The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 colourful villages built in the Cliffside in the Italian Riviera. I’ve had Cinque Terre on my bucket list ever since I saw this iconic photo in National Geographic.
When I was planning my trip to France and Italy in the Summer of 2017, I knew I wanted to check it out. It was the perfect stop between Nice and Florence; it took about 5 hours to get to the Cinque Terre by train connecting in Genoa. The train was extremely scenic, and gave us marvelous views of the Mediterranean coast (my boyfriend and I enjoyed this with a bottle of rose).
We decided to stay in the town of La Spezia, which is the next town over from Riomaggiore (one of the prettiest villages in the Cinque Terre). There are plenty of beautiful hotels and B&Bs in all of the towns in the Cinque Terre, but some of them can be quite pricey. Our hotel, Albergo Teatro, was within walking distance from La Spezia train station and was run by a lovely Italian couple. It was roughly $100 per night for a private room with a shared bathroom (and air conditioning).
La Spezia is also in between Cinque Terre and Portofino (another popular stop in the Riviera). The owner of Albergo Teatro claimed Portofino was much prettier and less crowded than the Cinque Terre. La Spezia had it own charms as well; we enjoyed fresh calamari in the towns busy piazza at night.
For our full day in the Riviera, we woke up early and headed to La Spezia train station. We bought a train pass for the day, which gave us unlimited train access between the towns in the Cinque Terre, La Spezia, and Levanto (another town bordering the Cinque Terre). The pass also have us access to the bathrooms in the train station; public bathrooms were hard to find in the Cinque Terre. There was a bit of a lineup to get the pass, so I’d recommend getting there early. The pass was about $14 for the day, and most definitely worth it, even just for the air conditioning (are you catching a theme here?). The train comes every few minutes in the morning, roughly every 20 minutes in the afternoon, and once an hour in evening. You can also take a boat between the border towns and all of the villages in the Cinque Terre. This would have been extremely scenic looking back at the colourful buildings in the villages from the water, but the boat takes longer than the train and doesn’t come as frequently. Since we were only there for two nights, we just didn’t have the time. You can also hike between the villages – not even something I considered.
The first town we went to was Riomaggiore. This town has a beautiful harbour that provides a great photo op. The town is extremely hilly, and requires you to up and down multiple flights of stairs to get anywhere. Head to the high ground to get a great photo looking out on the Mediterranean.
After about an hour and a half in Riomaggiore we took the train to Manarola (the next village over). Manarola is the reason why I wanted to come to Cinque Terre, as it’s the town in the National Geographic photograph. If you are in Manarola, you MUST go to Nessum Dorma. In my opinion, it has the best view in all of the Cinque Terre (and serves local wine). To get there, you have to walk along the pedestrian pathway that’s built into the side of the cliff and walk up a set of stairs (there’s really no point trying to use a map in the Cinque Terre). The restaurant is entirely outside on a patio with umbrellas and mist machines with a view looking over the entire village. We were walking by and saw a huge lineup of people waiting for the restaurant to open for lunch service. When we noticed the mist machines, we made a mad dash and got in line. Luckily, we were the last people that got let into the restaurant. We even got a prime seat closest to the edge of the patio. We ordered rose made in the region, and they brought over some complimentary snacks which included olives, nuts, and pastries. I’d recommend lining up early to get a seat, as they don’t take reservations.
We skipped over Corniglia, as we’ve heard the town is set a bit further back and doesn’t have the greatest views. We headed to Vernazza, which has amazing swimming spots and even a castle. We decided to go for a dip in Vernazza because the temperatures were warming up. There wasn’t any public change rooms, so I found a little cave and got my boyfriend to hold a towel around me. We waded in the water and sunbathed on some rocks – we couldn’t venture too far as we wanted to keep an eye on our belongings (there weren’t any public lockers available). Castle Doria provides some great views in Vernazza; thanks to Rick Steves we learned that instead of paying the charge to go up to the top of the castle, we can grab dinner at the restaurant in the castle – Belforte. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that the restaurant only accepts cash and ATMs are hard to come by.
We decided to head back to our favourite city, Manarola, for dinner. Lots of restaurants close between lunch service and dinner service; make sure to grab a bite to tide you over until dinner time. We sat on the patio of one of the major cobblestone streets; I can’t quite remember the name, but there are plenty of similar restaurants. We ordered anchovies to start – not my first choice, but my boyfriend wanted to try one of the local delicacies. For our mains, we got pasta with pesto, one of the local specialties. For desert, we got the tiramisu taster on the recommendation of other diners in the restaurant. After our dinner, we went for a walk on the pedestrian walkway looking back on the city. The photo I fell in love with was taken at dusk, so I had to try to recreate the photo. We didn’t get the chance to visit Monterosso Al Mare, but we’ve heard it’s a bit more developed and has some bigger resorts. I came to the Cinque Terre for the small town charm, so I was okay missing out on that village.
The Cinque Terre was one of my favourite stops in Italy. There weren’t any major sights that I had to see, I just got to leisurely explore the region (and the food). Let me know in the comments if there are any other scenic regions I should put on my bucket list!