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The Best Travel Guide to Cinque Terre, Italy

Updated: Nov 29, 2022


Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy. kpmphotoart

The first thing to know about Cinque Terre is how to pronounce it! CHIN-kweh TER-ray will get you on the right track and will hopefully get you to the right spot of Italy’s gorgeous Ligurian coast.



We first discovered Cinque Terre (meaning five lands) through stumbling on amazing photos probably via Instagram of idilic Italian mountain towns cascading in to the Mediterranean Sea.


“Italian culture is so deeply soaked in an appreciation of the good things in life.” – Mariska Hargitay

Reminiscent of the famed Almalfi coast, Cinque Terre is a car free oasis offering five similar but uniquely individual beautiful towns.


The five villages in The Cinque Terre National Park are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.



Each of the towns are relatively tiny and can be explored casually - it’s just about taking in the beauty and enjoying la dolce vita . Why not, for example, have breakfast in one town, lunch in another and an Aperol Spritz in the third?



 

Getting there...

The closest airports to Cinque Terre are Genoa to the northtwest and Pisa to the southeast. Both are equidistant and the train service will get you there in about two and a half hours (give or take connections).


“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

We chose to fly to Genoa and spent a night there on the return journey (read my Genoa post). There are a few ways to get to the train station from the airport.


The Flybus will take you to the train station Genova Sestri Ponente-Aeroporto, and then you’ll have to connect in one of the two main train stations in Genoa city: Genova Piazza Principe or Genova Brignole. Alternatively the Volabus shuttle service will take you to either of the main train stations in the city.



We decided to make it a bit more simple and got a taxi from the airport (€25 flat fee) straight to Genova Brignole station. I just used google mapped directions when landing to find the next train departure/route to Vernazza, our Cinque Terre destination.



We easily bought train tickets at the station - after mispronouncing ‘Vernazza’ numerous times and having to show the clerk my google map app. Don’t forget to validate your train ticket before you board at one of the yellow validation machines.


“Italians know that what matters is style, not fashion. Italian style does not have social or age boundaries.” – Stefano Gabbana

From Genova Brignole we just had to change trains one time which was fairly uneventful. The tickets cost €7.70 each for adults and €3.90 for children. Make sure you sit on the right hand side of the train as the views are spectacular.


Once we arrived in Vernazza, it was a very short walk 3 minute from the train station to our accommodation overlooking the picturesque harbour.



 

Getting around...

Cinque Terre is best explored on foot and by train. The train line links all five villages in a matter of minutes, or you can opt to hike the trail (Sentiero Azuro or Blue Trail) that hugs the mountainous coastline between them.


“In Italy, they add work and life on to food and wine.” – Robin Leach

Note that the trails between the villages vary in difficulty and you will need appropriate shoes - leave the heels at home! Also, various sections of the trail between villages are closes for repairs - so check before you plan your hikes.



You will need a ticket/pass for both the train and the trail. The ‘Cinque Terre Card’ covers you for one or the other, or both. We bought single day passes for train and trail combined. They were €14.80 for adults and €8.50 for children.


There are options to purchase two days passes as well. We bought them from the kiosk at the local train station in Vernazza - or you can buy them online.



If you are traveling by train only, it costs €4 for any one-way journey within the Cinque Terre National Park (€2 for kids aged 4-12).


 

The Villages...


Vernazza

We visited the region at the beginning of March in the very low season and decided to stay in Vernazza after reading a few different blogs and articles. Having been to all of the villages, I don’t think you can go wrong.


“So… Italian gelato. Take the deliciousness of a regular ice-cream cone, times it by a million, then sprinkle it with crushed-up unicorn horns.” – Jenna Evans Welch

It was easy to find accommodation this time of year, but you’ll have to book up in advance to find a good local spot to stay in the high season. There are no big hotels in the area, so all the accommodation seems to be apartments, air bnbs, and small bead and breakfast establishments.



The harbour area square is probably the nicest of all the villages and there are rocks scattered next to the harbour that are great for exploring and sunning yourself.



