Cinque Terre, which means Five Lands, comprise the five small coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. They are part of the UNESCO world heritage and we visited them during our last Italy trip. We reached Cinque Terre villages by train, as it is the easiest way to get there due to the very limited parking options once you reach the villages. La Spezia is the closest train station to the villages that is connected to major cities across Italy, including Florence, our previous stop. From there is quite easy to reach all the different villages via the local train.
Riomaggiore is the southern-most of the 5 villages, dating as early as the 13th century (some sources even mentioned settlements around the 9th century) and was our base for 3 days. Despite not having any major attractions, this is a lovely town to explore, full of photographic opportunities.
We spent our first afternoon there, visiting the Church of St. John the Baptist, situated in the upper part of the historical centre of the village not too far away from the Castello, built in the 1260. The Castelo served as local cemetery for a while but is now mainly used a a cultural learning centre. There is honestly nothing amazing about the building itself but I still recommend to go there to get great views of the Ligurian sea.
We then had a snack at Il Pescato Cucinato, one of the many restaurants of Riomaggiore’s main street, Via Colombo. We had a delicious fritto misto, a variety of fresh fried local fish and seafood. A bit salty but quite tasty!
A bit further away, we had a quick look at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta that was built in the 16th century.
We continued to explore the town, walking amongst the colourful houses and up and down the hills, to get some great views of the village.
We finally went back the harbour, following the “Marina” sign to get the iconic view that made that village so famous! There is not a beach in Riomaggiore itself, but if you follow the path around to the left of the harbour, you will reach some large rocks where you can sit down and watch the sunset.
We spent the next day exploring the other villages starting by taking an early train to most Northern villages, Monterosso. Monterosso is actually made of two towns, the ‘old’ town and the new town connected to each other by a tunnel. We visited the old centre first and had a coffee outside, before hiking the trail 2 that starts in the new town, on the other side of the tunnel.
You have to pay a small fee of €7.50 to use the blue path that will lead you to the next village, Vernazza. The money is used to pay for the conservation of the Cinque Terre National Park which is not too bad. The first 45 minutes of the hike were quite hard as you have to climb A LOT of steps. It is not easy and I had to take a lot of break. The path is winding through olive orchards and vineyards and is offering dramatic views and can be quite narrow at time so you should reconsider if you are really scared of heights. If you attempt this hike, take a lot of water with you, especially during hotter months. It took us roughly 2 hours to hike, with a lot of stops to take pictures.
Once you reach the top, the path is getting flatter and you can start to see Vernazza in the distance.
The views of the coast were really amazing. When the trail begins to go down, the views of Vernazza was really breathless.
This village was to me the most picturesque of all, I really enjoyed that place! The Church of St. Margaret of Antioch that was built in the XI-XII centuries is very iconic, overlooking Vernazza’s small harbour. We enjoyed some food in this amazing location and sampled some of the best gelato we had in these villages.
We continued the trail that would lead us to the third village, Corniglia. The trail starts just above the train station and the most amazing views of the village are within the first 10 minutes of walking from the station. The town is just as picturesque from the back as it is from the front! We continued wandering through some olive groves for about 1h30 before reaching our next destination, Corniglia.
We arrived in the town end of afternoon and quite tired after all that hiking.. it was time for another ice cream 🙂
It is the only Cinque Terre settlement with no direct sea access, but the narrow alleys and colourfully painted houses are really worth a visit!
We called it a day and went down the almost 400 steps to get to the train station and take a local train back to Riomaggiore.
Next day we hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola via the 531 hike, a trail that climbs through the vineyards and offers gorgeous panoramic views. It was really steep and demanding for the first part of the hike as expected, but the view were greater than I could have imagined.
Once you have climb, the challenge is not over! Going up was hard but going down into Manarola was as difficult due to the uneven and not well maintained path and steps.
Manarola is may be the oldest of the towns in the Cinque Terre and very famous for its wine, Sciacchetrà, a liquored wine with 18% of alcohol.
The best advice I would give you if you wish to visit the Cinque Terre is to choose one of the villages as a base and travel to the others. We chose Riomaggiore as our base and I will still make the same choice. It’s easy to travel to and from main cities in Italy and the town has a lot of accommodations and place to eat compare to other villages! It’s not as big and touristy as Monterosso, and still has some quiet and charm (as most people stay in Monterosso).