Cinque Terre is one of those icon places in Italy that had been on my travel list for many many years (thank you, Pinterest). I probably recognised the pictures of the gorgeous Italian towns before I actually even knew their names.
Determined to visit, we hurriedly booked flights over to Pisa and drove over to explore them properly. That was the first many trips back to Cinque Terre – once we even visited using a rickshaw on a ride we were doing from Milan down to the Amalfi Coast.
We’ve since visited Cinque Terre so many times since that first one and figured it was high time to share, not just what it was like the first time but lessons we’ve learned since visiting several times over the years, to help you plan your trip to Cinque Terre.
WHAT IS CINQUE TERRE?
Cinque Terre traditionally consists of five, UNESCO protected villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore which are all snuggled within the Cinque Terre National Park and protected by the pristine Mediterranean Sea to the west.
The “towns themselves have to be seen to be believed”. It was the pictures of the five towns that attracted me to this area, but I promise you, photos cannot do Cinque Terre justice. It is a truly magical hidden gem!
WHY CINQUE TERRE? AND WHERE IS IT?
For me, Cinque Terre has always seemed idyllic, quaint and a throwback to a very romantic notion of “old Italy”, perched on the rugged portion of the Italian Riviera.
It’s the epitome of “colourful Italia” with its mountainside cascading with a curtain (of sorts) of many-hued buildings. Each one on its own is nothing special (at least, not from a distance) but all together they somehow make for this picture-perfect destination.
Long story short – it just looked absolutely beautiful and I just knew I had to check it out. The delicious food we found there (especially the seafood) and mountains of home-made gelato we ate while we were there, were also some pretty epic bonuses too! 😋😋😋
HOW TO GET THERE?
We arrived in Cinque Terre via Pisa airport, which is about a 75 minutes drive from start to finish, with the toll being a total of about twelve Euro, or so.
The other main airport to consider travelling from would be Genoa, which is a little shorter than Pisa, but we did notice that the flights were a little higher in price at the time we went.
One important thing to remember is that you don’t need to drive from the airport. You can hop on a train from Pisa Central and Genoa which will connect you straight to Cinque Terre.
DRIVING OR PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR VISITING CINQUE TERRE?
As I mentioned, we rented a car to travel to (and through) Cinque Terre, but once you’re there, I strongly suggest you take the train to visit all of the villages.
On our first day, we thought it would be great to drive to Monterosso, which is only about 3 nautical miles from our cottage. In hindsight, it was a rather silly idea…
The train takes a mere 4-6 minutes (as it goes through the tunnels that connect each of the five towns) but to drive…. Wow! It must have taken us over 60 minutes on very, very narrow roads that kissed every cliff edge you can imagine.
It was beautiful, but terrifying at the same time (my legs are still wobbling just thinking about it)!
From that moment on, we decided it would be a good idea to buy ourselves an unlimited day pass to hop on and off the trains between the towns. This is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Get that pass and avoid a nervous drive between the towns!
The pass itself is relatively inexpensive, about 12 Euros for the whole day. (Don’t forget to validate the tickets at the start of the day in the green machines before you get on the train. You only need to do it once for the whole day but you will get fined if you haven’t done it).
THE 5 TOWNS OF CINQUE TERRE…
Each of the towns has its own unique character which is something that I truly loved… It was a total throw-back as if I had gone back in time to old Italy.
It has gotten busier over time (noticeably so) but, and perhaps it’s more to do with us arriving just at the start or end of summer but this doesn’t distract It added character, charm and a uniqueness that I have yet to see anywhere else in Italy.
Monterosso certainly seemed to be the biggest of the Cinque Terre, towns. It has a very classic, Italian promenade, where locals and tourists alike enjoyed the hot sun and coffees on the terraces.
In each town, Yaya and I made a commitment to ourselves… To treat ourselves to something delicious or unique that seemed to catch our attention. In Monterosso, that was to grab a true Italian espresso with some local Italian biscuits.
Corniglia, perched high upon the cliff edge, offered stunning views across this beautiful national park where we sat in awe of how beautiful this region is.
We took a walk all around the main area of Vernazza and the small piazza. It seemed like the quietest of the five towns… I think this may be due to the additional bus ride that takes you from the train station to the town itself.
If you didn’t want to take the bus and feeling much more fit than me, you can, of course, walk up the 300-400 steps that climb to the town’s summit… A feat, which I struggled with in the hot sun, but well worth the effort.
Around lunch time we decided to grab a light bite to eat where we snacked on handmade pizza, with freshly picked olives and the now famous, locally produced Miele di Corniglia, a sort of honey-based gelato. I didn’t want to leave!
Vernazza is one of the most famous of Cinque Terre’s towns.
The photographs alone sell such a beatifically pristine image that it can actually seem unreal. I assure you, I rubbed my eyes twice once we got off the train (in a cartoon style, shocked way of course). Vernazza is truly magnificent.
One of my top tips here is to take a short 20 minute walk up the north Coast from Vernazza harbour. There is a viewing point there which looks straight down onto the town. This is where we took our pics from and it was well worth the uphill walk.
Just remember, if it’s a hot day, grab an ice cold water as I managed to walk down the mountain with a mouth as dry as if I had walked the desert for 40 days!
Manarola is quite simply put a terraced town that sits on down the side of the mountain and onto the cliff front. One thing that I really enjoyed here is to see the range of local artist stores that scatter the side streets.
We were lucky enough to find on a particular place where a local clay art was produced. One thing to remember is that you can actually find locally produced goods that are handcrafted by the same families for generations. I grabbed myself a small wall sculpture that fit nicely within my hand luggage.
If you are heading north, up the coast, make sure to take part of the coastal path, Sentiero Azzurro. A relatively flat path that provides stunning scenery of the Mediterranean coastline and a perfect opportunity to experience some more of the natural environment which Italians are so proud of.
Riomaggiore was the final stop in our Cinque Terre experience and after seven hours, or so, exploration, gelato called to play, again – and we said yes! (It was a far too easy yes!)
We also got ourselves some of that delicious limoncello, a sweet, alcohol liquor that is oddly refreshing in the hot Italian sunshine.
The town itself is one of the hilliest to walk (if you take out the nature trails we took) they are a little steeper here, so give yourself extra few minutes to stop for a drink of water, pictures and of course that delicious gelato!
WHERE TO STAY?
Now, while there might be the temptation to stay smack-bang in the middle of Cinque Terre when you visit, it is worth noting that the accommodation choices are fairly limited here – you’ll only ever find just a handful in each place (Monterosso might be the exception here as it’s the biggest of the lot but not by a whole lot) and it can get quite busy – which generally tends to mean it can get over-priced so it makes sense to stay outside of Cinque Terre, in La Spezia and catch the train in.
The train from La Spezia (your first stop in Cinque Terre would be Riomaggiore) takes all of 7 minutes to get in and runs fairly frequently.
So, on to where to stay. Well in La Spezia, two amazing hotels in La Spezia I definitely recommend staying in are The Poet Hotel and Hotel Firenze E Continentale (my fave is definitely the first one – The Poet Hotel).
And that’s it’s your complete guide to Cinque Terre. I guess there’s nothing else to say about this other than have an amazing time!!!