Exploring Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre are five seaside towns set amidst the rocky coast of western Italy. Located in the region of Liguria, they are part of the Italian Riviera. Though they have become popular, they still have an undiscovered feel. Tourists here are low key, looking for a beach or a hiking trail to enjoy the view. The yacht club enthusiasts do not frequent here and stay more to the north in Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure or head south to the Amalfi Coast. The Cinque Terre are in a national park and all five towns are connected by a hiking trail which winds through the wine region on the hills.
The two shortest trails are between Riomaggiore and Manarola, as well as Manarola and Corniglia. When we were there both of the easy trails were closed due to landslides. We did hike up the hill from Vernazza, part of the longest trail between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. If you are in good shape you will not mind the hike, if you are not, you may prefer the first two trails mentioned. Either way, it is a stunning locale, offering beautiful vistas and colorful architecture set amidst the dramatic coastal hills.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare has the most resort-like feel with the best beaches. While other cities offer rooms with a view, this town offers the most usable recreation space. You can rent an umbrella on the beach and swim in the Mediterranean, a refreshing escape on a hot summer day. You must sit on rocks to sunbathe in the other four cities, though you can dive in the blue-green water. From the public beach here you can walk through a tunnel to Monterosso to access great restaurants and shopping. Parking and the train station are both nearby. All five towns are well connected by the train, with each about 5-10 minutes apart.
View from Hotel Baia in Monterosso al Mare, Looking Toward Other 4 Towns:
There are several ways to travel between cities. You can drive, hike, go by train or boat. When you first drive into the area you will realize that the main road and parking areas are set high up on the hill and you must either walk down the hill or take a shuttle, which are few and far between. We recommend the train or walking but be sure to take a boat as well to get unobstructed views of the cities. You can go by large water taxi or rent smaller boats from independent operators on the docks.
Vernazza is widely thought to be the most beautiful city of Cinque Terre, with small boats dotting the natural harbor. You can swim, tan, rent a boat, visit the shops and restaurants or explore the Castle Doria. The best view of the city to be had is by hiking just past the city toward Monterosso which provides the view below.
Corniglia is the only city set high on a hill and not the water, though they do have a beach as well. It is considered part of Vernazza. It is surrounded by terraced vineyards, and all four of the other cities can be seen from its central location. Though some would skip this city due to almost 400 steps it takes to climb to see it, it is worth a visit if only to see the contrast with the other oceanfront cities. You can also visit the church of San Pietro built in 1350.
Manarola is known as the other most beautiful city of Cinque Terre and it is thought to be the oldest of the five, founded in the twelfth century. It is considered part of Riomaggiore. Its Church of San Lorenzo was built in 1338. Fishing and winemaking are popular here and you can sample the local wine.
Riomaggiore is often the first town people see as it is closest to La Spezia. Tourists walk the Via dell’Amore over to Manarola. It has a similar selection of bars, restaurants and shops as the other cities.
While I have recommended Monterosso al Mare as a base, all of the cities offer beautiful architecture and a natural setting, as well as similar restaurants, shops and bars. There are five different dialects between the five cities of Cinque Terre. Most hotels are small and owned by locals, which contributes to the non-touristy feel of being undiscovered.
Cinque Terre National Park: