We both had a four-day weekend (Friday – Monday) for Easter Break and we decided to visit the famous and colorful Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands). Well, more famous among the Americans and French it seemed like. The five towns along the Ligurian coast (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
We took an overnight bus from Munich Thursday night and arrived early Friday morning fresh and ready to explore Genoa. After a short stay exploring the tiny alleys in old town Genoa we headed towards our main destination.
We liked Manarola and Porto Venere the most. Porto Venere is actually not part of Cinque Terre anymore and most people visit it solely by boat.
- Picturesque Manarola is perched on a hill and a great sunset spot where we also found our favorite restaurant (see below).
- Vernazza is a close third with its quaint port and viewpoints. When coming in from the trails both ways, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the village.
- Corniglia, the town in the middle of “the five” is the only village not at sea level surrounded by some nice vineyards and lemon trees on terraces.
- In Riomaggiore, grab a focaccia and enjoy it on the rocks at the port while people watching and basking in the sun.
- Monterosso al Mare is the biggest of all towns, divided into old and new town. Also check out the cemetery perched up the hill for some nice views and have an Aperol Spritz or beer at the beach.
- Levanto might also be worth a visit as it has many shops and accommodation options just a view train minutes from Cinque Terre. You can also do a 2.5 hour hike from there to Monterosso and enjoy the silence away from the crowds.
- The village we stayed in was Framura which is a very quiet town but a good base to explore the area and other coastal towns.
- We also went through La Spezia on our way back to Munich and enjoyed walking along the harbor front with the many palm trees. You can find many accommodation options here as well.
- If you have more time you can also head to upscale Portofino known for regular celebrity visitors. However, the town is quite small and there is not too much to do (we heard).
Getting to Cinque Terre:
Cinque Terre lies between Genua and Pisa thus it is best to fly in or drive (car or bus) to any of these major hubs and then take the train to the five main villages to start exploring.
There are three options for getting around, each with its own pros and cons. While the local train is the fastest option, we found the trains to be expensive, infrequent, and unreliable. Purchasing a day pass (approx. 17 EUR) was out of our plans as it was even more expensive and we would only be on the train twice per day. When you want to get on the train, you need to purchase a single trip ticket from the machines at each station. While this is nice because they accept plastic, we found them to be slow, over-crowded, and also unreliable. In fact, several times we were unable to purchase a ticket and had to buy one on-board from the ticket checker. To us, this seemed like a risk because he has no proof that we were previously unable to buy a ticket, but it worked for us both times. In fact, maybe you could conveniently do this every time, but we are not endorsing this and your mileage may vary.
There are several ferries that go between the villages, but we only used the ferry once to get from Porto Venere to La Spezia. The top deck provided a great view, and the ticket was moderately priced (6 EUR compared to the 35 EUR day ticket). Travel time was about 30 minutes and was overall a nice change of scenery from hiking or fighting the train.
Other transport modes
Apart from hiking, taking the train or ferry you could also get around by local buses or car. We don’t have any experiences with these options and it seemed a pain to get to the villages by car as parking spaces are very limited and mostly further up the hills.
What to Do and How to Stay Active:
The five villages themselves as well as the paths between them are the sights of the region. Don’t rush through Cinque Terre and enjoy the Ligurian coast, the Italian savoir vivre and obviously indulge in the Italian cuisine.
No trip to Cinque Terre would be complete without exploring the scenic seaside paths between the villages. And every hike here is worth it. Take your time, enjoy the views, stop often, take pictures, drink water (Bonus: fountains throughout each city to refill), and don’t forget your sunscreen. You definitely don’t need hiking boots but we would also not recommend hiking in flip flops as the paths are pretty uneven. Most hikes can be finished between 1 and 2 hours.
We did all of the hikes between Levanto and Porto Venere except the trail between Corniglia and Manarola (check out the map above). Our favorite one was the coastal trail from Riomaggiore to Porto Venere, a village east of actual Cinque Terre. The hike was the longest out of all the coastal hikes, however it was neither strenuous nor as long as you might think (it took us about 3 hours walking time).
The paths between Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia are very packed as they are the easiest and attract lots of families and elderly tour groups. Nevertheless, the hikes to and from Vernazza are breathtaking and should not be skipped (Note: for these two hikes you will need to buy a day pass for 7.5 EUR).
Hiking Times (our personal walking times):
- Levanto – Monterosso: 2h15min
- Monterosso – Vernazza: approx. 1h15min
- Vernazza – Corniglia: approx. 1h
- Riomaggiore – Manarola: approx. 1h
- Riomaggiore – Porto Venere: approx. 3h
Where and What to Eat:
We weren’t super impressed with the cuisine here, but that’s probably because it’s mostly touristy and tourist-priced. But, you can’t go wrong with pizza or pasta! Must haves are gelato, various focaccias (especially with the Genovese pesto!), pesto trofie (special pasta), and any type of seafood with local white wine. We also tried the farinata made of chickpea flour but didn’t think too much of it.
We went to Nessun Dorma which overlooks Manarola and its port from the side and had an amazing meat and cheese platter. We were both absolutely stuffed for 28Euro and each enjoyed an Aperol spritz during sunset. Photo above, check for yourself how amazing it looks.
Where to Stay:
If you book early or you are willing to spend a lot of money on your hotel you can stay directly at one of the five villages. Otherwise, check out La Spezia (many hostel options) or west along the coast in towns like Levanto or Framura. We found our hostel ‘Perla del Levante Hostel’ via Booking.com (about 30 EUR per person in the dorm) which we were pretty satisfied with. I mean image waking up to this view and enjoying your complimentary breakfast on the terrace. The only downside (we weren’t bothered by it) was the 20min uphill hike to reach the hostel. Nice Italian owners who doesn’t speak much (or any) English but is very nice and welcoming.