The Beginner’s Guide to the Cinque Terre

Laura

Have you heard of the Cinque Terre? Even if you haven’t, you may have seen the photo above—it was taken from one of the most popular photo-taking spots in Italy, and looks down on Vernazza, one of the five seaside villages that make up the Cinque Terre, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of my favourite destinations in Italy and one that I always recommend visitors to get to. If you’re visiting this gem for the first time, this guide will help you make the most of your time in the Cinque Terre.

How to get there

If you’re travelling from another city in Italy, you’ll first need to take the train to La Spezia. Select trains from nearby towns such as Rapallo, Sestri Levante and Santa Margherita stop here, and you can even get there easily from Tuscany. Once you get to the La Spezia station, you’ll be able to reach each of the five towns by train in just a few minutes.

It’s also possible to reach the Cinque Terre by boat from La Spezia, Lerici and Porto Venere in the spring and summer.

View from Hiking path over looking a village and the sea on the Cinque Terre

Getting between the towns

Hiking
Each town in the Cinque Terre is connected by multiple hiking pathways, and if you have the time, I recommend hiking at least one of them. Even the easiest routes aren’t for the faint of heart but if you wear good shoes and are up for a little bit of a climb, the views will certainly be worth it. My favourite pathway is the one between Monterosso and Vernazza because it allows you to take your own version of the photo at the beginning of this post.

More experienced hikers can opt for more difficult trails. You should also note that not all trails are open all of the time—some may close due to weather or repairs that need to be done. Although some of the trails are free to explore, you will have to pay for access to others. That’s why I recommend buying a Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card  which allows you access to all of the trails as well as unlimited train rides between the five towns and La Spezia. Prices vary and the tickets can be purchased at any information spot in the area.

Train
If you’re not looking to get some exercise in on this visit, the train is a perfectly acceptable way to get between each town. During spring and summer days, they come fairly frequently, making it an easy mode of transport. Grab a timetable at one of the train stations so you always know when the next one will be, and don’t forget that your Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card allows for unlimited train rides between the towns—just be sure to validate it by getting it stamped in one of the green boxes located near the tracks before hopping on a train.

Ferry
It’s also possible to get to each village by ferry (except for Corniglia, which is the only town that doesn’t reach the sea.) For gorgeous views of all five towns of the Cinque Terre, take the ferry between Monterosso and Riomaggiore, the first and last towns in the area.

Cinque Terre beach with sea to the left and a hillside village in the distance

What to do in the Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore
The closest town to the main train station of La Spezia, Riomaggiore has one main street that heads up into the cliffs. A dozen restaurants line this road (keep reading to find out the best to visit) and at the bottom, you’ll find a port and a rocky beach. For diving enthusiasts, this is the town to rent some gear and get exploring. The Castle of Riomaggioreoffers some history as well as some panoramic views.

Manarola
The quietest town of the five, Manarola is the least discovered by tourists. Go for a refreshing swim in the harbour if you’re feeling adventurous – there are even some rocks you can jump off!

Corniglia
Corniglia is the smallest town in the Cinque Terre and located up in the cliffs. In fact, you’ll need to climb over 300 steps to get to it from the train station! Although you cannot reach the town by boat, it is located in the middle of the area and affords stunning views of the rest of the Cinque Terre. Vernazza

Vernazza is often considered the most picturesque town in the Cinque Terre. Its main piazza is on the water and there are a few streets to wander down and explore. Pay a visit to Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, which was built in 1318 on a rock right in the sea.

Monterosso
If you’re looking to lounge on the beach for a few hours, Monterosso is the town to do that in. There are also quite a few shops worth a visit.

A bowl of spaghetti and pesto

Where to eat

Specialty foods
The Cinque Terre is within the within the region renowned for pesto – Liguria. Because of this you’ll find it on the menu at every restaurant in the area. You’ll also spot plenty of foccacia (a great snack to eat on the beach in my opinion) and of course, the seafood is plentiful. And make sure you drink the 5 Terre wine, locally produced on the steep hills of the area. Sciachetrà, a sweet dessert wine, is also a great choice.

Fast food
Whether you’re between hiking paths or just need a quick bite, try out some of the street food available around the Cinque Terre.  Head to a friggitoria, a stall or small shop that sells fried seafood, and get a frittura mista (fried squid, calamari and shrimp.) A favourite is Il Pescato Cucinato in Riomaggiore.

Gastronomie  are a step up from friggitorie — you can order a pasta dish to take away and enjoy it on the few tables and chairs near the shop, on a bench or even on the beach. One of the most popular gastronomie  is Gastronomia San Martino, located in the historical centre of Monterosso.

Restaurants
For a lunch or dinner with fantastic views, I recommend visiting Ristorante Bel Forte, located in a medieval tower right on the sea in Vernazza.  Make a reservation ahead of time so that you get a table on the terrace, where you’ll have some gorgeous views of the sea (and the sunset if you time it right)! A Pie’ di Ma, located at the beginning of the Via Dell’Amore in Riomaggiore, is another favourite. Guests dine on a cliff and can enjoy some fresh seafood or simply stop for a relaxing glass of wine.

Photo sources: Daniel Stockman via Flickr, eGuide Travel via Flickr, Corey Harmon via Flickr, Steve Moses via Flickr

What will you be doing on your visit to the Cinque Terre? Let us know in the comments.