Cinque Terre, five of Italy's most colorful villages
One of my favorite countries is Italy. A country I try to visit yearly. One Italian destination in particular was on my bucketlist for years and this year I can finally scratch it off the list: Cinque Terre. Five fishing villages on the Ligurian coast that can be found in between the cities of Pisa and Genua. What is special about these villages is that they are built on the cliffs and the houses are painted in the most vivid colors. It is hard not to fall in love with Cinque Terre!
The dramatic coastline villages that make up Cinque Terre are Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from North to South). More than 2,5 million visitors flock to this UNESCO World Heritage Site every year and it’s easy to see why. All five villages have their own charm and are very picturesque.
It was a great choice to visit Cinque Terre this summer. Because of COVID-19 only Italians and visitors from other countries in the EU could be spotted in the crowds. Therefore it was a lot less crowded than other years, which resulted in hikes without running into other people and no waiting for tables at restaurants. It was also very easy to book an AirBnB. Three months in advance there were still lots op options in great locations.
My family and I stayed at Cinque Terre for a whole week at the end of July and I would like to share our highlights of the trip with you.
Monterosso Al Mare
Our home base was a villa in the most northern village of Cinque Terre: Monterosso Al Mare, more commonly known as Monterosso. A great starting point with lots to see, do and eat (you are in Italy after all). Monterosso is the only village with a proper beach and you will see lots of bronzed Italians parading around the beach and boulevard.
This village has an old town and a new one. The new part of this town is where you will find the beaches, most of the hotels, home rentals and the villas of Italians that have a second home in Cinque Terre. A tunnel for pedestrians divides the old and new town.
Kids will be eager to play in the sand and the sea, but there is also a little playground for kids up to around 8yo. You can find it in front of kid-friendly restaurant Barabba In White, where we had some great dinners.
The Old Town is very charming with lots of cute balconies, small eateries and tourist shops. From the harbor in the old part of Monterosso you can take the ferry to other parts of Cinque Terre, except for Corniglia because it doesn’t have a harbor. There are also connections to Portovenere, La Spezia, Levanto,?Portofino?and to the island of Palmaria.
If you have kids, check out the little playground. You can’t miss it as it is centrally located in between the harbor and the entry to the old town.
After you strolled through the Old Town, head back to the harbor and walk up to the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, where you will find the convent, but also a great view of Monterosso Bay and it gives you a closer look of Vernazza.
If you want to hike, Monterosso is a great starting point. I did two hikes from here.
Monterosso Al Mare to Punta Mesco
I started this walk from our rental home in the new part of town. If you start from the Old Town this hike will be about 20 to 30 minutes longer (depending on what part of the Old Town you start your hike from). If you start from the beach next to the Statua del Gigante the total of your hike will be about 2,5 to 3 hours (up and down). It is a beautiful walk and I suggest you start as early as you can to avoid hordes of hikers (in non-Corona-times).
I started at 7.30am and didn’t see anyone at all. It was so serene. Some parts are quite steep and the steps high, but it is absolutely doable for beginners and is also suitable for children.
When you get to the top of Punta Mesco you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Ligurian Coast and you will spot all five villages from up here. It was an amazing sight and I highly recommend it.
While you’re there you can also visit the remains of a church named Eremo di Sant’Antonio del Mesco, believed to be built during the 11th century. These ruins are located 311 meters above the sea and the view from up here is just as magnificent as the one around the corner with views of Cinque Terre.
Monterosso Al Mare to Vernazza
The second hike I did was the one to the next town over: Vernazza.? Starting your hike from the Old Town this trail will take about 3 to 4 hours. It’s called the Blue Path and the 7,5 kilometers long path is not hard to walk, but can be pretty steep at times. I did the walk on my own, because our 2 year old can’t walk long distances like this yet and it was way to hot to take him with us on our back in his child carrier (both for him and the parent that has to carry him around). The hike was beautiful.
Lots of vineyards, great views of both Monterosso as Vernazza and of course of the Ligurian coastline. I highly recommend this hike, but I do advise to start as early in the day as possible, because the summer heat can definitely exhaust you. And very important: bring enough water with you.
Things you need to know
- You used to be able to walk from north Cinque Terre all the way up to the south of Cinque Terre, but a few hiking paths between the villages are closed off because of safety issues. Before you start your hike check out your possibilities on the official Cinque Terre site.
- This site is also great to get more in depth information about all the trails available in this National Park.
- You have to buy a Cinque Terre Trekking Card to be able to visit the park and walk the trails. You can either buy this card online or at the Welcome Centers in all five villages.
