Roaming the streets of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore is the highlight of any tour of Liguria.
Ticking an item off my travel dream-list! I went to Cinque Terre with my parents during the off-season at the beginning of November. It is a rainy period for the Italian Riviera but still thoroughly enjoyable. With fewer tourists than during the summer, it was easier to take our time and visit several of the five villages within the national park.
We arrived by train from Genoa, where we were staying for a few days, to La Spezia. Everybody told us that it was the only option but you can also take the train to Sestri Levante, closer to Genoa. The five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are located between those two cities. You will find a tourist information point for the park at every train station and buy your one-day entry card for the park (16€) there. It gives you access to all the trails and allows you to use the regional train between each village as much as you want, among other things.
What to know before going
If you are not planning to use the hiking trails or the 12km-long Sentiero Azzuro, the pedestrian path that connects all the villages, you can also buy train tickets one by one for around 2,50€ per ticket instead of the one-day card.
If you have one day and you are planning on exploring the hiking trails, I suggest you chose two villages and enjoy them to the maximum.
Wear good shoes because you will be hiking steep trails and going up and down narrow stairs. If the weather is rainy, some paths will be very slippery.
I didn’t find it too easy to get food and drinks in the villages. There are restaurants of course but they were often full. There are also fast food options. Due to the high number of tourists all year long, I found the area to be less relaxed and more business-oriented than Boccadasse on the coast by Genoa. I suppose you need to stay longer than a day to have the time to explore the villages and find the right place. Bring water and fruits for snacks while you look for somewhere to eat and mind the time. In Italy, you cannot get lunch and dinner at any time of the day.
The closest village to La Spezia. It is said to be one of the most peaceful of the five. The train station is outside the city centre. Start your tour by taking the streets leading up then down to the small port and the heart of the village’s activity.
The Via dell’ Amore starts here and leads you to the next village of Manarola. If that’s what you came for, make sure the path is open. Bad weather and storms can damage it.
The church of San Lorenzo and the castle are interesting to see, but the best will always be walking next to the sea!
My favourite! The harbour is very picturesque. You can walk on the rocks in front of it to take amazing photos. When you are done with the centre, head up towards the church of San Lorenzo (another one). About half-way, you will see the start of a trail going up. It will take you through the terraced vineyards and high above sea-level for the best view of the area.
Take your time on this path, rest and drink water. Admire the scenery and think about what it takes to cultivate the vines here. Despite the complicated landscape, the wine-making tradition of Cinque Terre is centuries-old and has persisted to this day. The term Cinque Terre itself dates back to the 15th century and used to refer to wine for the Kings’ table. When you go back to the centre of the village, try out seafood and a glass of local DOC protected wine.
Do not miss the viewpoint at the small cemetery. You can find the path there on your way down from the trail, it goes right around the hill before going down again.
If you are there in December or January, do not miss the biggest lighted nativity in the world!
The village is shaped like an amphitheatre with paths and streets going all around. It is considered one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Another amazing spot for pictures! You can go up to the old castle, Belforte, built in the mid-1500s to protect the village from pirates attacks. The entrance fee is 1.5€.
The village is also surrounding by terraced culture and is particularly known for its olive groves and oil.
In the centre above the harbour, you will find many places to eat and drink, some with breathtaking views on the sea. There are also many rooms to rent.
Located further back and above sea-level, Corniglia is deemed less touristy than the other four villages. It is the only one without access to the sea but makes up for it with a very strong agricultural tradition. We had only one day so we decided to skip it.
The biggest and most touristy of them all. There are more hotels there if you are looking for a place to stay in the park. It also has beaches for sunbathing and swimming, which the other four villages do not really offer. Given the cold and rain of November, we were not particularly attracted by it but let me know if you have been there during summer!
For more information on the five villages and about the many events taking place in Cinque Terre all year long, see here.
Technically outside the national park but still worth noting. While foreign tourists focus on Portofino and Cinque Terre, Italians love Sestri Levante. The old town is built on an isthmus separating two bays: Baia del Silenzio and Baia delle Favole. Its pedestrian streets are ravishing and full of attractive shops for ice cream and local products.
It was dark and rainy so I did not take any pictures, but I really enjoyed the walk and I will make sure to go back.
Let me know what you think of Cinque Terre, and which village you like the most!