Google Cinque Terre and you would likely see images of pristine waters, pastel coloured houses and tourists enjoying the sun so that they can ‘get some tan’. Plenty of people would rate this as a “bucket list destination” but you would also find many who would say it’s nothing but a tourist trap. But we question – what if it is? True, there are plenty of lesser known places in Europe (let alone Italy) which have similar beauty, but there is this allure associated with Cinque Terre, that brings many folks back to the lovely coastal villages again and again!
Here We Go!
“Ah here we go again – third time is a charm, isn’t it?” Sandhya exclaimed. We had always wanted to go the Italian Riviera, but it seemed like a jinxed destination (our 2 previous trips got cancelled due to COVID), so naturally, we were quite nervy about this one.
We decided to visit Cinque Terre as part of a trip to Italy as our final stop in May, and while it was a bit rushed, we absolutely loved it.
Cinque Terre can be an expensive place to go to and you could see yourselves spending thousands of euros “for a romantic gateway” but if planned correctly, you can enjoy the setting at a fraction of the cost.
So this is what we would recommend (based on ours and experience of a friendly travel community who have inspire us)
Why is Cinque Terre so famous?
The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 sea-side villages in the Italian Riviera and is famous for it’s hikes, beaches, pastel coloured houses and some of the most famous vineyards that you would ever come across. It is a region popular not only with couples looking for a romantic getaway but also hikers, so it’s usually quite packed.
How to reach Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre can be accessed via train from any of the major towns. We would recommend flying into Pisa or Florence and taking a train to La Spezia. From there, you can take any of the regional trains going to Levanto and they would stop in most of these villages (always check the stops as not every train stops in every village)
When is the best time to go?
The shoulder months of May and September are great as it is not as crowded. If, however, you want to swim in the waters, the months of June-August are perfect, but this is likely going to be the most expensive time to be in.
Where to Stay?
This really depends on what you plan to do. If you plan to hike or even explore the villages by train, we would recommend staying in La Spezia (bear in mind that the last train runs until mid-night in the summer months, so if you plan to stay in one of the villages well into the night, this is not where you would want to book your accommodation in. Monterosso is popular with beach goers and Riomaggiore arguably has the best night life. Vernazza and Manarola are the most beautiful of all the villages and you will find plenty of BnBs here. Corniglia is the least accessible of all the villages (as it’s a bit of a climb), but the views are incredible and if you are looking for a quite evening this is the place to go to.
What to do in Cinque Terre?
1. Hike : The best way to explore Cinque Terre. You can do this in a day. While there are many hiking trails, the one that is most popular is the Blue Trail that starts from Monterosso to Vernazza and then a climb up to Corniligia (which would take you about 4 hours in total). From Corniligia, you head to the vineyards of Manarola and then finally to Riomagiorre. You don’t need to be overtly fit and you can always take the train after reaching a village. Bear in mind, parts of the trail may be closed, but there are enough sign posts that would warn you before you pick a trail. Also, you need a permit to walk the coastal path from Monterosso and Corniligia. You can just purchase a Cinque Terre card which gives you access to all the trails, but more importantly, you don’t have to queue up.
2. Hop between the villages by Train or Ferry
All the 5 villages along with the town of La Spezia are easily accessible. A one-way trip costs 4 euros, so if you plan to take even 2 round trips, it makes sense to take a Cinque Terre card, which costs 16 euros/day. All the villages except Corniligia can be accessed via ferry as well. A day ticket costs 35 euros for an adult or 20 euros for a child.
If you are taking the train (like we did), go to Monterosso first and spend some time admiring the promenade. Head over to Riomaggiore for lunch (sea-food lovers rejoice). Take the train to Vernazza and explore it’s beautiful streets and finally enjoy the sunset at Manarola (reach an hour early before sun-set and bring your own wine bottles and glasses to enjoy a drink while the sun sets). Corniligia is the last village and it requires a bit of a climb (20 mins uphill from the train station) and offers incredible cliff side views and is relatively empty so you can enjoy at your pace. This is something you should do next day, followed by a trip to Riomaggiore or Vernazza.
A wonderful way of exploring the villages. there are many tour companies offering a 7-8 hour sailing tour which start at 130 euros. We were recommended to take this one.
4. Wine tasting tours
When in Italy you have to visit a vineyard. The village of Monterosso is known for it’s vineyards and while there are other regions which are more popular, you can’t really go wrong with a vineyard tour, can you?
5. Day trips to Portovenere
“The Sixth Village” that many ignore, but is highly recommended (as we have been told) – Portovenere has the bright coloured houses, the beautiful cobbled streets, the amazing monuments all packed in one. We unfortunately couldn’t visit but plan to visit soon as we have heard rave reviews about the place.
How to save money on your Cinque Terre trip
1. Stay at La Spezia : La Spezia is the gateway to the villages and is only about 15 mins away from the first village. You will find more economical accommodation here.
2. Get the Cinque Terre train card : The Cinque Terre card offers great value if you are taking 4 single trips in a day. It costs 16 euros/day (lower if you buy for multiple days together)
3. Leave that car : Cinque Terre is not a place to drive. Firstly, you won’t get parking and secondly if you do, it will be mostly at La Spezia, where it will be expensive and not worth the hassle.
4. Stock up at La Spezia or buy that Focaccia for lunch
You can buy your snacks at grocery stores in La Spezia and ditch the fish at expensive sea facing restaurants for some focaccia or pasta in any of the villages. You can also fill your water bottle from the fountains as it’s safe for consumption.
Cinque Terre is a place where you can easily fall into touristy traps, but the beauty and the allure of the place is such that you would be open to doing just that. That is not to say that you need to always indulge, there are ways to enjoy all the sights that the lovely villages offer, just by being smart and planning in advance.