Holy Cannoli! This place is gorgeous! ...
I'm sure you've heard of this magically colourful place on the coast of Italy. And if you haven't you are bound to have come across a photograph before, especially if you're an avid Instagram user. The Cinque Terre is a region within Liguira, Italy protected by UNESCO as a world heritage listed site. Cinque Terre, translates to Five lands, meaning the five small fishing villages dotted along the iconic coastline. These towns include: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
How to Get There:
Being a small coastal region of Italy, Cinque Terre does not have it own airport. The nearest airports would be Pisa and Genoa, which are both frequently served by connections across Europe. The transfer from both airports to Cinque Terre, sit at around 1 hour 20 minutes
Follow the signs for the PISAMOVER, the shuttle train to the Pisa Central Train Station. The journey time sits around 8-10 minutes and tickets can be purchased at the platform.
Note: Single journeys cost €2.70 with a return ticket costing €5.40.
From Pisa Central Station, take the train service to La Spezia Centrale, where you can then transfer to the regional service to Cinque Terre. You can purchase tickets online or at the station for the entire journey. Depending on when you book you can get a return ticket for £22.
Note: If you purchase your ticket from the ticket office, make sure to validate it on the platforms in the green/grey machines prior to boarding. Otherwise your risk a hefty fine. Tickets are valid for a four hour window after the initial journey time, so no need to stress if you miss a connection.
Once at La Spezia, transfer to the regional train to Levanto, which will stop at all five towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corgnilia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Where to Stay
I have visited the Cinque Terre region twice now and cannot stress enough that you should stay in one of the five villages and NOT La Spezia! During my first visit to the region we only had one day to explore, which was obviously never going to be enough time but we stayed in La Spezia rather than the villages which shortened our day even more.
But on my second visit, I stayed in Riomaggiore, and it was absolutely incredible. Not only were we staying in the centre of town surrounded by gorgeous pastel coloured houses, but we were able to explore the towns without the hoards of tourists.
Note: Cruise ships dock in nearby ports and then send the tourists via train to the towns. So, between the hours of around 10am and 5:30pm, the towns are ridiculously busy!
I honestly cannot recommend Hostel Mar-Mar enough!! The hostel was located in a lovely apartment building in the town centre. We had access to a kitchen, communal living area, dorm room and two bathrooms; oh and best of all a gorgeous terrace with breathtaking views over the village.
Tip: Book your accommodation early! Cinque Terre is a popular tourist destination and especially in the summer months, accommodation will book out quickly and prices will jump up too!
Getting Around Cinque Terre
Getting between the five villages of Cinque Terre is super easy. The regional train service connects all five towns with frequent services throughout the day.
Note: Ensure to read the timetable as some services don’t run on the weekends. Also, make sure to know when the last train is, because if you miss it, Uber isn’t exactly an option as cars are banned. Click here for the 2018 schedule:
For live schedules use the trip planner on TrenItalia
Visit one of the information centres in the train stations at any one of the towns and purchase a Cinque Terre Card. There are two options: Hiking only or Hiking and Train
The tickets don’t come cheap but there are guards that do random checks along the trail, on the train services and on platforms so unless you want to risk a fine just fork out the money for the card.
1 Day: €7.50
2 Day: €14.50
Hiking & Train
1 Day: €16
2 Day: €29
3 Day: €41
Make sure to validate your ticket at the train station in the green/grey machines at the start of your journey, otherwise you risk a fine.
The card also enables you to free use of the bathroom facilities at the train stations, otherwise €1. The bathrooms are very well maintained with staff at all times and are just about the only public toilets you will find.
Note: You will need to have a validated ticket for the day of use, they very thoroughly check the tickets.
What To Do
Take Millions of Photos of Course!
Cinque Terre is one of the most picturesque places I have had the pleasure of visiting. If you like photography, you will find it really hard to put your camera away here. Each town has its own unique charm, boasting colourful buildings, stunning coastlines and Italian life.
Don’t expect to find any sandy beaches here, you will be thoroughly disappointed. But they do have rock beaches and you can swim in the harbours. The biggest beach can be found in Monterosso, the largest of the five villages. But you can also find the smaller, rather hidden beach, Spiaggia di Riomaggiore in Riomaggiore, if you don’t fancy dealing with large crowds. If you’re not a fan of rock beaches, perhaps you’d prefer to swim around the marina in Manarola. Wherever you decide to jump in for a dip, and trust me you’ll be jumping in because it gets very hot here, the Ligurian sea will cool you right down.
Unfortunately, not all of the coastal hiking trails are accessible. Due to landslides in previous years a number of trails have been closed and are yet to re-open, including the famous Lover's Walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore.
However, you can still walk a number of trails including the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza. This hike is absolutely stunning with breathtaking views over the Ligurian sea as well as providing a birds eye view over both villages. In my opinion, it provides by far, the best view of Vernazza. You can walk in either direction, but beware that it is not an easy hike, allow 1.5-2 hours. Wear proper walking shoes or trainers, please no flips flops!! And bring plenty of water, there is nowhere to get water along the trail and it gets very very hot. Also try starting the hike early, otherwise you will be stuck in a traffic jam with everyone else trying to hike the trail.
Tip: Hike Monterosso to Vernazza, the hike may be a little harder (think lots and lots of stairs) but the views are much better. Believe me, you will thank me when you finish your trek, walking into Vernazza!
Visit an information centre, located at the train stations for up to date information on which trails are open.
There are an infinite number of cafes across the five villages but an absolute must visit is Nessun Dorma. Find this cafe in the town of Manarola, perched upon the cliff side, boasting the best views over the village. It is a very popular spot so make sure that you either get there early or be willing to queue. We went early afternoon and had to wait maybe 30-40 minutes but it was worth the wait.
Grab just drinks or order some nibbles or lunch too. Just don't expect to find pizza or pasta here. I would definitely recommend the Pesto Bruschetta and the cheese platter. Also try their Limoncello Spritz, a local take on the classic Spritz with Limoncello, Prosecco and Mint.
If you are after pasta, head to Pastakeaway in Manarola. They do a seriously good Pesto Pasta and I mean you are in the home of pesto so it would be rude not to try it, so why not eat as the locals do.
Watch the Sunrise
If you're willing to sacrifice a sleep in, get up early and chase the sunrise. You can watch from any of the villages, but you're best views for sunrise will be from Manarola and Vernazza (if you can get on the hiking trail at that hour). The trains do start running at that hour of the morning, believe it or not, but they run far and few between so make sure you check the schedule and plan ahead.
Whether you're on a budget or not, one of the highlights of my Cinque Terre adventure was a good old picnic. To some, this may sound boring and not be their cup of tea and that is fine but for me its the simple things. We visited the local supermarket/deli and picked up some fresh bread, freshly made pesto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato and a couples of bottles of wine. How many more times do I want to say fresh? But seriously the food was super fresh!! We headed to the harbour in Vernazza, having enjoyed sunset drinks in Riomaggiore the night before.
Enjoying the tastes of the region through beautiful food and wine, we toasted to the end of an incredible Italian adventure. Adding many new memories from our adventures to look back on.
And as Lizzie McGuire would say "this is what dreams are made of ...."