Cinque Terre, pronounced Cheen-Kwe Tehr-reh, means five lands in Italian.
I had not heard this place until I saw my friend’s photographs. They looked like he had a painting come to life in the background. Was I impressed? Of course I was!
It soon became a matter-of-survival kinda thing for me to go to this place. So I had to plan a vacation ASAP.
I started with my planning and this is what I have jotted down about Cinque Terre so far. I am sure that once you read about what this place has to offer, you will be thrilled too!
First of all, I am listing the obvious touristy places which ever first-timer must go to. Then we’ll move on to the lesser known but even more wonderful things to see and do.
So here goes!
Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 small towns. Here’s more about them
Cinque Terre is stringed to the Western coast of Italy, clinging to the Ligurian cliffs. Located amid the most pictorial coastal view on the planet, Cinque Terre has been declared as the National Park of Italy, and a UNESCO Protected site since 1997.
Five fishing villages woven together in a single entity, Cinque Terre. Sparkling transparent waters, gorgeous beaches, old churches and castles, sanctuaries and oratories, this place is replete with breathtaking views. And the best part, no cars allowed! This only adds to the beauty of this place.
Among the five villages, Monterosso al Mare is the oldest one, dating back to 643 AD. Riomaggiore followed suite in the 8th century, followed by Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola.
Monterosso, the northern-most village,is the youth choice. It is the largest village of all and has a long coastline right in the town itself. It is not as hilly and steep as its sister villages. For leisure travelers, wanting to chill by the beach in a private beach resort, this is the most suitable town.
Vernazza is the prettiest of them all. Its central square is located right on the waters with a church tower on one side. A historic castle is on one of the hills, this place is literally a one-street town. There are ample options for foodies right on the coastline. Vernazza is the first choice for shutterbugs.
Cornigliais situated on top of the cliff. 382 steps is what it needs to reach the center of this village. So plan a stay here only if you are a professional hiker (ready to climb with your backpack) or planning to lose some serious fat! The most quiet of all villages, especially in the evening. That’s because hikers have put their legs to rest, and there are no beaches to party untill dawn.
Manarola is the least populated and the smallest one. Another one-street town, it has a tiny piece for a beach, where you can swim and sunbathe. You can say that this place is not as sophisticated as its neighbors. And that’s why most legendary photographs of Cinque Terre have been taken here.
Riomaggiore has a steep road rising from the sea into the main town. So if you lose the hold of your stroller while in town, it might end up in water! This is the closest village to La Spezia and has main transportation options. The rocky beach is perfectly photogenic. There’s a church, a castle, and some good restaurants for gourmands. A favorite among Germans.
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What To Do In Cinque Terre
There are many many things to do in Cinque Terre. You can wander around yourself or go on a tour and have a guide show you around and give you some history too.
The number 1 thing to do in Cinque Terre is HIKE. The longest and most popular stretch is right along the cliffs. Although there is another higher trail for the peace-seekers.
After a detailed research into this matter, I have indexed what each trail has to offer. I have tried to break down the trails into singular sections, so you can decide which one to get on to, and which can be skipped completely.
A common practice among tourists visiting this cluster of villages is by numbering them south to north. That’s because the treks get harder as you go up north. There are basically three trails- the BLUE trail, that is the most common trail connecting all 5 towns; the Cinsue Terre High Trail, which has a much higher Level of Difficulty; and the Sanctuary Trail, which, as the name suggests, connects all the Sanctuaries of the five towns.
I am detailing the Blue trail and then, giving further insight into the other two.
You can hike all 5 towns yourself or hike a few of them.
Starting South to North, our #1 Trail is Riomaggiore to Manarola. Also known as the Italian Lovers’ Trail or Via dell’Amore, it is the easiest trail of all. In fact a professional hiker won’t really consider it anything more than a walking path.
The flat paved road works alike for hikers and families walking around with kids in strollers. As the nickname suggests, it is inevitable to kiss your beloved, get a lovey-dovey selfie of you two together. You will see love notes and A loves B messages scrawled everywhere around.
Walking at a substantial pace will take around 20 minutes to finish this trek.
The #2 Cinque Terre Hike is between Manarola and Corniglia. This one’s pretty similar to Via dell’Amore, although not paved. Initially is it flat, and gets steeper as Corniglia comes to sight.
Corniglia is a cliff-top village, so you get the irony. As you get closer, you will find yourself walking along the rail tracks. There are roughly 382 steps. Although if you are not a staircase fan, opt for shuttle services located near the bus station.
The stair users are bound to get tired. So chances are that you might take a lot of breaks. But if you are an avid hiker, you can cover this part in about an hour.
The next one, Cinque Terre Hike #3, runs from Corniglia to Vernazza. Since Corniglia is hill-top, to get anywhere else, you need to go down.
