You’ve seen the pictures right? The 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 made up of five fishing villages each with their own distinct character. It’s a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing 2.4 million visitors a year to hike, boat or train their way through the picturesque coastal villages. Do you have it on your bucket list? If you don’t you really should. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your next trip and make the most of your time while there.
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.
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. I can only image the views from the water. Unfortunately for us, the water was too rough to take the ferry. 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 village 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.
The beaches at Monterosso run along most of the coastline and is full of tourists and locals with the green and orange stripped umbrellas. This is the largest village of the five and offers many restaurant and accommodation options.
Vernazza is scenic and charming. It has a one-street with many narrow laneways and a maze of stairs. The best part, almost all of the pastel coloured houses have sea-facing views.
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’s home to Castle Doria, a 15th century lookout tower, which was allegedly used to protect the village from pirates. There is also a beautiful Santa Margherita d’Antiochia church built in 13th century.
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.
Manarola is the oldest and probably the most instragramed village of the five. 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. That’s my recommendation.
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.
It 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.
As a holidaymaker…
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.