While two or three days would better suit charming Cinque Terre, here’s how to make the most of one day.
During our stay in Florence, we took a day to escape the luxury shopping and crowds and visited Cinque Terre, the colourful five villages on the Italian Riviera. The smallest national park in Italy, the Cinque Terre National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the number of permanent residents totalling a compact 5,000. The coastal region within Liguria offers some of the best seafood and lemons in the world. Come prepared to gaze at the beauty, wander, snorkel, photograph and eat.
We started our trip in Manarola from the train station, La Spezia. Manarola is the second smallest village and tied with Riomaggiore as my favourite.
It’s colourful, perfect for swimming (boulders to jump in and sunbathe on) and offers sweeping views of the Italian oceanside. With little time here, we wandered the waterfront, exploring the ferry passenger embarking area, walking the trail to a few viewpoints, then taking to the train station through the town to reach the steps climbing to Corniglia…
From Manarola we took the train about four minutes to the foot of Corniglia. From there we climbed 382 shallow, dated steps to reach the region’s smallest village. Perched high above sea level, we explored the tiny town and stopped for lunch. I was cajoled into my first experience eating sardines and highly recommend it. In fact, I ate sardine pizza later in my trip while in Venice.
A seafood appetizer and pasta fueled the hike from Corniglia to Vernazza which took us just under an hour (58 minutes). The hike is described as a moderate 4 kilometre trek that should take about 90 minutes. As someone who’s happy to hike but can’t stand unsturdy cliffs, I was pleasantly surprised by how well maintained and cordoned off the trail was. If you get the opportunity, choose this option instead of the train.
My least favourite of the five villages, though it’s known as the most appealing, Vernazza has a beautiful breakwater with large rocks, again, perfect for dipping in and cooling off in the ocean. The crowds were most palpable in the city center, so instead of exploring, I found a sliver of space on the rocks and watched the fish, and many snorkelers, enjoying the calm sea.
From Vernazza, take the five minute train ride to Monterosso al Mare, but before doing so, stop for a fig and ricotta gelato from the infamous Gelateria Vernazza.
Monterosso (al Mare)
The largest of the five villages is also the most accessible—the only one with sandy beaches and a much flatter terrain. There are two beaches, one newer and one older. The newer is home to luxury beach chairs and umbrellas for rent, whereas the older one has space for blankets and personally packed goods.
From Monterosso we were fortunate enough to take the ferry to Riomaggiore. Even with pristine weather, the state of the ocean can quickly and unexpectedly change, so boat rides aren’t guaranteed. Tied for my favourite, Riomaggiore seemingly functions around a ramp that looks like a boat launch. The gently winding road leads visitors from the sea up to the town.
Riomaggiore is best known for its liveliness and nightlife, which I can attest to with fewer people than I saw in Vernazza but far more shouting and excitement abound. It’s known as the most budget friendly of the five, so take note, cost conscious luxury wanderers.
Cheers, Cinque Terre
In closing, Cinque Terre was worth the five hour travel round trip, especially for those who vacation for the coast. Review your options for train travel cost, and choose what suits you best.
For those keen on hiking more, here are the distances between villages.
And finally, we didn’t have time to visit Levanto, but should you, I’m certain it’s worth the trip.
Deana is a writer, content marketer, operations manager, and big dreamer. For her, travel amounts to architecture gazing, market shopping and people watching at sidewalk cafés. Most importantly, when traveling she wanders endlessly on foot.