I already knew I was going to love Cinque Terre before I even reached that magical part of the Italian Riviera, not just from everything I’d read and seen about it prior to my arrival, but also from the scenic train ride I took on a regional Italian train Trenitalia to get there from Milan. Passing by Portofino and Genoa, feeling my ears pop at the rise in elevation, I felt myself growing restless to see the stunning 5 towns in all their glory. At the same time, the perpetual wanderluster in me was dying to get out at every train stop along the way to explore all of the other wonderful and charming Italian villages and towns passing me by. But, I stood resolute in visiting only Cinque Terre on this journey, mainly because I had limited time and wanted to experience Cinque Terre fully and completely.
You take a risk visiting any city in the Spring, when the weather is more temperamental. I faced the same risk visiting Cinque Terre. Weather forecasts were predicting rain for 2 out of the 3 days I planned to spend there, and though I came across many visitors who were going to explore the towns rain or shine, I have to admit I was crossing my fingers and hoping for the sunny days I love so much. Ultimately I completely lucked out with rain coming down only on the day that I left the 5 towns to head onwards to Florence. Even during the parts of the day that Cinque Terre was partly cloudy though, it was still glorious, and all the better for hiking on the trails in the National Park. Not to mention, the MAJOR advantage to visiting Cinque Terre in the Spring is that it’s less crowded, and you can enjoy the towns and trails in a leisurely way without constantly running into other tourists.
The 5 Towns
For those of you that don’t know, Cinque Terre, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997, is composed of 5 towns: Monterosso al Mare (or Monterosso for short), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each town has its own distinct feel, from the way it looks to the amount of tourists it sees and the produce and goods that are distinct to it. When taking the train from Milan, Monterosso is the first of the 5 towns and also the furthest north in Italy. Monterosso is also the biggest and most developed town, with many room and board options, restaurants and a beach (which none of the other towns has).
Corniglia is less visited than the other towns because of its location atop a cliff (picture above) but it was actually one of my favorites of the 5 towns, for its narrower and winding main walkway that leads to a cliff and breathtaking views of the water. This narrow path is also filled with cute wine bars, gelato shops and intimate restaurants where you can spend hours chatting with the owners and tasting the local delicacies (see below for some recs!)
When you see pictures of Cinque Terre, they are often from the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore. Both of these towns have scenic seaside housing built into the cliffs that make for those breathtaking pictures you typically see of Cinque Terre. Vernazza has a dock for fishing boats at its entrance to the water, making for its own picturesque port. All in all, every town is worth a visit, and I wouldn’t visit Cinque Terre without visiting all 5 of the towns and deciding for yourself. As I discuss below, it’s extremely easy to get from one town to the next, all in one day if you so desire!
I stayed in Monterosso while visiting Cinque Terre, at the cutest little room and board called La Terraza Sul Mar. There are no big chains or commercial hotels in Cinque Terre, with the region being regulated with respect to how hotels and room and board options operate. This is great, in my opinion, and allows Cinque Terre to maintain its neighborly and local feel. La Terraza Sul Mar only has two rooms and is up four flights of stairs, but once you reach the 4th floor, the views of the ocean in your room and on a magnificent balcony (picture above) are absolutely worth the stairs. The beach views, evenings spent drinking wine on the balcony, two minute walk to the train station, and a friendly owner who gave me plenty of dining and other recommendations made my stay at La Terraza Sul Mar particularly fabulous.
All 5 of the towns are accessible by boat, hiking trails in Cinque Terre National Park and rail, so there are a variety of ways to experience all of the towns. You can buy tickets for all of these once you reach Cinque Terre***, or you can buy them in advance if you like to be super prepared! I spent my first full day in Cinque Terre taking the boat from town to town and getting a lay of the land. The boat only goes to 4 of the 5 towns due to Corniglia’s location (which is not accessible by boat). The other 4 towns all have a port that leads directly into the main road of the town. Since each of these villages are quite small, there is generally one main walkable road/path in the heart of each town to navigate. Each of those roads is lined with many restaurants and shops. The exception to this is Monterosso, which is divided into a new part and an old part, with the new part containing the train stop and the beach and the old part containing the boat dock, main road, and random offshoots and pathways to explore from that main road (both parts within a 10 minute walk of each other).
***Note that Italy has announced that they will eventually start to regulate the number of people that can enter the National Park and hike the trails per year in Cinque Terre in order to maintain the pristine nature of the park, but as of this time they have yet to announce when that regulation will start, and it doesn’t appear that it will happen any time soon.
I spent my second day in Cinque Terre hiking, an absolute must if you come to Cinque Terre. The views are stunning, being outdoors and exploring the local vegetation is amazing, and you get a better feel for what living in the area is about. You can buy a ticket online or at any train station, and they are checked when you enter or exit the trail from or to any of the towns, so don’t lose it! There are trails leading from each town to the next, but due to a hurricane that hit the area in 2011 certain of the paths aren’t complete anymore or are under construction, so look for info here before you go or inquire at your hotel and at the sales kiosks when you arrive in Cinque Terre. I didn’t do the hike through all 5 of the towns, only a few, but my favorite part of the hike was heading from Vernazza to Corniglia. The most popular of the trails is called Lovers Lane or Via Dell’Amore, a part of the trail that goes from Manarola to Riomaggiore, but this path wasn’t completely hikeable when I visited and was still under repair. I’ll have to save that for another visit!
During good weather you will see throngs of people dining outdoors and under the sun in typical Italian style, enjoying many of the foods popular and special to the region such as pesto, gnocchi, various seafood dishes and anchovies. I particularly enjoyed the following places:
L’Osteria (Monterosso): Amazing pesto, delicious seafood, fabulous homemade desserts. This place was so popular when I was in Monterosso that they turned down groups of people who tried to enter and dine while I was dining here. They do take reservations if you don’t want to risk walking in. They also have a great outdoor seating area.
Il Massimo della Focaccia (Monterosso): Across the street from the beach and right next to the train station in Monterosso, a great place to grab snacks or lunch. This place has a variety of a Focaccia breads and other street food.
Bruschettae (Vernazza): I wish this place was in the US! The tastiest bruschettas on large slices of bread with a variety of toppings and flavors. Each one is pretty filling and a great place to grab lunch or a snack.
Bar La Torre (Vernazza): A great place to grab a drink with amazing views of the sea, perched upon a cliff close to the official start of the trail to Corniglia. Note that it’s a little bit of a hike up stairs from the heart of Vernazza to get here.
Bar il Gabbiano (in between Vernazza and Corniglia): The only stop on the way to Corniglia hiking from Vernazza, this place is so cute and worth a step inside for the gorgeous views of Corniglia and the sea.
KM 0 (Corniglia): Loved this place that uses all local ingredients from the surrounding Cinque Terre area. It also has an amazing selection of regional and local wines and beers.
Vertical Bar (Riomaggiore): A casual place to grab drinks, snacks or food. Great tunes, outdoor seating and friendly bartenders = a fun time all around!
Hope you guys make it over to Cinque Terre soon! XOXO