A TRAVEL GUIDE TO CINQUE TERRE
THE LAY OF THE FIVE LANDS
Riomaggiore is the southernmost village of the five. As you exit the tunnel from the train station, direction left will take you up the main thoroughfare Via Colombo. As you trudge uphill, you’ll find an assortment of cafes, small food shops and gelaterie. Riomaggiore also has an ancient stone castle which offers sweeping views of the town. Direction right from the tunnel leads down to the water, where you’ll find motor boats bobbing in the harbour. Follow the curve of the cliff and before long you’ll reach Riomaggiore Beach. It’s a small cove where on a hot summer’s day, you’ll find yourself fighting for some towel space on the black pebbles.
Manarolafeatures some of the most notable swimming areas in Cinque Terre. As you head towards the rocks, take care not to step on barnacles or sharp mussels. For the Insta-worthy shots, head towards the cemetery up on one of the highest points of the village. This lookout is undoubtedly the best vista of the coastal town and its harbour. Manarola is also home to some notable restaurants such as Trattoria dal Billy and Nessun Dorma, more on these below.
Corniglia is the only village not near sea-level. When booking accommodation, bear in mind that Corniglia sits atop a large hill – namely, 365 stairs from the train station. If you’re bringing large luggage, it is highly recommended that you catch the local bus from the train station up to the town. The streets of Corniglia feel more narrow and quieter. Small courtyards house tables and chairs tempting visitors to recuperate after their hikes. Come summertime, the air is filled with the fragrance of wildflowers lining the roads.
Vernazzais a lively and boisterous town. If you plan to hike here from Corniglia or Monterosso, you will approach the village from above (and what a spectacular view this is!). The maze of winding back streets lead into the main street. Down by the waterfront, wooden boats with striped covers and large colourful umbrellas flank the square, while the peeling paint of the buildings further adds to the charm of the village.
Monterosso is famed for the geometric printed umbrellas that line the sandy shoreline. If you want to sunbathe, this is the best place for you. Monterosso is actually two towns, connected by a short road tunnel which is also available to pedestrians. The newer part of Monterosso features more modern apartment blocks and bears close resemblance to a beach-resort.
WHAT TO DO IN CINQUE TERRE
Hike the Cinque Terre trails
To ease your guilt from eating excessive amounts of gelato, strap on your hiking boots and hit the trails. Cinque Terre is renowned for its rugged, hiking trails among the terraced vineyards. The trails offer wonderful views of the five villages and the Ligurian sea. Paths are not always paved and can be quite slippery after rainfall, so ensure you wear appropriate gear and carry water with you.
The trails along the coastline between the villages are ultimately the prettiest. To access these paths, you’re best to purchase the Cinque Terre Card. It includes access to all hiking trails, free bus rides in all the villages of Cinque Terre, free use of public toilets at the stations and free wi-fi at all train stations. The 2018 adult prices of the card are listed below.
1 day hiking – €7,50
1 day & train – €16,00
2 days hiking – €14,50
2 days + train – €29,00
3 days + train – €41,00
The Cinque Terre Card can be purchased at any tourist office and each train station, including La Spezia Centrale. You will be provided with a free map and information as to which trails are closed. Carry your card with you at all times. In peak season, there will be locals manning the checkpoints of the trails. When we visited in mid-May, they were surprisingly empty. If you use this card for your train travel, beware of ticket inspectors on board.
Explore the Ligurian sea
At the height of summer, you’ll want to seek solace in the ocean. Hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board, strap on your Go-Pro and explore the impressive coastline from the water. We can recommend Blackwave, situated in Riomaggiore, who offer kayaks and the like at an hourly rate. If you’d prefer not to get your hair wet, opt for a boat tour.
Book a food & wine experience
The namesake wine of Cinque Terre is a white wine which is covered by the DOC label (controlled designation of origin). Wine is primarily made from native Bosco and Albarola grapes with some producers also adding Vermentino grapes. Many locals make a living off the arable land, with all vineyard maintenance and harvesting completed by hand.
Book yourself in for a food and wine experience where you must taste the pride of Cinque Terre, Sciacchetrà or ‘straw wine’. The sweet, honey-hued dessert wine is made from grapes dried for up to 40 days on mats along the hillside. It is typically paired with cheese and desserts.
Volunteer with the locals
In 2011, the towns of Vernazza and Monterosso were hit hard by storms that caused flash flooding and landslides. Three residents lost their lives and the natural disaster destroyed homes, businesses and surrounding infrastructure. Save Vernazza’s Turisti nei Cian (Tourists in the Wild) volunteer project has welcomed hundreds of visitors to donate their time and labour for a small fee to help local farmers and residents to restore vineyards, rebuild stonewalls and harvest grapes. Check this link for further information.
WHERE TO EAT IN CINQUE TERRE
With all that walking along the coastline you’re going to want to replenish those calories. Luckily, you’re only a short walk away from your next tasty treat or meal. Get your fill at some of our favourites below.
