Imagine spending an afternoon in Cinque Terre, one of the most picturesque spots in Italy and, probably, in the world? Cinque Terre (translated as ‘five lands’) is a colorful collection of five small fishing villages – Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza – nested on dramatic looking seaside cliffs. So, join me on an afternoon stroll through these medieval villages and explore their beauty and unique vibe.
After a couple of hours driving from bustling Milan through Italy’s stunning countryside, my friend and I have arrived in La Spenzia, closest town to Cinque Terre. From there, we hopped on a local monorail that runs along the coast of Ligurian Sea and connects all five villages since motorized transport is prohibited here. Without any traffic or honking and with a traditional rural lifestyle, this is a perfect spot for relaxing and letting your soul rejuvenate.
Each village has its own character and charm. Our journey started at Riomaggiore, one of the most popular villages among the tourist crowds. It has a number of attractions, including ancient castle – Castello di Riomaggiore, an old church of San Giovanni Battista and even a botanical garden.
Manarola is one of the smaller villages but makes up in its vibrant collection of colourful houses you often see on the post cards.
Next stop is Corniglia, a quiet village located at the top of the steep hill (300 feet above the Ligurian Sea) you can access via steep steps from the train station.
It is a great place to stop for drinks and try some local wines produced from the grapes happily growing on the hills of the village. Just be aware it might be windy at the top but the sea views are stunning.
Monterosso al Mare is a larger village with a more of a resort feel with its own hotels, beach and seafront promenade. Therefore, bigger tourist crowds and thus, louder and livelier night life are expected. Don’t forget to check out main attractions – Statue of Neptune aka the Giant, the Church of Saint John the Baptist and Old Castle.
Vernazza has a small but beautiful natural harbor. Also, make sure to check out its Doria Castle and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Reggio.
It offers a great choice of restaurants and bars hanging off the cliffs, a perfect spot for dinner and drinks at the sunset. Here local men sit with their finishing rods patiently waiting for a catch.
Monorail: allow extra time for travel, while exploring each village without rush and enjoying stunning landscape. Trains between villages run on an hourly basis and journey between each village takes approximately 5-10 mins. Check their schedule ahead of time to avoid waiting on a platform for a long time.
Hiking: don’t be surprised to hear English everywhere as monorail carriages tend to be full of trekkers, especially Americans. For those who like to explore nature by foot, Cinque Terre offers excellent trekking routes running along the coast. However, the area is also prone to landslides so some of them were closed when we visited. Therefore, it is advisable to check latest status of hiking trails to see which ones are open/closed.
When to go: summer months (June-August) are filled with festivities, celebrating Cinque Terre’s patron, while end of summer-beginning of fall is a harvest time for the local vineyards.
Autumn is beautiful here (it was October when I went), when it is still very warm but the foliage colors change to different shades of yellows and reds.
What to eat/drink: as anywhere else on Italy, food in Cinque Terre is excellent. Wines (famous “Sciacchetrà” dessert wine is produced here) and olive oil come from local vineyards and olive orchids, while seaside location guarantees wide choices of seafood. For example, freshly caught anchovies, sardines, octopus, and mussels are excellent. Here I tried my ‘black’ squid ink pasta for the first time.
It didn’t look or sound appetizing but was in fact very tasty! Also, try vegetable or rice pie, a local delicacy specific for this region. And don’t forget to finish your meal off with a dose of gelato from a local gelatteria.
Where to swim: two large sandy beaches are located in Monterosso, while Riomaggiore and Corniglia have their own pebble beaches.
Cinque Terre offers best of Italian country side – sun, sea, fresh air, stunning views, endless hiking trails through rugged mountains and lush hills, rustic villages and slow-paced lifestyle, mouthwatering authentic Italian food and tasty locally produced wines. All in all, a winning combination for a pleasant and relaxing European break!
Happy travels! xx