or focaccia for only a Euro or two. But you can also grab fresh fruit, bread, snacks, and wine at the grocery and co-op shops found in each village.
Where to Stay
Each village has a scattering of accommodations and I loved staying in Riomaggiore. But places book up fast, and many are in the mid to high range. For more choices, budget-friendly options, and less crowds consider staying in Levanto. Located just minutes north, via train, of Monterosso Al Mare, Levanto is a great alternative.
The stretch of Cinque Terre is actually situated in the Cinque Terre National Park. Hiking in Cinque Terre is one of the top attractions for many to the area as there is an amazing trail linking all five villages. To hike the entire Blue Trail, that is about 12 kilometres, it takes approximately 5 hours.
There are numerous trails in the area but to hike the main trail, the Blue Trail, you’ll have to purchase a Cinque Terre card from one of the tourist offices. The one day pass for €13 includes access to the trails and unlimited train travel between the five villages. And the most famous section is called Via dell’Amore, or The Lover’s Walk. This short, 1 kilometre, trail links Manarola and Riomaggiore. It’s easy, flat, and takes approximately 30 minutes. But with past landslides and other problems many sections are closed off. Be sure to check before you head out to see which trail sections are open.
Related Post: Stairway to Eden: Hiking the Blue Trail
Distances, difficulty, and approximate hiking times between villages:
Monterosso Al Mare to Vernazza – moderate – 3.5 km – 2 hours
Vernazza to Cornglia – moderate – 4 km – 2 hours
Corniglia to Manarola – easy – 3 km – 1 hour
Manarola to Riomaggiore – easy – 1 km – 30 minutes
The Five Villages of Cinque Terre
Monterosso Al Mare
Affectionately shortened to Monterosso, it is the first of Cinque Terre’s five villages travelling from north to south. Monterosso is the largest village and in turn has many restaurants, shops, and attractions to see. With a long, white sand proper beach, umbrellas, and lounge chairs, it exudes a beach-side resort town.
What to See & Do
Take a wander up the hillside to the left of the main town, up to the 17th century Capuchin Monastery and strangely enchanting cemetery.
2. Giant Neptune
Back down beach side, head out onto the sand and look up to the cliff to the north. Worn by wind, rain, bombings in WWII, and time stands the Giant Neptune. Built from the cliff back in 1910, its shoulders once held up a large dance floor.
3. Aurora Tower
There are only three towers now visible from the village’s medieval castle. One, the Aurora Tower, is now a private home and can be seen on your way to the Monastery. It’s perfect setting makes for a great view and picture-perfect photo-op.
Monterosso is home to a variety of churches that are a great escape from the heat and sun. Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Oratory of the Confraternita dei Bianchi, and Oratory of the Confraternita dei Neri are all worth a visit.
The best view of Vernazza is from the Blue Trail between Monterosso and Vernazza. From above you see its colourful buildings and natural harbour. Full of quaint cafes, gelateria, and a cobbled main street, Vernazza will lure you into its spell immediately.
What to See & Do
Located right near the harbour, take the steep stairs from the harbour and you’ll find Castle Doria. For only €1.50 you can climb up to the lookout tower. From there you’ll be awarded with 360 degree views. The castle is the oldest surviving fortification in Cinque Terre, dating back to the 11th century.
2. Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia
This waterfront Gothic church was built in 1318. Dark and cool, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Giant pillars hold up its huge interior, and from the harbour its 40 metre high tower rises to the heavens.
Corniglia is unique from the rest of Cinque Terre’s villages as its not located seaside. Perched atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, it is said to be the most quaint of all. From the train station you can either take the bus for €2.50, or take the over 350 steps.
What to See & Do
1.Church of St. Peter
This stunning Gothic church was built in the 14th century over a chapel that was much older. Its known for its brilliant white marble and rose window.
the second smallest of the villages, Manarola also claims to be the oldest. Thought to be the most romantic of Cinque Terre’s villages, its famous for its seafood and Sciacchetrà wine. It’s also said to be the most picturesque of the villages, especially from the water.
What to See & Do
1.Via dell’ Amore
The hiking trail portion liking Manarola and Riomaggiore is known as Via dell’ Amore, or Lover’s Lane. While it was a popular path it has been closed for safety and maintenance for some time now.
2. San Lorenzo Church
San Lorenzo Church is another of Cinque Terre’s beautiful Gothic churches. Built in 1388 it has three naves and a rose window.
3. Nativity Scene
From December to the end of January a huge nativity scene is set up on the hillside of Manarola. And its best seen at night, when over 200 figures and 12,000 lamps illuminate for the world’s largest lighted nativity scene.
My favourite of the five, Riomaggiore may be the second largest of the villages but its full of small town charm. Home to a picturesque marina, hilltop views, stunning sunsets, and when the bulk of the tourists leave in the late afternoon a quiet descends. The marina offers a great place to swim, and there are a variety of places to eat, shop, and things to see.
What to See & Do
Located about an hour’s hike up from the end of Riomaggiore’s main street is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montenero. Its thought to date back to the 8th century, and the view from the Sanctuary is worth the hike alone. But be sure to explore within too.
While now mostly in ruins, the castle in Riomaggiore is still worth a visit. Built back in the 13th century, perched up on the hillside, it offers awesome views.
3. Church of San Giovanni Battista
When I first stumbled upon this church I was beckoned in by the ringing of the church bell. Within its dark, candle-lit interior I was awarded by peace, a reprieve from the heat, and I had it all to myself. I was struck by the large organ, dating back over 150 years, and the beautiful 17th and 18th century paintings. From its courtyard you’re rewarded by brilliant colourful views of Riomaggiore.
Tip: Looking for great, cheap take away in Riomaggiore? Check out Mamma Mia. Located in the heart of the village, on the main street, it offers a wide array of quick food options.
Did you know?
The entire stone wall network of Cinque Terre has been said to equal the Great Wall of China. It took over 200 years to build and was one of the many reasons the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Did you know?
Cinque Terre National Park was Italy’s first National Park and its smallest.
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