From five, quiet, Italian fishing villages to one of the most famous coastal landscapes in the world. Over the past 15 years, Cinque Terre has become one of the top ten tourist attractions in Italy, with over 2.4 million visitors arriving every year.
Located in the Liguria region in Northwest Italy, Cinque Terre (which literally translates to Five Lands) is comprised of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Sharing common themes of pastel coloured buildings, charming little streets, tiny harbours and the sound of waves crashing against the shore, each village is still astounding in its own way. Each has its own charm and offers a unique experience. It’s called the Italian Riviera for a good reason and it’s simply a must-see place in Italy.
I’m sure you already know that as you clicked on this article looking for tips with the possible intention of going.
You can find more information about the villages and how to get around Cinque Terre in general in my: “Cinque Terre – the ultimate guide” blog post.
Ok, but what can you do there? How to make the most of two days in Cinque Terre, Italy.
Well, you can simply enjoy the sun and the sea, admire the views, stroll the charming little streets, eat gelato, pizza or actually in this case: the famous Ligurian pesto and sip an Aperol Spritz. But if you have ants in your pants like me or want to feel that you deserved a gelato, you can also hike between villages where you can appreciate the scenery from many different angles. Which was exactly what I did.
So let me show you how I squeezed it all into just two days in Cinque Terre.
Things to bring:
- Comfy shoes/sneakers/something with some grip
- Lots of water (reusable water bottle)
- Snacks to keep you going until gelato time
- Camera to spread the word how beautiful Cinque Terre is
- A smile on your face and a little bit of willpower
- For those Instagram pictures – an outfit change, a hairbrush (especially for you boys)
- A hat is not necessary but recommended
- And finally, a lot of patience
If you’re not that bothered about staying in Cinque Terre, I highly recommend La Spezia. After checking many different options, La Spezia, turned out to be the best one: less crowded, quieter, a bit cheaper plus you can say you visited another lovely Italian town.
I started my day very early. After buying a two day Cinque Terre Train Card at La Spezia station I was already on the train to Monterosso al Mare by 7.30 am.
Monterosso is the Northernmost village and I decided to start sightseeing Cinque Terre from there because walking North to South always feels a little bit easier, don’t you think?
Monterosso is considered to be the least spectacular of the five villages, mainly because it’s not situated on a cliff, but it’s the only one with a proper sandy beach, which in summer, is filled with sun loungers and colourful umbrellas. In October, they were still there, but I decided not to sunbathe. Instead, I walked the colourful streets, climbed the hill leading to Convent of the Capuchin Friars which offered a great view, snapped a few shots and headed towards the start of the Blue Hiking Path.
There are a few hiking trails around Cinque Terre, and the most popular is The Blue Path, which connects all the 5 villages. With a total length of 12 km (7.5 miles), it will offer you a not so demanding hike (although be ready to climb a few rocky steps) with a chance to see the villages from above, vineyards, olive groves, citrus orchards, and those classic coastal views.
The trail from Monterosso to Vernaza is 3,5 km (2,2 miles) long. It took me about: 1,5h -2h to conquer and that included taking a LOT of pictures. But how can you resist views like these:
This breath-taking view of Vernazza is another reason why it’s better to start your walk in Monterosso and head south. You wouldn’t want to be looking over your shoulder with your back to it, would you?
I must say the hike made me a little out of breath. Even though it was an early October morning, the sun was pretty strong and because the trail is partly covered with trees, there was no wind. Plus, climbing the rocky steps can really squeeze the last drops of sweat out of you. Now you know why I recommended taking lots of water and a hairbrush. Despite the early hour, there were already other tourists testing their mettle hiking, so when I got to the best view points, I had to wait my turn to take pictures, but it was so worth it. The view of Vernazza from above was a little dream come true. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there and this fairytale land was real.
Totally drunk with amazement, I headed down to the actual village. Strolled a few streets and went for a little lunch at the harbour.
Vernazza is considered to be the most characteristic of the Cinque Terre and is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in the whole of Italy. It has a little bit of everything, the little harbour, two beaches, the medieval castle built to protect the village from pirates, pastel coloured buildings, charming piazza, good cafés and restaurants. But that also means it’s quite busy. It was the most noticeable when it started raining and everyone was looking for a hideaway in the bars and restaurants. Luckily, I do boxing, so after performing a TKO, one of tables was mine.
A forced break with a glass of Aperol Spritz, gave me new strength to hit another trail: Vernazza – Corniglia.
Don’t forget to look back over your shoulder when fighting for your breath while climbing the rocks out of Vernazza. You wouldn’t want to miss this view:
Vernazza – Corniglia trail is a little longer: 4 km (2,4 miles), but in my opinion, more pleasant and even more picturesque. After climbing a lot of steps in the beginning, later on you can enjoy the flatter areas with lots of vineyards, orchards and olive groves. And since Corniglia is the least popular village, the path wasn’t that busy. This path even has a bar you can stop off in for a shot of courage. Not wanting to miss any of the spectacular views, I took this path slowly. But when finally, I spotted from afar little, colourful houses situated on the impressive rocky headland I had my second moment of bliss of the day.
