You’ve seen the pictures right? Pretty pastel coloured houses perched high on the rugged cliffs with the sparkling sea below. The beautiful Cinque Terre, or ‘five lands’, is the stretch of the Italian Riviera coastline that is made up of five towns each with their own distinct character. It’s a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing millions of visitors every year. Tourists can hike, boat or train their way through the 5 Cinque Terre villages. Let’s get to know each of the five towns of Cinque Terre.
The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
Starting from north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. By train, it takes about five minutes to travel from one village to the next. Or there is a ferry service, which connects all the villages but one, Corniglia. Or, you could walk village to village, but of course you need to allow for extra time. Now, let’s take a tour of each of the five villages.
Monterosso is the biggest and busiest of all the villages. It has a resort-like vibe with noticeably more restaurants, shops and places to stay. It’s the only flat village and offers two beautiful beaches, one sand and one pebble. The town is split into two distinct neighbourhoods, the Fegina (beach area or new town) and the Vecchio (historic center or old town) 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.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MONTEROSSO
The most popular attraction in Monterosso are the beaches! Monterosso’s beaches run along most of the coastline and are full of tourists sunbathing under the green and orange stripped umbrellas. Another must-visit site is the Church of San Giovanni Battista. It is considered one of the oldest churches in Cinque Terre.
Vernazza is the closest of the five villages to remain a ‘true’ fisherman’s village with its natural harbor and abundance of colourful boats. It is often referred to as the quaintest and steepest village. Uniquely, it only has one street – straight from the train station down to the sea with narrow laneways, called caruggi, and a maze of stairs. This means almost all of the houses have sea-facing views.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN VERNAZZA
Vernazza is home to Castle Doria, the oldest surviving fortified castle. What remains mostly today of this 11th century ruin is a circular tower. To get there, head up the steep narrow staircase by the harbor. On the opposite side of the harbour visit a small Ligurian-Gothic church. The sea views through the narrow arched windows from inside this 12th century church are incredible.
Corniglia is the smallest of all the villages and the most unique. It is sits atop of a rock formation about 100 meters high off the sea. 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. The best part of all is it leads you to a large sea-facing terrace where you can view all five villages at one time.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN CORNIGLIA
There are two incredible lookout points in Corniglia. The first is Belvedere di Santa Maria with its 180-degree sea views. To find it, follow Via Fieschi through the village until you eventually reach the clifftop balcony. The second is La Torre. This viewpoint overlooks the coastline to the next village over which is Manarola. To find it, look for a staircase that leads you to Piazza Taragio.
Manarola is the oldest, busiest and probably the most instragrammable village of the five. If you arrive by train, go through a short tunnel and then you can do one of two things. Go left towards the sea, which is what most people go first, or turn right and take the steep hill where you will be amongst the hillside grapevines with a scenic view over to the village. That’s my recommendation, then you can head to the sea.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MANAROLA
Visit Piazzale Papa Innocenzo, a small piazza with a bell tower that was once used as a defensive lookout. One of my favourite memories is hearing the bell chimes ring while sitting in the busy square. Sitting on the piazza is also Chiesa di San Lorenzo a church dating back to 1338. Lastly, the best viewpoint in Manarola is Punta Bonfiglio. Take the walking path by the sea where you can look back at this picturesque village.
Riomaggiore, the most eastern village, 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. Riomaggiore is a rather large village, and also serves as the HQ for the national park office.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN RIOMAGGIORE
Head to the the small secluded beach in Riomaggiore. The the short trail to the pebbly Fossola Beach. The shoreline is rugged photogenic with the waters framed by the steep hillsides. Visit Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, a church dating back to 1340.
How long should I spend here?
If you are tight on time, you could see all five villages in one day, but that makes for a very early start to a very long day. We stayed 2 nights, which allows for a good 1.5 days of touring. It seemed to be the right amount of time, but still at a fast pace. Depending on when you go, we visited in the shoulder season, we still found it full of tourists. Between 10am and 4pm the villages are jampacked with people, but in the evening, it was calm, quiet and much more relaxing. So I definitely recommend spending at least one night.
As a holidaymaker…
Don’t let this popular tourist destination deter you from visiting the 5 towns of Cinque Terre. There is good reason why so many people visit here. Add this picturesque place to your travel bucket list as it’s unbelievably beautiful.
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