Cinque Terre is by far one of the most beautiful regions I’ve visited in Italy, if not the world. If you haven’t heard of it before, do yourself a favour and google it (or just continue reading).
There are however many misconceptions about the beautiful seaside towns. Including the fact that Cinque Terre is one city. It’s not. The literal english translation for ‘cinque terre’ is five lands. And that’s exactly what Cinque Terre is — five beautiful, unique and picturesque seaside towns.
The five towns – Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore – are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Cinque Terre National Park and are perched on the cliffs of the beautiful Ligurian coastline or also known as the Italian Riviera.
This little slice of heaven is about an hour an a half from Pisa to the west and Genoa to the east and can also be easily done as a day trip from Florence.
The five towns
Let’s be honest shall we, there really isn’t an Italian town, no matter how big or small, that isn’t beautiful in it’s own way. And, the five towns of Cinque Terre are no exception.
Each town, while different in shape and size, is filled with an array of pastel coloured houses, artisan shops and amazing local produce — think lemoncello, wine, fresh seafood and pesto.
While most of the towns are quite hard to access if you’re travelling by car, they are all connected by train and ferry (depending on the time of the year). Alternatively, there are also several amazing walking trails which if you ask me is the best way to explore the region and really take in the breathtaking views .
Monterosso is the biggest of the five towns and the most easily accessible by car, given that it actually has streets and roads. There is an old and new town which are separated by a beautiful strip of beach and a long pedestrian tunnel filled with local art. The tunnel is also often occupied by local buskers which adds a nice Italian vibe to your walk.
The town itself is a mix of restaurants, boutique art and clothing stores and fresh produce. It’s streets are colourful and lively, and it’s main piazza is often filled with old Italian men playing chess and bocce.
TIP: Get lost wandering the streets of Monterosso and the finish the afternoon off with an Aperol Spritz beachside. Either at one of the beach bars or relaxing under one of the many candy coloured and highly Instagramable umbrellas.
Vernazza view from walk.
Vernazza is probably one of the most photographed cities in Italy. Even if you’ve never heard of it before, you’re bound to have seen a postcard or photograph of it and for good reason, it’s absolutely picturesque!
For what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm, history and beauty. There is basically one main street filled with hole in the wall takeaway seafood stores and restaurants. This main street leads down to the heart of Vernazza, the main piazza. From here you’ll you’ll be able to take in the beauty of the town as well as the sea.
TIP: Vernazza is best viewed from the walk to/from Monterosso or from the walk to/from Corniglia, although you get very different view points. Personally, I prefer the view from the Monterosso/Vernazza walk. If you aren’t keen on the walks, it’s still definitely worth starting the walk to Monterosso and stopping to take in the view.
Best panino ever in Corniglia.
Corniglia is the most different from the other five towns. It’s the smallest and the highest, located 100m above sea level. It also has a lot more boutique and artisan stores, as opposed to restaurants like the other towns. It might not look like Vernazza or Manarola in terms of beautiful pastel houses but it’s little alleyways are a photographers dream and the views of the sea are to die for!
Given Corniglia’s height, if you’re planning on walking to the top just be warned, the stairs are deadly and definitely not to be taken lightly. Instead, there is a free shuttle bus that will take you to and from the train station to the top.
TIP: There is a little corner store just as reach the start of Corniglia that makes the freshest and most delicious sandwiches EVER! If you’re walking towards Corniglia and the luscious, green hills are directly in front of you, it’s on your right, just the by the bus stop. I ordered a prosciutto, pesto, tomato, lettuce and mozzarella panino and it was AMAZING! (see above photo)
Nessun Dorma overlooking Manarola.
Manarola is another one of those towns you’ve probably seen a million times and not realised it was Manarola. Nestled among the cliffs is an understatement when it comes to this town, it’s literally perched right on the cliffside. It has one main street lined with restaurants and shops that makes it’s way from the train station down to the harbour.
In my opinion it’s the prettiest and definitely my favourite. I think I could find a bench along the path by the water and literally stare at the town for the entire day — it’s that beautiful!
Manarola is also worth a visit in winter too. Not only will you skip all the crowds, but every December the hills of Manarola are transformed into a huge nativity scene for Christmas. Particularly beautiful at night when it’s all lit up.
TIP: Manarola is home to one of my favourite restaurants in Italy, Nessun Dorma. Nothing fancy, no hot food or industrial kitchen. Just simple, fresh, hand made food using the best and freshest local produce. And, did I mention the view? Best lunch views in all of Cinque Terre.
Honestly, everything that was coming out of the kitchen looked absolutely amazing but we settled on an antipasti platter and the classic bruschetta. Hands down, best antipasti plate I’ve ever tasted! And, the bruschetta, oh my goodness the bruschetta. Thick, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside bread. Bright red and juicy tomatoes and the best local olive oil on offer. They also do killer drinks and cocktails as well!
EXTRA TIP: Nessun Dorma doesn’t take bookings so be prepared to wait in queue. However, if you book a pesto making class you arrive an hour before opening and therefor are guaranteed a table.
Riomaggiore is the final town (or first, depending on which way you start) and it definitely does not disappoint. The main street that runs down the middle of the town is filled with restaurants, bars and shops and it’s harbour is lined with small wooden boats and dinghies. Much like cars parked in a car park.
Getting lost in the labyrinth of alley ways and stairwells is one of my favourite parts of visiting Riomaggiore.
TIP: For the best view and photos of Riomaggiore, walk down to the harbour and climb on the rocks until your just by the ferry port. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. The view looking back on Riomaggiore is stunning, especially early morning or sunset.