The third of the five Cinque Terre villages was just within my reach and it was still only 4.30 pm. Corniglia is the smallest village and often gets overlooked due to the fact that it’s the only one not situated directly on the sea. But it definitely doesn’t take away any of its charm. Hipster bars, cute little cafes and typical Italian restaurants fill the narrow, colourful streets with life. Even though my legs were giving me obvious signs that they were no longer willing to walk or, God forbid, climb any more steps, I needed to wander around Corniglia and even scaled one of the viewpoints in the village: up to the Capella Dei Flagellati Corniglia.
Since it was only just after 6 pm, I thought I could still check off the next village in order: Manarola – which offers the best sunsets.
Unfortunately, but to the joy of my legs, the path: Corniglia – Manarola was closed (October 2018), so I decided to take a train. But surprise, surprise: getting to Corniglia station also wasn’t fast and painless. It turns out that you have to traverse 377 or 382 steps (depending on the source, I was so shocked that I forgot to count). Luckily for me I only went down. But brace yourself for the climb when you arrive to Corniglia by train and have to climb them to get to the village. I heard a rumour that there was a bus which takes you straight to the station. And now that I checked it, it’s true. Hmm, seems that I have to do more research before my trips.
After just a few minutes on the train I was in Manarola and to be honest I did not like it. Maybe the tiredness started kicking in or maybe it was because of hundreds of people bumping into me (sunset + dinner time…you get the picture), but in the beginning this village did not blow me away. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I stayed to watch the sunset, snapped a few pictures of the most iconic Cinque Terre vista and took a train back to La Spezia to enjoy a very well deserved dinner. Yes, pasta with pesto – what else?
That was the end of the day one of my two days in Cinque Terre adventure.
If you’re staying in La Spezia during the weekend, I suggest you do what I did and book a table at the restaurant you plan on eating in advance. Especially if it is Osteria all’Inferno – the most popular place for pesto in La Spezia.
Wake up call: 5.50 am
Hours of sleep: maybe 5…
Bags under my eyes: quite noticeable
Leg power: need charging
The second day of my Cinque Terre adventure started even earlier. But I was on a mission – Picture time! Plus, how can you sleep with the amazing views just around the corner. Figuratively speaking of course. In reality they were a 9 min train journey away.
You can find all the details on how to commute between the villages in my other Cinque Terre blog post.
At 7 am I was already in Riomaggiore and whatever aches and pains I was complaining about before – all gone. My eyes were stunned with the beauty of this place, my mouth open in the shape of “wow” and even if someone hit me with a hammer I wouldn’t feel a thing. It starts simply enough, after getting off the train, the village looks pretty similar to the previous ones, but then I got to the little harbour and the view (that I had seen so many times on the Internet) knocked me down.
Riomaggiore is the largest of the five and acts as its’ unofficial HQ. The town climbs up along the ridges overlooking the sea and it is characterised by the typical stone houses with pastel façades and slate-roofs that appear to march down a steep ravine to a tiny harbour.
Because of the early hour, the village was empty. Only restaurant owners were preparing to open their businesses. The sun was slowly rising, the waves were crashing against the shore… It was an ideal time for pictures. After taking many, from the most picturesque wall, and from the rocks below, I just sat there for ages and stared at the view…until other early birds (but I was first, ha!) came to take their dream shots. I walked around the rocks, got to Riomaggiore beach (very rocky, but it will do) and headed for a croissant and espresso macchiato.
The rest of the village is equally charming; steep narrow alleys lined with potted flowers, cute bars and restaurants, gift shops with all the Italian holiday accessories and everything is surrounded by pastel coloured buildings.
Unfortunately the most famous path: Via del Amore, which leads from Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed, so the train was the only option. (October 2018)
This time Manarola seemed a lot different. The shining sun reflecting on colourful houses was filling the streets with joy and happiness; the boats pulled up onto the main street were adding an “Italian fishing village” charm; the turquoise, clear sea was just calling me to have a swim. And this would be a perfect time for it. Manarola doesn’t offer an actual beach, but there is a beautiful harbour area that has the best deep-water “pool” with a ladder leading to it. That would be certainly an adventurous swim. But where was my swimsuit…? You guessed right, at home. Instead I walked around Punta Bonfiglio (a path around the peninsula) which offers the best vantage point over the village and just stayed there forever admiring it and probably spoiling other people’s pictures. Oops!
The best part though was getting a table with a view in Nessun Dorma. It’s a restaurant located above the path around the peninsula and it’s simply a must-do when visiting Cinque Terre. Delicious food, cold cocktails and the view! What more do you want? Ah yes, the table next to the edge which guarantees, in my opinion, the best experience. I was super lucky to get it. Nessun Dorma is very popular for a reason, and sometimes it can take a while to get any table. Even though it was super hot that day, I didn’t mind at all. The restaurant came up with a great solution for the heat – fans that sprayed a fine mist over you.
I couldn’t dream of a better way to say goodbye to Cinque Terre. I so didn’t want to leave! I could have stayed in Nessun Dorma forever, sipping an Aperol Spritz and just looking at this magnificent panorama. Mainly because of this experience, Manarola became my favourite out of the great five.
But unfortunately my two days in Cinque Terre have come to an end.
As slowly as I could, I dragged myself to the railway station, caught the train to La Spezia and was off on another adventure.
If you want to know more about Cinque Terre check out: “What is Cinque Terre – the ultimate guide” blog post.
In case of any questions, hit me up on Instagram.
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