Many people think it’s easier to walk down the slope. Well, it’s a myth. It is actually tougher to hold your grip while going down, although it does take lesser time. Make sure you have the right hike gear with you; flip flops won’t be of much help.
Corniglia to Vernazza has some steep splits in between. The trail is quite rough, with stones and not-so-huge boulders on the way. So watch out when you walk. Also, some areas are extremely narrow, with vineyards on one side and cliff on the other (No fence!). So if someone comes from the other side, just hug and switch places!
Oh and on arriving to Vernazza, don’t start celebrating just yet. The road leading to the main town area has very steep switchback steps.
This trail is a longer one, can take you roughly two hours to reach the main area of Vernazza. So it’s better to start off early morning. You will be able to avoid the heat hours as well as the late-risers who crowd the trail in the afternoon. Also, prefer not to pull out too much in the passing zones; it will only take longer.
The final Trail, Cinque Terre Hike #4, runs from Vernazza to Monterosso Al Mare. This is undoubtedly the most difficult one, with a lost of ups and downs (ironically). There are countless cliff-side drop-offs. And some sections are so soul-terrifyingly narrow that you would actually stand there numb, wondering how can one possibly cross it!
For this one especially, prefer the non-rush hours. Start at dawn and be ready for a stop-walk-stop-walk journey. And however hard it might be, it comes with its own perks. You will find some truly amazing landscapes of olive orchards and vineyards as you hike. There’ll be foresty shade to rest and get closer to nature.
Again a long trail, it will take you about 2 hours if you don’t halt too much.
Cinque Terre High Trail
If you are a true adrenaline junkie, not to mention a loner and a crowd-hater, this trail is for you. This trail is not only tougher but also longer than the Blue Trail. It begins from Levanto in the north and stretches up to Portovenere in the south.
The Hight trail is not as adequately marked. So try it only if you have a detailed hike map or a professional guide to help you all along.
The trail takes about 6-7 hours for regular hikers. And it’s very normal for people to pass out midway. So don’t worry. There are many connecting trails in between, which take you to the main cities. You can always take it easy and sip some local wine in the late hours.
Cinque Terre Sacntuary Trail
Sanctuaries in Cinque Terre are a synonym for the churches and shrines here, mostly located atop a hill above the town center. And there is a distinct trail connecting these sanctuaries to the town center.
This trail is aptly marked, so chances of you getting lost are bleak.
Other points of interest in Cinque Terre, besides going on an awesome hike
Hit the Beach in Monterosso
Spiaggia di Fegina is the perfect escape on a hot day. This rocky beach is very photogenic. Many visitors claim the high waves hitting the rocks to be completely mesmerizing. Cliff-jumping is very popular here. So get set for some adrenaline rush.
Explore the Wineries and Vineyards of Manarola
Cinque Terre has some delicious local wines for you. The vibrant buildings of Manarola are home to many Vineyard owners. So try to impress your landlord and visit his personal wineries.
Manarola tops the list for its breathtaking views; like a fairytale land coming to life. You can hit the beach anytime and spend a fortune on the many restaurant options available here.
The Coolest munching spots (where to eat in Cinque Terre)
Vernazza has many amazing food outlets, one of which is Il Baretto. The place is mostly famous for its cakes and cocktails. But the experimenters can try its Ligurian cuisines too.
Gambero Rosso is another very popular seafood restaurant, set up in the gorgeous Piazza Marconi. Its fresh pastas and stuffed mussels are out of the world!
Monterosso also has a few superhit food courts. La Cambusa is one of them. Famous for its al Fresco dining, the place offers delicious house wine. Its Spaghetti is what pulls maximum crowd, though be prepared for a little scarce service.
Miki is another famous fish-serving restro which has the main door in shape of a fishing boat.
And last but noe least, catch the most breathtaking sunset views from Bar Terza Terra in Corniglia, while sipping their local wines and cocktails.
Here are just a few more things you can do in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a beautiful countryside, or sea-countryside, to be accurate. Each of its five villages have a unique identity and flavor. Monterosso, the biggest one, can be described as a beach-resort town, with a historical town in the backdrop.
Vernazza is the old port, with bars and buildings lining near the highly mechanized vineyards. Corniglia, the cliff-town is all about narrow streets and churches. Manarola, the smallest of all, is the picture-perfect town of Cinque Terre. And Riomaggiore, the final one, has medeival tower blocks lining its periphery.
Cars are out of question in Cinque Terre. So be prepared for a walk-n-talk trip with your loved one. With the most romantic hike trails you can ever come across, I am sure it will leave you totally sated in the end!
Where is the best place to stay in Cinque Terre?
Any of the 5 towns would be a great place to stay. Getting between each town is easy, so no matter where you choose, you won’t be that far. There is a train that goes through all the towns and you can use that. Or you can hike to the next town of course.
Monterosso town has a beach and is the biggest town. So if that’s your ideal place, then stay there. Otherwise the other towns are smaller and have a more intimate feel.