Cinque Terre, the five villages.
Set amid one of the most picturesque and romantic sceneries of the world, Cinque Terre had me at hello!
This remote part of the Italian Riviera, consists of five tiny port towns in the Liguria region, hence its name; Cinque Terre. If you are to visit this part of Italy, I suggest you choose one of the five villages for your accommodation and explore the remaining four during your day there or, ideally, during a 3-day stay in Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre consists of five villages including Monterroso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, all part of the Cinque Terre National Park (Parco Nazionale della Cinque Terre) and since 1997 a Unesco World Heritage Site.
I admit I had never visited this magical part of the planet, not even during my 3-year stay in Italy a few years ago. It was about time I took the decision and booked my tickets to visit one of the most iconic, fairytale-like destination. I flew from Athens to Milan and headed to La Spezia by train, finally arriving to Riomaggiore also by train. Easternmost Riomaggiore is the first of the five villages and the place where I decided to stay.
Being my first stop during my stay in Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore quickly became my favorite of the five. Having experienced it during different parts of the day from dusk to dawn, as I chose it for my accommodation, in contrast with my day-trips to the other four villages, Riomaggiore won my heart.
Riomaggiore, said to be established by Greek settlers fleeing from Leone III Isaurico in 1251, Riomaggiore is set between steep cliffsides with its colorful buildings lining up down the impregnable ravine.
Walking down Riomaggiore’s main street to the harbor, you’ll be astonished by the 3 or even 4-story tower houses featuring a rather complicated system of entrances, one by the main street and a second by the upper part of the road; a method used to quickly escape a sudden Saracen attack.
A stop before reaching the port is mandatory. Focaccia with pesto or fried calamari are both excellent options. With your stomach full, take a moment to appreciate the mesmerizing view from the port and afterwards, walk up to St. John’s cathedral on to the castle to enjoy the incredible view.
Walk back to the historic center and take the train to Manarola. A 3-minute ride and you’re there! The walking trail leading also to Manarola, Via d’amore, remains closed since last April’s heavy rain and flash floods causing severe damages.
A 3-minute train ride will take you to the second village and one of the most touristic out of the five – Manarola. Featuring a fabulous view to the sea, set on an even steeper cliffside, Manarola resembles a medieval castle with a plethora of the existing houses built on the ruins of an actual historic castle.
Next, head over to the cemetery. Since it is a non-touristic spot, you’ll have the chance to capture the view from up the hill without disturbance. A cup of coffee at Aristida Café is mandatory before jumping into the train to the next village.
Corniglia sits atop a 100-meter high rock. In order to reach the village, you will have to climb 377 steep steps. A short walk after and you’ll be in Cinque Terre’s most well-hidden village.
Corniglia was by far the less touristic of the five villages. That was one of the reasons why I felt so connected to it. It’s vibe was amazing; so quiet, calm and welcoming. I delt like I could spend a week there, writing, enjoying the sun, enjoying aperitivos free from any kind of stress.
At Bar Nunzio, have a glass of impreccable Italian wine before heading to Vernazza to watch the sunset.
The 2011 floods wreaked havod in Vernazza – the most prosperous village out of the five until that time with the highest economic growth. Part of the village was destroyed by the flood, causing incredible problems to the historic buildings and the locals.
The small harbor is the place-to-be when in Vernazza as it offers a great view to the amphitheatrically-built houses. The boatsthat once protected the villages from the Saracens were all gathered there. You’ll definitely enjoy the local fishermen’s playful mood and laughs while there.
Don’t skip a visit to Santa Margarita d’Antiochia the church that stands right across you, at the main square. With an incredible Gothic style, right by the sea, it is definitely worth visiting! Conclude your visit with a hike up to the castle of Doria and the Belforte tower.
Monterosso al Mare
With its long, sandy beach – the popular Fegila – ideal for sunbathing and enjoying a few fun hours by the sea, Monterosso al Mare is the only village with a beach.
Monterosso is separated to the old and the new, modern town with the Aurora tower – the only tower out of the 13 that has survived – in the middle.
I was less attracted to Monterosso since it was a little more touristic than the other villages thanks to its easy access by car with its restaurants and bars filled with people.
Monterosso is the furthest west of the villages and the ending point of my exploration. If you’re into some more exploring, you can take the train to Levante and Portofino from there.
You can either fly from Athens to Milan or Genoa and take the train to Cinque Terre.
Should you fly to Genoa, you can take the train from Genova Brignole and head to the northenmost of the villages – Monterosso. The train ride is an hour long and the ticket fee about 7 euros.
(It’s important to note that there is not a direct train ride from Genoa to La Spezia. You’ll need the 6-euro ticket for the Volabus, the bus that will take you to the train station where you can buy your train ticket.)
If you choose to fly to Milan, you will have to take the train to La Spezia with an interchange in Parma or Genoa. The train ride is a total of 3 hours and the ticket costs an average of 20 to 35 euros. In La Spezia you will take the train to Cinque Terre.
By train of course! Each ticket costs a mere 2,10 euros while the journey around the villages only takes a few minutes. If you are into hiking, you can buy the 7.50 euros trail ticket and get around the villages on foot.
Eat & Drink
If you love hiking, use the trails to move around after Corniglia. Since the trail from Monterosso to Corniglia is closed, you will have to start your hike from Corniglia on to Monterosso.
Corniglia – Vernazza: 90 mins (Trail No. 2)
Vernazza – Monterosso: 120 mins (Trail No. 2)
Some more exploring
If you have more than one days, I would suggest exploring La Spezia – a great alternative for accommodation compared to the high prices offered in the more touristic Cinque Terre villages.
Another beautiful port town is Porto Venere. After Riomaggiore, Porto Venere was my second favorite in the Cinque Terre – La Spezia region.
P.S. It is such a romantic destination – don’t visit it solo!
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