- The Cinque Terre Trekking Card fees are:
- 1 day, adults: € 7,50 (for 12yo/69yo)
- 2 days, adults: € 14,50 (for 12yo/69yo)
- 1 day, kids: € 4,50 (for 4yo/12yo)
- 2 days, kids: € 7,20 (for 4yo/12yo)
- 1 day, family: € 19,60 (for families of 2 adults and 2 children between 4yo/12yo)
- 2 days, family: € 31,50 (for families of 2 adults and 2 children between 4yo/12yo)
- If you want to take the train and have access to the park and its villages it is better to buy the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card. You can also buy this card online or at one of the Welcome Centers in all five villages.
- The Cinque Terre Treno MS Card fees are:
- 1 day, adults: € 16,00 (for 12yo/69yo)
- 2 days, adults: € 29,00 (for 12yo/69yo)
- 3 days, adults: € 41,00 (for 12yo/69yo)
- 1 day, kids: € 10,00 (for 4yo/12yo)
- 2 days, kids: not available (buy a new one every day)
- 1 day, family: € 42,00 (for families of 2 adults and 2 children between 4yo/12yo)
- 2 days, family: not available (buy a new one every day)
After my hike from Monterosso to Vernazza it was time to explore this town. Vernazza has one small beach and a harbor that is just as small, but very charming. Both can be found next to each other and around it you will find a center plaza where you will find lots of restaurants where you can get great seafood and of course regional dishes like Trofie Al Pesto.
I can highly recommend Gambero Rosso?where I had a great bottle of wine, a delicious tagliatelle with lobster and one of the best starters I ever had in Italy: a large bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, burrata, anchovies, extra vergine olive oil with lemon and fresh basil.
Fun fact: lemon and anchovies are very common in dishes served in Cinque Terre. The anchovies are locally fished and the lemons grow all over Cinque Terre. Every year in May you can visit the Lemon Festival in Monterosso where you can buy all the lemons you could ask for and of course liters and liters of Limoncello.
Back to Vernazza: you don’t need lots of time to explore it. In about 1,5 hours I’ve seen it all. In all honesty the highlight is the harbor and the plaza in front of it, where you will also find a church that is worth a visit, the Santa Margherita di Antiochia.
Corniglia is the town that is most skipped on trips to Cinque Terre. This is mainly because the walk up to the town from the train station is quite the challenge. It’s a steep ascent via a 377-step brick stairway. The other reason is that it doesn’t have direct access to the sea.
Even though we visited Cinque Terre for a full week, halfway through our stay we realised we had to skip one of the towns and chose to safe Corniglia for another visit to this region. There is simply too much to see and do.
We loved Manarola more than we anticipated beforehand. We had seen numerous pictures of Manarola taken from a terrace across from the village, but we didn’t think there was much else to see. We were wrong.
The walk to and from the harbor was very picturesque. And if you walk up to the scenic viewpoint next to restaurant Nessun Dorma you pass by a playground where you get a closer look at the Manarola vineyards and also of Corniglia.
So if you walk up to the viewpoint with the goal of taking that postcard picture of Manarola, make sure you also look to your right and admire the view on that side.
We stayed in Manarola for about 2,5 hours, including a short break for an espresso.
The most famous village of Cinque Terre has got to be Riomaggiore. It is an easy ride from La Spezia and also from Pisa. People who visit the region and don’t have more than a day to spend in Cinque Terre usually choose to visit Riomaggiore. It is also the most photographed of all the villages.
If you want to visit Riomaggiore by car and are not staying in Cinque Terre, make sure you come early. I wanted to visit Riomaggiore back in 2014 and arrived at 11.30am to find that the road down to the village was closed. It was already overrun by visitors. So, make sure you arrive around 9am to make sure you don’t have to turn around and change your plans for the day.
Coming early is also a great trip if you visit this town with public transport. It gets really busy around noon and you stand in line everywhere; for pics, shops and a table at a restaurant.
Another option is to arrive around 16am. That is the time that most visitors go back to their homes or hotels/rentals and gives you the time to admire Riomaggiore in relative peace. Stay for dinner and you will be rewarded with a great sunset.
Now on to the fun part. If you’re smart and avoided as much of the crowd as you possibly can, good for you! Start by walking to the small harbor and enjoy the view of the colored houses first and take your pics second. After you get this out of the way you will soon see that it was a smart decision, because before you realize it, the crowds start to form and you are already enjoying your coffee (or Aperol Spritz if you’ve arrived late in the afternoon) at one of the many restaurants with great views of the sea and the village.
After enjoying the most famous part of Riomaggiore it is time to see the rest of the village. Cobbled streets take you through small and wide alleyways with loads of souvenir shops, restaurants and fruit stalls. Walk up to the Church of San Giovanni Battista. Not only is this a beautiful church to visit, but this area rewards you with great panoramic views of the whole town and the vineyards behind it.
That’s it! My first date with Cinque Terre. It was love at first sight. I’m certain I’ll come back here someday. And when I do, I’ll definitely update this blog post, because there are so many other things to see and do in this National Park.
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