You’ve seen the pictures right – the pretty pastel colour houses perched high on the rugged cliffs with the sparkling sea below? Cinque Terre, or the ‘five lands’, is the stretch of the Italian Riviera coastline that is made up of five little fishing villages each with their own distinct character. It’s now a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws 2.4 million visitors a year to hike, boat or train their way through the dramatic and picturesque coastal villages. Do you have it on your bucket list? Here’s everything you need to know to plan your next trip and make the most of your time in the Cinque Terre.
If you are tight on time, you could see all 5 villages in one day, but that means a very early start to a long day. We stayed 2 nights, which allowed for a good 1.5 days of touring, and that seemed to be the right amount of time, but still at a fast pace. Depending on when you go, we visited in April which is supposed to be the shoulder season, we still found it full with tourists. Between 10am and 4pm the villages are jampacked with people, but in the evening, it was calm, quiet and much more relaxing.
Starting north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. By train, it only takes about 5 minutes to travel from one village to the next. Or there is a ferry service, which connects all the villages but one, Corniglia. I can only image the views from the water, unfortunately the time we were there it was rough waters and they were not running. Or you could walk village to village, but of course you need to allow for that extra time. Now for the villages…
The biggest and busiest, it has a definite resort-like feel with noticeably more restaurants and shops than the other villages. It’s the only flat village and offers two beautiful beaches, one sand and one pebble. The village is split into 2 distinct neighbourhoods, the Fegina (beach area) and the Vecchio (historic center) which are connected by a picturesque promenade and a tunnel that cuts through the rock. When you arrive by train, you will be in the Fegina neighbourhood.
Is the closest of the 5 villages to remain a ‘true’ fisherman’s village with its natural habour and abundance of colourful boats. It is home to Castle Doria, a 15th century lookout tower, which was allegedly used to protect the village from pirates and a beautiful Church (Santa Margherita d’Antiochia) built in 13th century. This village is scenic and charming, with one-street and its narrow laneways and maze of stairs, almost all of the pastel houses have sea-facing views.
It is the smallest of the villages and the most unique – as its location is off the sea and sits atop of a rock formation 100 meters high. When you reach it, by train or hiking only, you will have to climb 382 stairs to reach the village center. It is quaint and quiet, and leads you to a large sea-facing terrace where you can view all 5 villages at one time.
Is the oldest and probably the most instragrammed village of the 5. If you arrive by train, you will go through a short tunnel and then can do one of two things – go left and go towards the sea (which is where you will find most people venture to) or turn right and take the steep hill where you will be amongst the hillside grapevines with a scenic view over to the village. Once you make your way down to the sea, take the walking path out to the point. This is the place to take that beautiful, picture postcard shot we all instantly recognize in photos.
Is incredibly photogenic with its steep colourful tower houses that frame its tiny habour. This village has the best views from the sea (and at night), so if you were to take a ferry this would be a good destination to arrive/depart from. It is well known for its locally-produced wine and varying shades of blue water.
Aside from the vast number of people who visit these tiny picturesque villages and the underwhelming options for accommodations, you still need to add this destination to your travel bucket list. It is unbelievably charming and beautiful.