Cinque Terre, this beloved colourful gem, is located on the west coast of Italy, 2 hours from Genoa or 1 hour from Pisa.
The Cinque Terre area includes five towns:
- Vernazza, and
- Monterosso al Mare
These originally fishing villages date back long ago. They are all situated on the cliff or in the hillside of this vineyard area dominated by sloping terraces.
I have already visited this region a few times because I am charmed by the old streets, crystal clear turquoise water, and picture pretty views. Part of its charm is the feel of the history and the old connecting paths, boats, trains, and lack of cars.
The first thing you notice when you visit Cinque Terre is the colourful houses. Red, green, blue–locals say that the reason for it is that every angler can recognize his house after a long fishing trip from far away and be even more excited that he is coming home.
It is getting more and more popular to get very touristy and expensive in high season. But, it doesn’t matter; it is still one of my favourite destinations in Italy.
Fly to Pisa airport, which is about a 75 minutes drive from here. Of course, you can fly to another airport, Genoa, but Ryanair flies to Pisa, and we all know what that means–cheap flight!
We prefer to book a car because we like to sightsee and stop wherever we want on the way, but you can take a train directly to Cinque Terre. The towns are also connected by train, and many people use Cinque Terre travel cards for under 20 Euros. We loved to walked through the trail in vineyards, from one town to another, where you always have breathtaking views. Unfortunately, after the 2011 floods and mudslides, some trails or areas might still be under reconstruction.
Compared to a car rental, the one-day train ticket is around 12 Euros and much faster transport (through the tunnels) between towns than zig-zag roads on the hillside. Don’t forget to validate the ticket before you board the train! Usually, they operate every hour.
When we visited, the trains were generally really packed during the day, and there were much fewer people in the evenings after 4 pm.
When to go
It is always nicer to go in the summer months so you can swim in the sea. Springtime brings the blooming vineyards. I would say late summer in September is the best. Nice weather, warm sea and fewer people.
If you want to save some money, stay out of the main tourist areas and commute to the sea. We always try to have an apartment with a view, and when it is outside of the main areas, it is cheaper. Monterosso has the most accommodation offers. You can find shared rooms on Airbnb, starting around 30 EUR per night and apartments, for approximately 60 EUR.
Beware – if you rent a car – there is very limited and expensive parking in the towns themselves. The local police are very tourist-oriented, giving tickets whenever they find suitable. Avoid 50 EUR fines and double-check the parking signs before leaving.
What to Eat
- Pizza: Of course.
- Panini. With different flavours.
- Farinata: Simple bread.
- Vine: Buy a bottle in a local shop (cheaper) or have a glass in the bar with the view. Local wines are Schiachetrà or dry Costa da Posa di Manarola.
- Limoncello: A refreshing lemon liquor.
- Pansotti con salsa di noci: Pasta filled with ricotta.
- Acciughe: Anchovies, done in various ways.
- Trenette al Pesto: Try any pasta with locally made fresh pesto.
Where to Eat
- Il Pescato Cucinato: Amazing pasta, fresh seafood, and fried anchovies in Rio Maggiore.
- Da eraldo: Delicious pasta and nice staff, in Monterosso.
- Il Pirata delle 5 Terre: Popular for breakfast or brunch with delicious food in Vernazza.
- A Cantina da Mananan great food in Corniglia.
- Nessun Dorma wine bar in Manarola.
- Hiking: Thousands of people walk the trails of this national park every year, and everyone who visited the area would tell you this is beautiful and the best way to see everything from above. These trails were initially narrow mule paths, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
- Swimming: When you experience the clear water and chill refreshment, you will be super happy. The sea views of the towns will also reward you.
- Rent a kayak: Do you want to escape the crowds and experience the beauty in the silence? Take a kayak for a “spin”! The rental sea-kayaks are stable, so it is not that hard even if you haven’t done it before.
- Photography! Almost every view around you is suitable for painting, so explore and take lots of pictures.
You have a magnificent view from each of the towns as all of them are terrace-like gems, but I would put Corniglia as a viewpoint winner here due to the challenging terrain and fewer visitors than other places.
Artist in you
Each of these towns is a photographer’s paradise. You will be mesmerized by artistic beauty. Bonus – each of them is a bit different.
- Fabbrica d’Arte Monterosso: Ceramics that are locally made; check out the opening hours on their website.
- Calandra Arte Di Sebastiano Calandra, nice art gallery in Manarola
- Monterosso, with classic old Italian streets and various artistic facades of the buildings. Monterosso, the least “hilly” one, with a long sand beach, is a great place to start your walking tours of exploration before you start complaining about the steep hills (if you are not in shape as I was). If you miss shopping on your trip, Monterosso will solve it. Don’t forget to admire sea views from the harbour with many colourful boats.
- Corniglia, only one not on the water level, with a beautiful view and steep, narrow streets. You still need to get up for around 400 stairs from the train, which can be good burning exercise before you throw yourself on homemade ice cream like everyone else. After the ice cream, climb down to the other side of the town to a quiet turquoise lagoon and relax.
- Manarola is filled with small shops selling art and small souvenirs. Some of the shops even have the store owned by the same family for decades.
- Riomaggiore, the hilliest one with steep streets. We took a swim with locals near the harbour. I enjoyed sitting on the big rock in the water after snorkelling, chasing colourful fishes and still enjoying the bright view of the town above us.
- Porto Venere: Even though it is a bit further away, you would be surprised how amazing it is. It has a castle ruin above the town where you can admire the giant waves sliding by the cliffs.
- Vernazza: The most photographed and famous of the towns. If you want to enjoy the beauty and magnificent colours, try to climb up the hill. You will not need to fight with other tourists for the picture like we had to. When I wanted to sketch, I needed to find a more calm place to sit down for a while. A lot of seafood and pizza places are waiting here for you.
Summary of top things to see
- Porto Venere
Good to know
- Some restaurants would charge you for the bread on the table even if you didn’t order it. Send it back if you don’t want to eat it.
- In your final bill, there will usually be a “coperto”, which is a “table tip” (Around 2,50 – 4,00 EUR), so don’t be surprised by the higher amount. This tip doesn’t include the waiters time, so it is nice to leave some tips afterwards but not necessary. If you don’t pay the tip, you are like a local. Only tourists do that.
- From Cinque Terre, it is easy to go to Lucca, Sienna, Florence or Venice, so this can be a more extended trip than you thought.