Maybe you happened to see pictures of the gorgeous costal scenery featuring multi-coloured houses perched on the cliffs. Or maybe you heard your friends talking about a magical wonderland in Italy, but the only thing you remembered was: “hmmm, it had something to do with cin cin…”.
Well, it was most probably Cinque Terre.
But if you type the name “Cinque Terre” into a flight or train search engine you might receive a message: “But where now?” or “hello, which village of Cinque Terre?” or if the search engine is not very polite: “please consult your doctor”. Most of the time, you probably won’t get any result at all.
So if you finally want to know what is Cinque Terre, how to get there, where to stay, where to hike, where to go swimming, where to enjoy the sunset, where to have Aperol Spritz with the best views and why it’s such a big deal – keep reading because these and other doubts will be dispelled in this blog post.
Where is Cinque Terre and how to get there?
Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is located in the Liguria region, in the Northwest of Italy, and consists of 5 villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monteresso al Mare.
The coastline, the villages, and the surrounding hillsides are protected by Cinque Terre National Park and since 1997 are a UNESCO Heritage Site.
The closest airports are: in Pisa, Florence or Genoa, but I personally flew to Bologna and after visiting Florence and Pisa made my way down (by train) to Cinque Terre.
When to go?
I don’t think Cinque Terre is ever quiet. The high season starts in May and runs until October. So if big crowds cause you mental anguish and shortness of breath, I would stay clear of those months. Accommodation gets booked up really far in advance in summer and might cost you a small fortune. I went there in the beginning of October and even though mornings were fairly quiet, after 12 noon the most popular villages got especially packed; like, fighting for a table packed. I don’t even want to imagine what’s happening there during summer… Ahhh… I can’t breathe already.
But, I still can definitely recommend going there in October. The weather was just perfect! Not too hot, not too cold – perfect for swimming, hiking and sipping an Aperol Spritz afterwards.
Where to stay?
Even though staying in one of the villages is very appealing, if you want to enjoy some peace and quiet during the nights and save a few bucks, I highly recommend booking a place in La Spezia (assuming you’re not flying to Genoa, as it’s on the opposite end of the Riviera). It’s a port city with a beautiful old town filled with cafes and restaurants. Situated to the east of Cinque Terre, allowing easy access to the villages…
How to commute?
…by train. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get around Cinque Terre. The trains are every 10-15 minutes and will take you from La Spezia to each of the villages (presuming you beat the crowds and squeeze yourself in.) Even if you’re staying there only one day, I recommend buying the Cinque Terre Train Card, available for 1, 2 or 3 days. It allows unlimited train travels and includes access to all trekking paths, shuttle buses and WiFi at the stations (if you want to keep updating your social media with all the beautiful views, having a WiFi connection is essential – Internet comes in short supply there). The other option is reaching Cinque Terre by sea or hiking.
You can read about my hiking adventure here.
If you think you’re tough enough to hike between the villages and you won’t use the train that much, you can just get a Cinque Terre Card. It still includes access to all trekking paths, ecological buses and WiFi, but no trains. And as you can guess, it’s cheaper.
Unfortunately 2 out of 4 trekking paths (including the most famous: Via dell’Amore) have been closed for several years due to devastating landslides. But you can still enjoy the hike between Monterosso and Vernazza and Vernazza and Corniglia. (October 2018)
What to see?
Hmm… how do I put it into words? Everything! Cinque Terre has it all. Clear and sparkling sea with waves smashing over rocks, hiking paths along which you can admire vineyards, olive groves and citrus orchards; colourful houses hanging daintily off the side of dramatic cliffs, and little alleys leading straight to the sea or tiny harbours. Too good to be true? Not at all! And this is only a general description. Each village has its own unique character and individual atmosphere but they all have one thing in common – they are beautiful.
If you’re still not convinced whether to book a ticket (seriously?!) let me tell you a little about each village, starting with:
Riomaggiore is Cinque Terre’s first village. It’s the largest of the five and acts as its unofficial headquarters. The town climbs up along ridges overlooking the sea and it is characterised by typical stone houses with pastel façades and slate-roofs that appear to march down a steep ravine to a tiny harbour. This breathtaking view is best appreciated from the sea or from the (very popular among instagrammers) spot pictured below. For all the romantic souls or bachelors wanting to pop the question – Riomaggiore at sunset is definitely the place to be!
