These five small coastal fishing villages seem to tumble picturesquely into the Ligurian Sea. Their charm, setting and cultural heritage led to the establishment of Cinque Terre National Park in 1999, a dream destination for those who love seaside charm, local tastes, sweeping vistas and a palpable sense of history. From north to south, the villages are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The villages can be reached by boat, by train, by foot and by car. Colourful images of the villages have captured the imagination of throngs of travelers, and the Cinque Terre’s charm has become legendary.
Our guides receive many requests to visit this fabled area, often as a daytrip from cruise ships docked at La Spezia. After countless visits, their knowledge of the region is unsurpassed! Today we’re sharing five things we learned from a recent visit. Want to know more? Ask any of our Cinque Terre guides!
1. The Cinque Terre have been discovered; don’t let this put you off, even in summer. We were there at the end of July, nowhere near low or even shoulder season. It was busy, but we had a marvelous day, traipsing to 4 of the 5 villages. We had been apprehensive about visiting at high season, being somewhat crowd averse, but just a little bit of walking quickly took us away from the tourist throngs.
2. Bring your hiking shoes and swimsuit and plan to make this an active day. Start early in the morning and hike a segment of the trail before the sun gets too strong. If you are reasonably fit, we recommend the portion between Corniglia and Manarola, heading south. The original lower trail is closed, which means a stunning detour through terraced grape vines, high up above the sea, then stone steps down into Manarola. Hot after that walk? No problem – the waiting water is clear and cool and delightful!
3. If you're short on time, unless your goal is to pay to lie on the beach, the best town to skip is the furthest north, Monterosso al Mare. The highlight here is an attractive, long flat beach, lined with colourful private sun loungers. Our favourite villages? Corniglia, with its clifftop perch (worth the walk up from the train station!), Manarola, for its quintessential view of turquoise sea and rainbow of tumbling houses, and Vernazza for its picturesque, mellow village vibe.
4. Buy the Cinque Terre Train Card “Treno” for 16 euros and hop on and off the convenient train all day without needing to queue for tickets. The trains are frequent, and the distances between villages can be covered in mere minutes. The card also allows you to access the hiking trails maintained by the park, although we never saw officials checking passes at trailheads.
5. While not one of the five “Cinque Terre” villages, Portovenere, on the Bay of Poets just to the south of Riomaggiore, is an absolute stunner and not to be missed. A 20-minute ferry ride from La Spezia will bring you to this colourful town, spilling down the mountainside, and topped with a glorious fort. You can wander the streets and dine on fresh basil pesto pasta (a local specialty) topped off with endless cones of gelato, in any flavor your heart desires. Our favourite part was swimming in “Byron’s Grotto” – a turquoise blue cove where the 18th century poet once frolicked.
So there you have it – a few tips for making your visit to the Cinque Terre spectacular. If you’d like to arrange a private day trip, any of our Cinque Terre guides would be thrilled to share this special corner of the world with you. Send any of them a message and they’ll customize the perfect itinerary for you.