The Cinque Terre is home to a string of five charming seaside towns that stretch along the coastline of the Italian Riviera. Imagine stacks of pastel colored houses and lush vineyards clinging to steep terraces, trattorias dishing up fresh-caught Ligurian cuisine, and harbors coming to life with fishing boats and sunbathers. The Cinque Terre offers the perfect combination of culinary indulgence, picturesque isolation and breathtaking views for a relaxing getaway.
The best way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train from La Spezia. You’ll need to purchase a Cinque Terre Treno Park Card, costing roughly 7.50 euro/day, which will cover the cost of both train and hiking fees between towns. Be sure to validate your ticket with a stamp at the platform before boarding. Being caught onboard or on the trail without a valid card can result in a fine. We embarrassingly fell victim to this on our last day and had to pay the price!
the Cinque Terre: The Five lands
Riomaggione, the “modern” town: first of the five towns is home to a cozy cluster of trattorias and shops. This town is a bit more modern than the others, but still holds its charm. It is also the starting point of Via dell’Amore, a flat and easy trail called “The Way of Love”.
Manarola, the “picturesque” town: this extremely photogenic town is known for its colorful houses that slide down the rocky and rigid hillside. My second favorite of the towns, offers everything from scenic lookouts at worthy restaurants to winding city roads leading down to a swimming cove.
Corniglia, the “hilltop” town: the smallest of all villages sits quietly on the hilltop, 300 steps up from the train station, and is the only town without a natural harbor. Surrounded by magnificent views of the Mediterranea Sea and sprawling vineyards, this town is known for its production of wine and agricultural goods.
Vernazza, the “romantic” town: this is easily the most romantic of all five towns. This one-street town is lined with trattorias and cafes leading down to its natural harbor and old castle lookout. No cars enter this village, preserving its quaint and quiet feel. **This is where we stayed during our visit.
Monterosso al Mare, the “resort” town: this town is the largest and most resort-like destination, appeasing to the masses with its mixture of old and new hotels, upscale dining options, expansive beaches and local shops. For a boutique-y experience offering all the best of the Cinque Terre in one place, this is for you.
Where to Stay:
Each town possesses its own unique history and charm. Regardless of which you settle in for your stay, each is worth it’s own visit.
Recommendation: rent an AirBnB from one of the 800 locals in Vernazza, the 4th town. The one-street town offers a romantic and immersive stay among the locals. Rooms and apartments are snugly nestled above the main street to allow for quiet isolation, and are reasonably priced.
Other Options: There are plenty of chic and affordable hotels in Monterosso al Mare. The Hotel Villa Steno offers a high end boutique atmosphere elevating the charming Cinque Terre feel. The Hotel Pasquale is a small family run boutique hotel with great views of the sea.
What to Do:
Lots of Hiking! The Sentiero Azzurro trail connects all five towns and offers a walking path for hikers of every experience-level. A Cinque Terre Park Card is required to access the trails, so make sure to carry yours on you.
– Riomaggiore to Manarola (20 min): Via dell’Amore
– Manarola to Corniglia (45 mins)
– Corniglia to Vernazza (1.5 hours): wildest and greenest section of the coast, very hilly but rewarding.
– Vernazza to Monterosso (1.5 hours): most challenging
We hiked each trail between the towns except for Manarola to Corniglia due to it being closed. I recommend splitting the hikes up into separate days so that you have time to explore each town you arrive in. But if you only have time for one hike, our favorite trail was between the 4th and 5th towns! The trail begins with a climb through the steep and narrow corridors of the town and opens up to a paved trail, stretching 2.5 miles along the cliffside and gloating lush green cactus, grapevines and olive trees.
Book a Boat Tour – The full scope of the Cinque Terre is best seen by sea, given the colorful coastline and striking landscape of topographical vineyards. Angelo’s Boat Tours offers varying tour lengths in a small group setting to create a intimate atmosphere. Escape the crowds for a day on the water – relaxing, swimming, and snorkeling among friends.
Wine Tasting in Monterosso – Buranco Agriturismo offers visits to their vineyard and cantina. Be sure to reserve atleast 2 days in advance. Enjoy a sampling of Buranco’s extraordinary wines and savory local delicacies, while seated on the veranda overlooking their splendid vineyard and lemon grove in a woodland setting.
What to eat:
My favorite part of any vacation is indulging in the cuisine of that region. The Cinque Terre is home to many coastal Italian delicacies that are a must-try during your visit.
Anchovies – Being from the US, these salty little fishes would not be my first pick off of any menu. However, they are a staple in the Cinque Terre, often caught and prepared fresh that day, so “When in Rome, Eat as the Romans do”! Try them marinated in a garlic & vinegar sauce called Giada.
Pesto – This region of Laguria is the birthplace of pesto. A combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil, usually enjoyed over a bowl of Gnocchi or Trenette (flat noodles). What’s not to love!
Focaccia – These fresh baked squares of heaven can be found on display in almost every bakery. Lingering along the cobble-stone streets are aromas of garlic, olive oil and herbs, luring customers in to take a bite out of their soft, pillowy dough.
All the Wine!
– Cinque Terra: light dry white wines from the terraces of the region. *This was our favorite wine as it tasted freshly bottled.
– Sciacchetra: a delicious sweet variety of Cinque Terra wine with an intense flowery scent, often served with dippable biscotti.
– Pigato: a light perfumed white wine that goes well with seafood.
– Rossese: a light but full flavoured red wine, often known as Dolceacqua.
– Ormeasco di Pornassio: a rich red with a red berry perfume.
Where to eat:
– Il Pescato Cucinato, $: A small, family-owned shop serving up cones of fresh fried fish. “Fresh-fried” sounds like a contradiction, but the fish is actually caught fresh every day, and then flash fried to order. You can’t go wrong with the “fritto misto”, a little bit of everything – calamari, shrimp, anchovies, and whatever else was caught that day!
– Nessun Dorma, $$: If you only have time for one meal, this is the place to stop! It’s got the best views of both the ocean and colorful hilltop houses, vibe-y tropical house music to make you feel like you’re in a cool Italian movie, and tasty Tapas. The bruschetta and charcuterie should not be missed!
– Trattoria dal Billy, $$$: Dinner reservations are a must at this special occasion restaurant. Spectacular views from their outdoor terrace are served up alongside the freshest fish.
– Alberto Gelateria, $: Considered the best gelato shop in Cinque Terre!
– Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, $$: This tiny breakfast shop at the very top of town is filled with homemade pasties and artful cups of coffee. I would go back here again and again if this was in my neighborhood.
– Belforte, $$$: This restaurant sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking the water, so be ready to pay a pretty penny for this spectacular view. But the food is worth it! I recommend the Zuppa Michela (boatload of seafood) and Trofie al Pesto (hand rolled noodles with pesto). Make sure to reserve one of the four tables on the terrace.
Monterosso Al Mare:
– Miky and La Cantina di Miky, $$$: Ask to be seated in the garden among the jasmine and wisteria. Try the Pizza pasta “pasta finished in a think pizza crust” and the linguine with lobster. For dessert, finish with a mixed sampler plate.