Cinque Terre; hard to say and even harder to forget (which is saying a lot as I’m still not really sure how to pronounce it properly!) Having seen countless photographs online, I couldn’t help but wonder if it could possibly live up to the high expectations I’d set but it did that and more.
Cinque Terre is a collection of tiny villages sitting along the Salerno Gulf. Each one is unique and distinctly Italian with their gorgeous colours, pristine water and generous sprinkling of gelaterias.
The first village we visited (the one furthest out from La Spezia), Monterosso, hosts the most picturesque, gorgeous beach. The shingle beaches are dotted with perfectly aligned beach umbrellas whilst the brave bake in the sun, and the braver still swim in the still-chilly ocean.
The village itself is split in two, divided by a tunnel – one side is perfect for swimmers and sun bathers and also has a number of restaurants, whilst the other contains countless shops (and more restaurants of course).
As with all the towns, a hiking track joins Monterosso to the next village over, Vernazza. If you’ve got your train card then you’ll all set to make a start on the trail, just be sure to have good shoes with you, sun protection and a big bottle of water as although the walk is manageable, it certainly is steep in places.
Just over half way through the hike, you’ll find a cat feeding station. If you feel so inclined, you can pop a donation into the container to go towards looking after the kitties, and if it’s still early when you swing by, you can open up some food for them. Being cat lovers, it was an awesome surprise to find a bunch of kitties on the walk!
Towards the end of the hike, Vernazza comes into view and what a spectacular sight at that…
Picture perfect, Vernazza is one of the villages you’ll have seen in photographs if you’ve researched Cinque Terre before. It is every bit as beautiful as it looks in photographs, especially if you approach it from the trail (or walk a way up the trail towards Monterosso if you’ve decided to train directly into Vernazza). The town is built around a sheltered bay and as with Monterosso, you have the option to walk through a passage that leads you to a beautiful, rocky beach.
Vernazza had plenty of lunch options (though none seemed particularly cheap) if you’re looking to spend a bit more time there.
Corniglia is accessed either by walking up the 365 steps or by catching a ride on the shuttle bus (which costs €2.50 per person normally or is free with your train card) which is found just outside of the train station.
The town itself is perched high atop the hill, looking down on the coastline. Thanks to its elevation, this village offers great views from a distance, but in our opinion was the least spectacular of the five villages. We stopped off for gelato and wandered the shops but if you were short on time, this would be the one to skip past.
Aside from Monterosso, Manarola would have to be one of the best swimming beaches in Cinque Terre. Large rocks form a natural barrier to the ocean, creating sheltered pools perfect for taking a dip in. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can join the cliff jumpers diving in off the rocks – if you’re feeling less that way inclined, just wander up the ramp to the side of the village for beautiful views back over the action.
Our last stop (or the first if you tackle Cinque Terre in order from La Spezia) was Riomaggiore. The largest of the Cinque Terre towns, it is often the base for travellers staying in the area. We enjoyed the sights as we munched away on dinner and then headed out to the outcrop to the side of town to take in the sunset.
Cinque Terre is well connected by public transport, specifically trains and ferries and is also joined by walking tracks.
A train pass for the day set us back €16 each for unlimited use until midnight and services were frequent and comfortable. Included in your train ticket is a pass granting permission to hike the trails between villages so you’ll be totally set for the day. If you decide to walk some of the tracks (which we do recommend), just check in locally to find out which tracks are open. Generally they’ll be fine but rock slips do occur which renders some tracks unusable for a period of time.
The Via del Amore trail (between Riomaggiore and Manarola) had been recommended to us but was unfortunately closed on the day that we visited – don’t make the mistake we made – check on which tracks are open at the end of the day rather than finding out as you go! Had we realised the last trail were closed, we would have walked between another two villages instead.
We made the decision to head to the town furtherest away first in a bid to avoid the crowds that had already descended on the closest village to La Spezia. Though we didn’t manage to talk to anyone that visited in the reverse order, we didn’t encounter as many tourists as we’d expected so would recommend doing the same.
The hikes are also more challenging the further North you go, so if you’re looking to get the difficult ones out of the way, start further North in the same order we did. If you’d rather break yourselves in on the easier tracks, start from Riomaggiore and see how you go as you move along the coast.
Where to Stay In and Around Cinque Terre
Each of the key towns in Cinque Terre have accommodation available but we found that during peak season the prices hiked up (understandably so) and that even at those high rates, the quality of most ‘entry level’ accommodation seemed disproportionally low – we don’t mind spending a little more if it’s worth it, but on this occasion, that didn’t appear to be the case. Instead, we opted to stay in one of the neighbouring towns, Salzana which made things much more affordable.
In retrospect though, we’d suggest looking for a place to stay in La Spezia – Salzana looked to be just out of La Spezia but in reality took almost 1.5 hours on the bus to get there and though it’s less than 15 minutes by train, they run infrequently.
La Spezia by comparison is the gateway to Cinque Terre, has plenty of food options and the price of accommodation wouldn’t be much more than what we paid to stay in Salzana.
I didn’t show Nathan any pictures ahead of time so he arrived into Cinque Terre blind (so to speak) and was absolutely blown away, as was I. Neither of us could quite believe that we’d been so lucky as to spend time there. Getting there is a little bit of a trek but if you’re presented with even the smallest of opportunities to visit these gorgeous towns, make it happen – you won’t regret it.