4 days in the Cinque Terre
When Rich asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday this year, I didn’t even have to think about it. It had to be the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coastline of Italy.
The Cinque Terre – or 5 lands – are composed of 5 colourful villages answering the names of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso Al Mare. Millions of visitors flock to this picturesque part of Italy each year, so much so that the government are now looking at ways to control the number of visitors to preserve the character of the villages.
We booked our trip for early May thinking the crowds would still be fairly small and that the Italian sunshine we longed and craved for would be out. Imagine our disappointment when we checked the weather forecast the day before our trip and realised it was going to rain every single day while we were there… And it did! But at least it didn’t rain constantly so we were still able to get on with some exploring.
/ STAY /
We turned to Airbnb. There are a few hotels in the villages but we wanted to have something that would feel a little more ‘authentic’ and a ‘home’ rather than a ‘room’ since we were going to be there for longer than a couple of days.
We stayed at this apartment in Manarola, which was lovely. It looks even better than on the pictures and it’s in a perfect location. We just had to go down a few flight of stairs and we were on the main street, close to the water and all the restaurants. Oh and I should probably mention that you can see the sun set above the sea from the window by the bed. Such a treat!
/ SEE & DO /
If you can, go for a wander in each of the villages. They’re tiny so it doesn’t take long and you can probably cram 3 in a day if you’re only going for a day trip but my advice is to stay in the area for at least 3 days. This will give you plenty of time to explore at a leisurely pace, try lots of restaurants, chill by sea and get a better feel for this special part of the country.
Riomaggiore – the view of the village from the rocks on the tiny harbour is not to be missed. We went there for lunch and had takeaway fried seafood cones by the sea. Follow the steps on the left of the harbour (facing outwards) to get lovely pics of the harbour.
Manarola – my favourite of the 5 villages. I’m probably biased since this is where we were based but I had such a good time there. I loved our late afternoons eating ice creams and making the most of the sun (when it was around). I loved watching the sun set by the water with a beer and a slice of pizza or focaccia in hand. And I loved wandering the streets uphill to get back to our apartment.
Corniglia – it’s the smallest of the villages and the only one that’s not by the sea. As a result, it feels slightly less busy than the others but don’t be fooled, it still gets a lot of visitors. If you are really stretched on time, this is probably the one I’d recommend skipping but if you’re around for longer than a day, definitely go for a couple of hours. It’s also a good end point or starting point for a hike to Vernazza or from Manarola.
Vernazza – To get the postcard shot you see in all the guide books and all over Instagram, walk past the first heel on the trail that goes from Vernazza to Monterosso. You usually have to pay to go through (you need a ‘Cinque Terre card’ to hike between some of the trails) but if you ask nicely and explain you just want to take a quick picture, they’ll let you go through without paying. Be respectful though and don’t go do the full hike if you didn’t pay for it or they will likely stop making exceptions for people who just want a quick snap.
Monterosso – It’s the largest of the 5 towns and it has a bit more of a resort feel to it because of all its shops and restaurants. They also have a wide stretch of beach with cute striped umbrellas for you to laze under. If you’re going to stay for a while, this is a great base.
There is plenty to do outside of the villages such as hiking, winery tours, cooking lessons and boat trips. There are also some good day trip options. Two popular ones are Portovenere south of the villages – often called the 6th land – and Portofino up north.
We didn’t get a chance to go to do everything on our list because of the weather but our Airbnb Host highly recommended taking the boat from Monterosso back to Manarola or even Riomaggiore so you can see the 5 villages from the sea so I’m passing on his recommendation. Note: the boats only run if the weather is good and the forecast clear for the day.
Hike. Hiking between the villages is a popular activity due to the fantastic views you get along the way. Some of the trails are easy, some are quite challenging. I know a lot of people want to do the Lover’s walk which goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola because it’s the shortest and easiest hike but sadly it is still closed due to the flooding that happened in 2012 and destroyed part of the path. We did the hike from Manarola to Corniglia. It took about an hour and the beginning was quite challenging because it was all up hill but once you’ve reached that part, it gets easier. Another piece of advice: don’t hike if it is raining. The trails are not on an even path. It’s hilly and rocky and it can get quite slippery when wet.
/ EAT & DRINK /
It’s totally cliche but when in Italy, you absolutely must eat pasta, pizza and gelato. There are also a few delicacies that are typically from the Ligurian region that you should try: pesto being the most famous one. I highly recommend the focaccia and of course fish. If you’re by the sea, you’re pretty much guaranteed fresh fish and you know the trattorias will know how to cook it well.
Il Pescato Cucinato, Riomaggiore: Pescato does a yummy cone of fried seafood which you can take away and enjoy by the harbour or while you wander down the narrow lanes.
Nessun Dorma, Manarola: you will likely have to queue for this one because it is the spot not to miss in Manarola. If you can go, early evening for sunset views of the village over wine and bruschetta. One bit of advice: the bruschettas are huge and come by 6 on big wooden boards so unless there are several of you sharing, don’t order 2 boards or you won’t be able to eat anything else.
Il Porticciolo, Manarola – We had the best seafood pasta there! And make sure you try their deconstructed tiramisu for desert. So good!
Lunch Box, Vernazza: for a coffee or a freshly-squeezed fruit juice
Da Adolfo, Monterosso: this is where we had the most epic cheese & meat board I have ever had in my entire life. I still dream of it.
/ HOW TO GET AROUND /
You might be wondering how you can go from one village to the next. There are a few options:
On foot: if you like hiking and are not afraid of a challenge, then try and hike between the villages. You will need to purchase a Cinque Terre card which will give you access to all the trails and conveniently unlimited train rides should you get tired (which you likely will! Some of those hikes are intense).
By train: there are regular trains between the 5 villages. It is the quickest way to get from one town to the next (it takes about 5 minutes to go between each of the towns). You can buy single and return tickets from the machines at the stations or you can also buy the Cinque Terre Card which lets you travel as many times as you’d like.
By boat: if the boats are running, definitely go for at least one ride. It’s a fantastic way to get a different perspective on the villages. Our Host Mauricio raved about it. All of the villages apart from Corniglia will have a ferry pier where you can purchase your ticket. This is also where you’ll need to go to see whether the boats are running that day or not.