We bought beers at local shop, parked ourselves on one of the rocks, and enjoyed a lovely DIY happy hour while our eight year old searched for sea urchins.



Vernazza is nicely central located and provides access via the Blue Trail to Monterosso and Corniglia.


“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” – Anna Akhmatova

We decided to hike to Corniglia on the first day. I’ve heard that the trails can be super crowded and hot in the summer months but when we there in March, it was empty.



The initial ascent is pretty much straight up but then the trial meanders and the views of the sea below are incredible - and totally worth the uphill effort. The hike to Corniglia took about and hour and a half stopping for photos, lizard chasing, and water breaks.



 

Corniglia

This is the only village that doesn’t boast a harbour area or water access. The colorful village perches on its pedestal of rock overlooking the Med.



The narrow streets are absolutely lovely and full of cute looking cafes and restaurants along with a few shops. There is a lookout point with a glorious 180 degree view of blue, and the small square overlooked by the church is delightful.



It should be noted that Corniglia’s train station is located down from the village and requires descending approximately a million flights of stairs - well maybe not quite that many, but it sure looked like that to the people coming up! So do plan accordingly.



 

Manarola

With easy access from the train station, Manarola is another fishing village with a gorgeous harbour area and one of the best viewpoints. Take the pathway up from the waters edge and just enjoy the view.



There is a very cool restaurant/bar/cafe at the top Nessun Dorma from which you can linger over the the view while enjoying some Italian fare. Note: there is also a kids playground at the top which has the best view of any playground I’ve ever seen!


“I think people in Italy live their lives better than we do. It’s an older country, and they’ve learned to celebrate dinner and lunch, whereas we sort of eat as quickly as we can to get through it.”– George Clooney


 

Riomaggiore

The short hiking trail Via dell’ Amore (Lover’s Lane), linking Riomaggiore to Manarola, has been closed for a number of years due to landslides and erosion - so taking the train there is the way forward.


This is a lively village with a main street full of good culinary choices that ends at the small harbour. If you climb out to the rocks making up the harbour wall, you can get that quintessential photo looking back up to the village in all its colorful glory.


 

Monterosso

Our first day saw Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore (7.5 miles of walking and 100 flights). So we decided to take it easy on our second day and just head to Monterosso on foot along the coastal mountainous trail.



The hike took about two and a half hours and was by no means a piece of cake. It is however, one of the most beautiful walks I have ever been lucky enough to experience.


“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.”– George Miller

The sweeping, magestic views of the deep blue Mediteranean along with the dusty pathways leading you up through olive groves made for a memorable day.



My eight year old didn’t even complain as he was on the lookout for lizards and wildlife along the way (he saw 20 lizards btw). I was however rather grateful when we got closer to Monterosso upon seeing the endless steep steps leading down to the village - grateful for the fact that at we had not decided to walk in the opposite direction. Not a hike for the faint of heart, that way!



I had read that Monterosso was the largest, busiest village of the five, but on arrival soon discovered that while it is indeed different from the other four, it is still a small coastal village. Monterosso it definitely less intimate than the other four, but it still has charm and the one attribute that all the others miss - a beach.



If you want a proper beach with sand and a parasol, this is the place. The water all along the coast is crystal clear and the most wonderful blue/green colour.


Monterosso has a more riviera feel to it and might make a good base as there are more hotels and B&Bs here than the smaller villages.



We loved the ambiance of the other villages but also loved walking along the beach in Monterosso, getting our feet wet, finding cool pebbles and climbing rocks with our young son.




Cinque Terre Restaurants...

Vernazza


Corniglia


Manarola


Riomaggiore


Monterosso


 

Onward to Genoa...

We thought we’d stay night in Genoa on our way home so as not to rush back to the airport on the train from Cinque Terre. Genoa, not being on the Italian tourist trail, was a bit of an anomaly. It did not, however, disappoint.


While being a gritty, lived-in city, it has an elegance and splendour steeped in history that left us both surprised and inspired. This city really does fly under the radar when it comes to Italian tourism - it’s a gem.






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Thanks - and stay classy!

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