Cinque Terre Travel Diary
Updated: Sep 12
The coast of Liguria, also called the Italian Riviera is the curved coastline between France's Cote d'Azur and Tuscany. The coastline is divided into two halves by the historic city of Genoa, into the Riviera di Ponente (Coast of the Setting Sun) and the Riviera di Levante (Coast of the Rising Sun). The Ponente stretch of the Italian Riviera coast has spectacular scenery and wide beaches. We explored the rugged beauty on eastern side and witnessed one of the most picturesque & iconic part of Italian Riviera - Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, means ‘Five Lands’. These five lands are five old fishing villages of Monerosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore running from north to South of the coastline.
View of Vernazza from costal walking path
Perched on cliffs above clear turquoise waters of the Ligurian Sea, are compact, tall and brightly coloured buildings. It is amazing to visualize what the cliffs would have looked like without the human magic- rugged, windy, weathered and mostly uninhabitable! However what we witness today is a fine example of what we can achieve if we work with nature and with a sense of community. For centuries, the inhabitants of these shores have worked with the steep land and slowly carved a spectacular mazes of buildings, terraces for vineyards and tiny fields for cultivating olives.
But with cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea, it is also easy to see that is on a strategic location, and must have attracted a lot of unwanted guests in the past!
By the tiny harbour of Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1970. It is today a National Park and Protected Marine Area. The railway line was completed in 1874 and now trains run from La Spezia to all five towns within Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre Train Card allows you to use the hiking trails with unlimited travel on the Cinque Terre trains. The Cinque Terre railway stations are located on the Genoa-Pisa line. There is also a scheduled passenger ferry which runs between Levanto and La Spezia, stopping at all of the main villages except Corniglia (as it not located on the coast).
Access by car is limited as the area till date remains mostly traffic free. The walking path connecting all 5 villages is still the best way to explore the villages.
When to travel
The shoulder months of May and September are the best, try to avoid July and August as it can get really crowded and hot. We went in September and it was really nice and very sunny.
How to travel
Cinque Terre is easily accessible by train from Pisa, Genoa, and Florence. The closest airports are in Genoa and Pisa.
Where to stay
The village of Monterosso (northernmost and the largest of the villages) and Riomaggiore (southernmost village) are good for accommodation as there are many options of hotels available. Accommodations are also available in other villages but are limited and are mainly apartment rentals. Staying in one of the villages comes with a price for the location and therefore staying in the neighbouring towns of Levanto (north of Cinque Terre) or La Spezia (South of Cinque Terre) can be more affordable and due to the close proximity of these 2 places to Cinque Terre, all villages are easily accessible by trains from both these places. We stayed in La Spezia.
Cinque Terre card combined with unlimited train ride from La Sapiz or Levanto, available as 1, 2 or 3 days pass gives access to the Cinque Terre costal walking path which goes through the national park. It's often considered to be one of the best hikes in the world. These paths are quite picturesque. The famous scenic path Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) between Riomaggiore and Manarola is also the shortest and flattest- but was closed when we visited. Rest of the paths involved can be steep and rocky and would require some basic level of fitness. We didn’t explore these much as our little explorer had his buggy and pushing that uphill wasn’t really a tempting option!
How long to stay
Most tourists go for a day trip from Pisa or Florence although we would recommend 2-3 days to enjoy and appreciate the beauty and charm of Cinque Terre.
The villages are crowded during the day and until late afternoon from day trippers and therefore to enjoy the beauty in some peace and quiet, evenings are best time and therefore staying in one of villages or in a town nearby for 2-3 days gives sufficient time to explore each village. We stayed for 2 full days and visited 2 to 3 villages a day.
The harbour of Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is the largest and southernmost village of the Cinque Terre, with typical multi-coloured houses leading down to a steep and tiny natural harbour. It is considered to be one of the most peaceful and quiet villages of the Cinque Terre. It is worth exploring Riomaggiore’s main street lined with the village’s restaurants, bars and artisanal gift shops. You can also dive, kayak or rent a boat from Riomaggiore. There are also some good spots to watch the sun go down.
The colourful village of Manarola at sunset
Manarola is very colourful and perhaps the most charming of the five villages. It is built on a rock 70 metres above sea level. It has steep narrow alleys (carrugi) that do up and down and lead to a tiny harbor with a boat ramp. There are good seafood restaurants in the tiny piazza.
The famous scenic path Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) starts from Manarola that leads you to Riomaggiore in only 20 minutes.
At the top of the village is the San Lorenzo Church- in the past the bell tower was used as a post to watch for potential pirate raids.
Manarola is known for its distinctive vineyards and there are a number of wine tasting and snacks tours (usually focaccia and cheese)- you also get to meet the winemakers.
Narrow streets and Gelateria in village of Corniglia
Corniglia is the only village which has no sea access and no harbour. This ancient Roman village is located in the middle of the five towns and built on a cliff 100 metres above sea level. The village can be accessed by climbing ~377 steps (Lardarina) from the rail station which is located below the village. Corniglia is also connected to the other villages of the Cinque Terre by footpaths. The village is surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces.
Corniglia probably sees the least amount of tourists so is nice and quiet but has all the charm.
Harbour of Vernazza
This small fishing village is all that you think of Cinque Terre and is extremely beautiful and full of character making it the most photographed village of Cinque Terre! It has a tiny port and is surrounded by gorgeous picture postcard colourful blocks of compact buildings. The restaurants here dish out some amazing sea food!
We went on a walking trail leading up to the hilltop outside the village, it has a bird’s eye view of the village from top. Once we came down, we headed to an open air restaurant to watch the sunset. It was a great way to enjoy the atmosphere with local wine and some much needed nibbles.
This is the northern most village and the largest of the five villages. Near the train station, are the 14th-century Loggia del Podesta and the parish church of San Giovanni Battista. The hilly area has cultivations of lemons and olives as well as grapes. Monterosso is divided in two parts by the medieval tower of Aurora. The new part, Fegina boasts of a good selection of hotels and restaurants. It is also home to the statue of the Giant or Neptune (God of the sea) created by the Italian sculptor Arrigo Minerbi and the architect Francesco Levacher. The old town of Monterosso is marked by the ruins of the castle, brightly coloured terraced houses and carruggi (ancient narrow streets).
Monterosso also has the most extensive sand beach in the Cinque Terre which runs along most of the coastline. Due this and the abundance of good hotels and restaurants, it is quite popular with the tourists and for this reason it does also feel very ‘touristy’ and sort of lacks the charm of the other villages.