Trattoria dal Billy
Consider leg day done and dusted when you walk to the top of Manarola for dinner at Trattoria dal Billy. Three generations of fisherman have managed this split level restaurant, which serves some of the finest seafood across the five towns. Reservations are a must as the restaurant’s reputation precedes itself. When we arrived for our sitting at 8.30pm, there was a long line of hopeful diners waiting at the entrance. With our reservation, we were seated inside an intimate space where the walls are adorned with photos and artwork depicting fishermen and the surrounding terraced lands. We splurged on a lobster linguine which had us donning paper towel lobster bibs, along with a tagliatelle infused with truffle oil and mixed with mussels. To end a splendid evening in good company, we treated ourselves to a delicious vanilla semifreddo drizzled with fresh berries. It’s safe to say that you will lick your plates clean when dining at Billy’s.
Address | Via A. Rollando, 122, 19017 Manarola SP, Italy
Opening Hours | Monday – Wednesday, Friday – Sunday: Lunch 12.00pm – 3.00pm. Dinner 6.00pm – 10.00pm. Closed Thursdays
Best For | Seafood & Pasta
Website | trattoriabilly.com
A morning of strenuous hiking over undulating terraces should be rewarded with an Aperol Spritz and one of the best views of Manarola. Nessun Dorma can offer you both. The cafe and wine bar occupies a landscaped terrace with picture perfect views of the pastel houses and fishing boats bobbing on the dazzling azure of the harbour below. Nab one of the wooden tables next to the railings and sit back to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Since its opening in 2014, Nessun Dorma remains committed to using local fresh produce to deliver top notch Italian fare. Don’t expect pizza and pasta here; instead, treat yourself to one of their beautifully constructed bruschette paired with local wine or a fruity mocktail. If you’re travelling with a larger group to the garden-like area, a couple of taglieri (cold plates) is a good option. Passionate foodies and wine connoisseurs should consider booking Nessun Dorma’s Pesto or Wine Experience for €50 per person. Further information is on their website.
Address | Localita Punta Bonfiglio, Rimazùu, 19017 Manarola SP, Italy
Opening Hours | April – October
Best For | Light lunch, local Italian wine
Website | nessundormacinqueterre.com
Love – Passion – Tradition
Passion for artisan gelato and an undying love for the lands of Cinque Terre was all Pino Gianonni needed to begin his adventure in Vernazza in 1986. In 2012, Pino’s son, Gina Luca, took over the business and today, there are three stores in operation in Vernazza and nearby La Spezia. The peppermint shop sign welcomed us into the tiny Vernazza gelateria where creamy mounds of gelato goodness swirled up in front of us behind cold glass windows. Flavours include ricotta and figs, chocolate and pears, white chocolate with coconut and their signature Cinque Terre flavour consisting of white chocolate, mascarpone and organic fruits of the forest. Fruit sorbets and soy artisan gelato are also available for our lactose intolerant friends.
Gelateria Il Porticciolo
We visited Vernazza twice during our time in Cinque Terre. There is no shortage of gelateria along the main street and Gelateria II Porticciolo has an optimal location, close to the harbour. There was strangely no queue when we walked in the day of our visit and the young girl behind the counter waited patiently as we hummed and deliberated over flavours. We walked off happily slurping cinnamon and chocolate from our waffle cone but left with curious minds over the prickly pear flavour!
Address | Via Visconti 12, 19018 Vernazza SP, Italy
Best For | Cinnamon gelato
If you miss your Subway foot-long sub, swap it for the Italian version. Lunch Box is the ideal spot for the fussy and picky eaters. The cafe allows diners to build their own sandwich or salads from the bread right to the sauce. Set menu items are also available if you’re too tired from hiking to think about your sandwich fillings. We would recommend a focaccia to go with your cured meats and fresh salad. Limited seating is available inside and out the front so if the weather is favourable, grab your sandwich takeaway and wander down to the harbour to swing your legs in the water as you munch your lunch.
Address | Via Roma 34, 19018 Vernazza SP, Italy
Opening Hours | Saturday – Thursday 7.00am – 9.00pm
Best For | Gourmet sandwiches
WHERE TO STAY IN CINQUE TERRE
This will be dependent on time and budget. If time is of the essence and you have less than three days in Cinque Terre, we recommend staying in one of the coastal towns. If you’re tugging at the coin purse, seek alternate accommodation in La Spezia, one of the larger towns nearby. La Spezia will offer more choices at budget friendly prices and easily connects to Cinque Terre via train.
Check out Booking.com or Airbnb for accommodation options and availability.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT CINQUE TERRE
The best way to travel between the five towns is to hike the trails or via the local trains. If you purchase the Cinque Terre Card (mentioned above), which you are likely to do, your train travel is included. Train timetables are available at each train station and at the tourist information office at La Spezia Centrale.
Alternatively, there are ferries that run between the five villages and Portovenere. A trip on the water will afford you a jaw-dropping panorama of the pastel buildings stacked on top one another cliffside. The Consorzio Marittimo Turistico 5 Terre – Golfo dei Poeti is the only official ferry line in Cinque Terre. All timetables and ticket prices for peak and off-season can be found on their website. In the case of bad weather, ferries can be cancelled at short notice.
It’s a nightmare and practically non-existent. If you plan to visit Cinque Terre via car or campervan, we would recommend organising parking up in La Spezia. There are a few paid parking garages where you can book a spot in advance; ensure that you take note of the opening hours!
Alternatively, you can park on the streets for free where the lines are painted white. We chose this option after some extensive research and also opted to park close to La Spezia Migliarina train station instead of La Spezia Centrale.
If Cinque Terre is part of a larger Italian adventure, be sure to read this post which provides plenty of helpful advice when planning that ultimate bucket list Italy road trip.