This guest post was written by Brenna Holeman
If you haven’t heard of Cinque Terre, perhaps you’ve seen a photo of it; known as one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, the five villages that make up Cinque Terre are recognisable by their dramatic cliffs, brightly coloured houses, and gorgeous location along the Italian Riviera. While many people visit the region on a day trip from Florence or Pisa, it’s worth at least a few days of exploring. I recommend visiting in April, May, or late September, when there aren’t as many tourists in the area.
Cinque Terre, meaning five lands in Italian, is located in the north west region of Liguria. While the park – Cinque Terre National Park, that is – is actually part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, most people know it best for the five fishing villages built along the cliffside. From north to south, these are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each one has its own train station, but most people visit Cinque Terre in order to hike between the villages. It’s possible to buy a day pass to the region from any train station; at €12, this will give you access to all of the hiking trails as well as trains between the villages (make sure to validate your ticket at the station before using it). Trains run every half an hour, but are rarely on schedule.
When talking about hiking in Cinque Terre, people often differentiate the trails by colour; the “blue” trails are those that are closest to the water, and it is required to have a ticket to hike on them. The “red” trails are higher up, making them more difficult, but they are free to use. Both the blue and the red trails are strenuous at times, so they’re not advisable for small children, people with limited mobility, or anyone else who may struggle on a hike. My favourite hike is the one between Monterosso and Vernazza; it takes about two hours, and you’re rewarded with the most incredible view of Vernazza from above.
I recommend asking the information desk at the train station about which trails are open, as some trails close throughout the year. If you’re hiking in peak season (from June-September), the temperatures will be very high, so make sure to bring lots of water with you.
Things to Do
Other than hiking, there’s still plenty to do in Cinque Terre. Each village is so beautiful that you could spend days just wandering around, taking photos, and getting lost down little side streets (and I suggest that you do exactly that at some point on your trip). Many of the villages also have churches and towers that you can visit, some of which offer lovely views of the water; one of the most popular is Vernazza’s Belforte Tower for a 360 degree view of the region.
If you’re after some beach time, Monterosso is the place to go. You can hire a lounger with an umbrella for the day, and the town also has some fabulous beach bars and restaurants along the boardwalk. There are also some water sports available such as paddle-boarding and snorkelling. Manarola is also popular for swimming, but usually with those who want to jump off the rocks to do so. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Corniglia has a nude beach!
Another great way to spend the day in the area is by boat. You can either hire your own for the day (there are some for rent in Monterosso’s Old Town), hire a guide or local, or take the public ferry between the villages. Seeing Cinque Terre from the water is an amazing way to take in all the views; a place this stunning deserves to be seen from all angles.
Finally, if you have a few days in the region, I recommend checking out some of the towns close to Cinque Terre, including Camogli, Portovenere, and Portofino, all of which are beautiful in their own right.
Food and Drink
Cinque Terre is known for its pesto, so make sure to try some out when you’re there – most restaurants will offer some form of pesto pasta. The seafood is obviously outstanding as well, with lots of calamari and anchovies on the local menus, and a popular street food is paper cones filled with fried squid or fish. One of my favourite restaurants is a place in Manarola called Aristide; they make terrific lobster ravioli.
If you’re on a bit of a budget, or simply wanting to eat on the go, there are plenty of pizza and focaccia shops in each village, and I’ve never had a bad meal at any of them. There is also an abundance of gelato shops, and for good reason; it’s absolutely delicious, and a great way to beat the heat.
Finally, when in Italy, you have to sample some of the local wine, grappa, and/or limoncello. A glass can be quite cheap – as low as €2 in some places. And if you’re a coffee-lover, you’ll love the quality of the espresso here. Drink it like the Italians do – standing at the bar!
If you’re after more specific tips of where to eat, stay, and hike, you can check out my blog post on how to see the Cinque Terre on a budget.
Brenna, who is originally from Canada, is a writer and travel blogger at This Battered Suitcase. With over a decade of experience of solo travelling during which she visited nearly 90 countries, Brenna has some insightful and worthwhile advice to share. She is a firm believer that adventure is everywhere, as long as you keep your eyes (and your mind, and your heart) open.
This Battered Suitcase is not your typical travel blog; it digs deeper. Brenna unveils how it feels to travel and what it teaches us in the process.
Showaround: Thank you, Brenna, for being our guest blogger!