Personally my favourite out of the big five: Manarola is built on a high rock 70 metres above sea level and considered to be one of the most charming of the Cinque Terre villages. Picturesque, multi-coloured houses facing the sea, a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants, boats pulled up onto the main street, steep narrow alleys leading to the sea and a tiny harbour – can it get any better? Yes, it can! Manarola is a place where you can refresh yourself by jumping into the turquoise water, where you can admire the sunset from Punta Bonfiglio (a path around the peninsula) and where you can enjoy an Aperol Spritz (or any other cocktail of your choice, but come on!) at Nessun Dorma with the most beautiful view overlooking the whole village.
The middle village sometimes gets overlooked due to the fact that it’s the only one not situated directly on the sea. Instead, it sits atop a 100m high rocky headland surrounded by vineyards and terraces, but it still has access to a rocky cove. Not too shabby, right? I have one warning though: If you come by train you have to climb 377 or 382 steps (depending on the source, I forgot to count) to be able to stroll through the lovely narrow alleys, to admire the colourfully painted four-storey houses and to enjoy the beautiful view from the top. But if you’re hiking from Vernazza like I did, you’re safe. You walk straight into the centre of the village.
Considered as the most characteristic of the Cinque Terre and classified as one of the most beautiful villages in the whole of Italy, Vernazza has it all: a little port, two beaches, a medieval castle built to protect the village from pirates, pastel buildings, charming piazza, good cafés, restaurants and of course, amazing views from above. The best place to admire this beauty is from the hiking trial between the village and Monterosso. So if you’re coming from Monterosso, like I did – your work is done. But if you came by train, you will have to use your muscles and climb a few steps. I can promise you, it’s worth it! Usually you have to pay (unless you purchased a Cinque Terre Card) to enter the trail, but if you ask nicely, maybe you will be allowed to enter and take a few shots. One trick though – get mentally ready to queue a few minutes for a picture. All spots along the hiking trail are very popular. You can find another picturesque spot on the opposite side – along the hiking path from Vernazza to Corniglia.
Monterosso al Mare
The most accessible village by car, great for sports and relaxing on the beach, known for its lemon trees and anchovies, Monterosso al Mare is, in my opinion, the least spectacular out of The Five, mainly because it’s not situated on a cliff. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t charming. The village is divided in two parts: the old town is dominated by the ruins of a castle and typical narrow medieval streets with multi-coloured terraced houses; the new town is full of life thanks to hotels, restaurants and cafés. It’s the only village with a proper sandy beach which in summer, is filled with sun loungers and colourful umbrellas. If you want to leave Cinque Terre with an Italian tan, grab your swimming suit and head to Monterosso to enjoy the moments of sweet laziness. You deserved it!
As you can see I wasn’t lying. Cinque Terre has it all!
Sceptics may ask: “Why do I want to go to a place which is so crowded? Isn’t it just a commercialized and overpriced area concentrated on making money? Does it even have a pinch of Italian charm?” Yes, it absolutely does!
Cinque Terre is busy – that’s true. But if you think about it, there is a reason. Its beauty is real.
Is it pricey? No worries, you don’t have to break the bank. I was a little afraid that the only thing I would be able to buy there would be a banana and mineral water, but Cinque Terre isn’t that expensive at all. The food and cocktail prices didn’t differ that much from other Italian cities I visited. And paying 2 or 3 euro more for the beautiful views is absolutely worth it.
You want a more unique (and cheaper) experience? – get a bottle of wine and a take away pizza, find an isolated spot somewhere on the rocks and enjoy the sound of the waves smashing against the shore and magical views.
What do you imagine when you think about Italy? – delicious pizza and pasta, good coffee and passionate Italians talking with their hands. Perhaps you find it weird, but for me, apart from all those things, Italy brings to mind, washed laundry hanging from the windows. I’m pleased to say, I found all those things in Cinque Terre. So, the real Italian experience? – check!
I hope that with all this knowledge you’re ready to book a flight. So, pack your swimsuit, practice your best Instagram pose, and once you’re there raise a glass of Aperol Spritz and enjoy your unforgettable Cinque Terre experience.