Marvel at the 5 little villages of pastel houses perched along the coast and tucked away in the hilly landscape of vineyards and olive trees. Enjoy a full plate of trofie al pesto as you watch the boats lazily sway back and forth in the warm Mediterranean Ocean. Although increasing in popularity, Cinque Terre still manages to hold its charm and stay one of the most beautiful parts of Italy.
WHEN TO VISIT:
Enjoy the shoulder seasons of May and September/October. The high season in summer can lose its charm due to the amount of crowds and the low season (November through April) suffers from restaurant and hotel closures. Avoid August as it is the hottest and most crowded time of the year!
HOW TO GET THERE:
By plane: The closest airports are Pisa and Genoa, although getting to Cinque Terre from Milan is quite easy as well. Regardless of which airport you fly into, you will have to take a train to Cinque Terre. Pisa is about 2 and a half hours away and Milan is about 3 hours away. You can buy tickets from the city you fly into to La Spezia or Genova on trenitalia.it or there are self-serve kiosks at the stations.
By train: The main hubs to catch the regional (regionale) trains for Cinque Terre are La Spezia (south of Cinque Terre) or Genova (north of Cinque Terre). All 5 villages are connected by these regional trains.
A regional train connects all of the 5 villages and you can buy a 24-hour pass. However, please note that although it says it is 24-hours, the ticket expires at midnight! Make sure to validate it at the first use in the little yellow bow you can find near or on the platform. You can also buy the Cinque Terre card to have access to the hiking trails that connect all 5 of the cities.
WHERE TO STAY:
A lot of the hotels and hostels are more expensive than what they are worth. Many times there wont be air conditioning or other amenities typical in most places. I suggest finding an apartment on Airbnb. I stayed at Ca de Gianchi and loved it. It is located in Manarola and well worth the price. Luckily, it was only up one small hill after the train station which is normally not the case in Cinque Terre!
BREAKDOWN OF EACH VILLAGE:
Monterosso: this is the biggest of the 5 villages, the most touristy, and the only one with an actual beach. You will find the most hotels here, however I think it loses its appeal due to its size and the large amount of tourists staying here. While the other 4 villages still hold on to their “old world charm,” Monterosso is definitely the most modern.x Visit for the afternoon and enjoy some gelato as you walk along the beach. Note most of the beaches are private and will require a fee, but you can find a small area of public beach when you look past all the colorful umbrellas and beach chairs.
Vernazza: Usually considered the loveliest of the villages, Vernazza has a beautiful square off the natural harbor filled with restaurants and gelaterias. It is quintessential Cinque Terre and due to its popularity, it is quite lively. When entering Vernazza from the hike, you take a maze of tiny streets leading you into a square that makes the last 2 hours of hiking worth it.
Cornilia: This is the smallest, most remote, and village most affected by the storms. It is set high on the hill so it is uphill (or 377 steps!) on either side. Unfortunately, I spent the least amount of time here but the tiny streets seems to be filled with inviting restaurants and bars.
Manarola: I have a slight bias because this is where I stayed, but I believe Manarola is the perfect blend of everything you want in Cinque Terre. Good food, friendly locals, nice places to swim, and stunning views. There is a small water-hole-like area where you will find little kids jumping from the rocks as their parents casually sunbathe. The are a couple restaurants right off the water, however the best one is a bit of a walk and nestled in the hills. You cannot miss a meal at Trattoria dal Billy during your time in Cinque Terre.
Riomaggiore: Picturesque. Steep hills of colorful houses jet from the sea giving Riomaggiore the perfect Cinque Terre look. It is linked to Manarola by the Via dell’Amore, which is the easiest and only paved part of the hike.
Eat: pesto, trofie, seafood
See: the view of Vernazza during the hike from Monterosso, all 5 village’s different personalities, the Via dell’Amore
D0: hike the 5 villages, taste the local wines, swim at night with the locals
Eating at Trattoria dal Billy has to be one of my favorite memories of this trip. This definitely needs to be on any Cinque Terre itinerary–make sure to make reservations though. It is hidden up in the hills of the village of Manarola. The small restaurant has indoor seating as well as a terrace that over looks the ocean. The staff is very friendly and does not hesitate to suggest the best wine for you. Pictures of the owner fill the walls and he is more than happy to talk about them when he isn’t running around the restaurant. I had a fresh seafood pasta and my cousin ate probably the best pesto we had in Cinque Terre. For dessert we wrapped up with a pancotta smothered in delicious chocolate sauce. And you can’t forget–a shot of limoncello to finish a perfect meal!
What was your favorite experience in Cinque Terre?