Candy-coloured houses set precariously atop the rough, jagged coastline of the Italian Riviera and a Mediterranean backdrop of lapping turquoise. *Sigh*. I can now confirm from personal experience that the Cinque Terre, or ‘five lands’, are literally postcard picture perfect. So, here’s a little Cinque Terre guide (in fives, naturally) on what to look out for in Italy’s picturesque cluster of seaside towns:
(disclaimer: apologies for looking so grumpy in these pictures)
5 things to see in Monterosso
First on my list was Monterosso, the furthest west of the Cinque Terre. Most visitors either start or finish here, but I would thoroughly recommend finishing in Riomaggiore because the sunset is so fantastic. (Scroll down to see what I mean).
1. Despite the fact that all five of the Cinque Terre are dotted along the coast, Monterosso is the only one with a beach. It’s lovely to walk along and around and there is ample sunbathing space should you wish to use it.
2. You can even surf there!
3. The town is split into two; the old town and the new town. The old and new are linked by an underground tunnel.
4. One of most famous sights in Monterosso is the Convento dei Cappuccini.
5. At the convent there is statue of Saint Francis looking out over the water. While the sun lasted, it was a beautiful, peaceful spot (pictured above).
5 things to see in Vernazza
Next, I headed to Vernazza. Though Monterosso wasn’t quite what I expected from the Cinque Terre, Vernazza was exactly what I had pictured. However, it was during my visit here that the rain started to fall…
1. The village has a small harbour. Though it was a little windy by the time I got there, I loved watching the waves coming in (and watching them soak unsuspecting tourists).
2. The best gelato I have ever tasted in my life was in Vernazza! Got a scoop of cinnamon at Il Porticciolo. It was life-affirming!
3. There are loads of little boutique shops and little cafes, though they’re a little expensive. However, as you walk from the train station out to the harbour, I couldn’t resist popping in at least one or two for some wistful window shopping.
4. Out by the harbour, there are winding inclines, twisting cobbled streets and a maze of steps that lead to hidden restaurants, cafes, shops and art galleries. I loved exploring these, though it gave my glutes a good workout!
5. Be sure to climb the Belforte Tower, which offers stunning views of Vernazza and the surrounding landscape.
5 things to see in Corniglia
Arriving in Corniglia, I decided to go for a paddle. No, really. It was raining so hard that the footpath was flooded and I had to take off my shoes and wade my way to the village.
1. If it’s raining, be aware that you will have to swim there. Corniglia is high up in the hills and a brief (wet) and uphill walk from the train station.
2. Corniglia is way, way up in the hills. In fact, from certain angles it even looks like its surrounded by rice paddies a la Southeast Asia…
3. There are lots of quirky shops and artsy cafes to explore. Corniglia seems to have a little bit more of a ‘weird and wonderful’ personality, compared to the other villages, which are more ‘pretty’, quintessential and quaint.
4. Corniglia is an absolute maze! It’s very easy to get lost and near-impossible to take a straight route to anywhere. Remember: what goes up does not always go down.
5. If you can work your way through the town to find a spot that looks out to sea, the views are spectacular. Corniglia is probably the highest point on the Cinque Terre, so you can see for miles around.
5 things to see in Manarola
Thankfully, the rain stopped and the sky brightened up as I arrived in Manarola. This little village may well be my favourite of the five, though it was also definitely the most popular (read – crowded)!
1. This is ‘the one’. This is the exact image that springs to mind when you think of the Cinque Terre.
2. Extreme fishing is a sport. I spotted two local boys who had climbed onto a ledge of jagged rocks to throw a line out. They seemed unperturbed by the waves crashing next to them, missing them by inches.
3. Even the train station is picturesque (see below).
4. You actually get a decent chippy! Fried fish and chip shops line the main street from the station to the harbour.
5. Riomaggiore, the last of the Cinque Terre, is only 850 metres away. The aptly named Via dell’amore links the two and is well worth taking. The man-made road winds around the coast and there are some really impressive views.
5 things to see in Riomaggiore
Finally, I arrived at the fifth and final town, Riomaggiore! I was so happy that I made and that it was no longer raining, I even managed to smile in my selfie!
1. I may be just a little bit biased in this Cinque Terre guide, but I think Riomaggiore is the best of the five to end on. The way the sunset colours light up this village in the evening is just magical.
2. Riomaggiore is the biggest of the five lands, so leave more time to explore. I really enjoyed walking around and discovering quiet, secluded spots away from the crowds.
3. It’s perfect for a swim. There may not be a beach, but the little coves give some shelter from the waves. There were a lot of people paddling and sitting out on the rocks. It’s a lovely way to wind down after so much walking.
4. All the restaurants. Naturally, everyone flocks here at dusk, so proprietors are deliberately wafting delicious smells in your direction to lure you in. Be lured!
5. Take the boat back. After all that walking, take the journey back via sea for glimpses of each other villages too.
Cinque Terre Guide: 5 more things you should know
Of course, this Cinque Terre Guide wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of practical information:
1. You can get around the Cinque Terre by train (like I did), by boat or on foot. To hike, you need to buy a pass that states which routes your plan to hike along (blue route, red route etc.). For the train, you can buy a day pass.
2. Yes, you can see all of the Cinque Terre in one day, but you might want to give yourself more time. Unless you’re an Olympic athelete, you won’t be able to hike between them all and have time to explore each of the towns fully too. Even for me, taking the train between them all was a push and I was exhausted by the end.
3. It’s cheaper if you don’t stay in one of the villages. I stayed at Ospitalia del Mare in nearby Levanto and it was very easy to get to the Cinque Terre by train from there. Plus, it’s a really sweet town with a beach, great restaurants and good surf. There is a tourist information centre at the train station.
4. Check the weather forecast and time of year before you go. During my September visit there was a lot of rain, so all the walking routes between the towns were closed for safety. Similarly, in the summer you will suffer if you try and hike in the blazing heat. Also, be mindful that outside of peak season some things might be closed.
5. Make sure you have a good camera with you with lots of space on it! You will be taking an obscene amount of photos.
Hope you found this Cinque Terre guide useful, or that you enjoyed looking at the pretty pictures (I know I do). Happy exploring!
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