Cinque Terre means literally ‘five lands’ and refers to the picturesque villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore which cling to the cliffs on the Ligurian coast between Pisa and Genoa. The blue sea, colourful buildings piled higgledy-piggledy on the hillsides above, and the remoteness combine to make it an unforgettable place to visit.
The Ligurian coast from Levanto to La Spezia is a World Heritage Site and Cinque Terre itself is an Italian National Park. The beauty of the natural scenery alongside the photogenic seaside villages means tourists flock to Cinque Terre year round, so visit outside peak season (May-Sep) to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Where to stay
If you can, stay in one of the Cinque Terre villages. Despite the numbers of daytrippers, by late afternoon the villages become much more tranquil and reserved for those who are staying. Don’t expect a late night bar scene, but there are plenty of good bars and restaurants where you can relax into a slower pace.
If you’d prefer to stay slightly outside of Cinque Terre, the pretty bayside towns of Levanto, Portovenere, or Sestri Levanti would be good options and are all connected by train to Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre Riviera specialises in self-catering accommodation and can help find you somewhere to stay in the villages
How to travel to and around Cinque Terre
From Pisa, all trains change at La Spezia. From Genoa there are some (slower) direct trains. Train timetables can be found here: http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en
As well as the train which runs regularly between La Spezia and Levanto serving all of the villages there is a tourist shuttle boat. It gets pretty packed but if you can brave the scrum and get on board, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the villages from the sea.
The best way to get away from the crowds is to take advantage of the huge number of hiking trails between the villages and beyond. Due to landslides and renovation works on the trails it is best to check which are open before setting off: https://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/cinque-terre-current-situation
The famous Via dell’Amore (Manarola to Riomaggiore – 20 mins) is sadly closed currently (expected to reopen in 2021) but you can still walk a few hundred metres from Manarola to the small bar on the trail.
A Cinque Terre Card gives unlimited train journeys on the La Spezia-Levanto line, hiking on the Sentiero Azzurro (the coastal trail) and use of the buses within the villages, plus a few extras like WiFi at stations. Depending on how much you plan to travel it may not work out cheaper so check at the train stations.
Always remember to validate your tickets on Italian trains – there are little boxes at the stations that stamp a hole or a date onto your ticket, and playing the ‘stupid tourist’ card will not get you out of a fine! Tickets can be bought ahead of time which can save queuing at peak times.
The five villages
The villages are small enough that you don’t need too much time to see all of them, but the best part of being in the Cinque Terre is sitting and passing the time over a coffee (or beer) and soaking up the beautiful seaside scenery.
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five villages, and the only one with a decent sized beach. Tuck into the local delicacy – anchovies – at one of the beachside restaurants and then snooze on a sunlounger.
Vernazza is known as the jewel of the Cinque Terre, and has a waterfront square with a few restaurants and bars around the pretty harbour. Climb up to the 15th century Tower of the Doria Castle for good views and mooch in the boutiques lining the main street. Catch an evening opera recital in the main Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia (do as the locals do and take your aperol spritz with you!) and then head for a clifftop dinner at Ristorante Belforte. Grab some delicious pastries for breakfast at Il Pirata up the hill past the train station before heading off.
Corniglia is the smallest village, not built directly on the sea but 100 metres up on the cliffs. It is much quieter than the other villages in terms of tourists. If you can’t face the 350+ stairs connecting the train station to the village, there is a bus included in the Cinque Terre card which will take you into the village.
Manarola is built around a little spit of land which gives fantastic views back to the village, especially at sunset. Go to Nessun Dorma for a sundowner and nibbles and take in the views. Make sure to arrive slightly early so you don’t have to queue, or book ahead.
Riomaggiore is a pretty village arranged around a harbour. Indulge in one of the seemingly endless variations on an aperol spritz or a good negroni and pick up a paper cone of seafood or a local focaccia.
What you should know
Travel time from UK: Around 2 hours flight to either Pisa or Genoa, and then around 1.5-2 hours from either Pisa Centrale or Genova Piazza Principe.
Plug adaptors: Continental Europe (2 round pins)
Time difference from UK: + 1hr
Further info: http://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/