I’d never even heard of the Cinque Terre until earlier this year, when photos of its candy-coloured villages started popping up all over my Pinterest feed. I was already planning a mini-break to Florence, so decided to build a few days in the Cinque Terre into my itinerary to see it for myself.
Best. Decision. Ever. Just look at this place…
In a nutshell, the Cinque Terre – which translates as Five Lands – is a collection of cliff-hugging villages set along a ridiculously scenic stretch of Italian coast.
We stayed in Vernazza, right on the gorgeous main square, Piazza Marconi. There are restaurants all around three edges of the square, and on the last side there’s the church, the (tiny) beach and the harbour. It has a real old-fashioned Italian feel, with washing strung out between windows and groups of old men playing cards and sipping espressos in pavement cafés.
The Cinque Terre villages are connected by hiking paths and a train line. The main coastal path was destroyed in a flood a few years ago, and most of it is still closed for repair. While we were there, the only section open was between Vernazza and Monterosso.
We set off around 10am. The path was pretty empty until we were almost at Monterosso, so I’d suggest heading out early if you don’t want to spend the whole time squeezing past people coming the other way or being stuck behind slow walkers. And if you’re starting in Monterosso, be prepared for hundreds (literally) of stairs at the start.
Monterosso is split into two sections – the old town, where the hiking trail starts, and the new town, where the train station is. Both have beaches and loads of cafés and restaurants. Out of all five Cinque Terre towns, it was the most touristy and probably the only one with decent nightlife.
We caught the train down to Corniglia, the middle village. It’s the only one that’s not by the sea – you can take a bus up (it’s free if you show your train ticket), or walk up a few hundred steps. This seemed to be the quietest village, probably because it’s the most difficult to get to.
As the coastal path from Corniglia to Manarola was shut, we took the inland route, which leads you right up into the mountains. The climb up is a bit of a killer – luckily there are plenty of photo ops that give you an excuse to have a breather. And once you’re up, the path winds through forests and vineyards, so there’s plenty of shade.
It took us about three hours to reach Manarola – luckily, there are plenty of cafés where you can recover with an icy Nastro Azzurro.
Right at the end of the Cinque Terre chain is tiny Riomaggiore. We got the train down here the next day and spent a few hours sunbathing and swimming off the rocks.
On our last night we splashed out on dinner at Belforte, a gorgeous seafood restaurant set on ancient watch-tower terraces. It gets pretty busy, so book a day or two in advance if you want a table with a view. The waiter recommended table four on the top terrace – we had front-row views of the sea and the sun setting over Monterosso.
Have a look at my Cinque Terre Trip Tips page for practical advice, recommendations and details of where I stayed.