Coastal Getaways: A guide to visiting the enchanting Cinque Terre

November 8, 2016
Ariela Moraru

Want to sample amazing coastal views, romantic restaurants and more in the Italian Riviera? Read our travel guide and plan your visit to the Cinque Terre.

The Cinque Terre is a picturesque area of the Italian Riviera in the region of Linguria which is perfect for a romantic weekend getaway to rekindle your love. As the name says, Cinque Terre is an area of five lands, namely the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and each village has its own colourful charm – and when we say colourful, we mean colourful. A cluster of houses in lively colours lines up the steep hill terraces of these coastal fishing villages, hiding ancient churches and monasteries – chromatic therapy guaranteed to boost your mood instantly. It’s here that you will fully understand the Italian saying La vita e Bella.

A view of the harbor from Vernazza Italy

Vernazza Italy, Image by Ștefan Jurcă, CC BY 2.0

Getting here

Cinque Terre is easily accessible. Genova and Pisa are the closest airports, 70 to 80 kilometres away. The area can be reached by train from Genova and La Spezia. Cinque Terre is 2.5 hours away from Florence by train or 4 hours from Rome. Manarola and Riomaggiore are 20 to 30 minutes away from La Spezia by car.

Getting around

The easiest way to get around Cinque Terre is by train or boat or for the active – walking. There are few roads for cars and they are so windy and hilly and parking so limited and remote from the village centre that renting a car can turn more into a hassle than an easy way out. Why bother renting a car when you could get a 75-minute train ticket for little over 2 euros or a day travel pass that includes Wi-Fi access for 16 euros? Trains run frequently so if you get bored of one destination, just hop on.

Boats are a more pricey option with an all-day pass for 30 euros. Nothing compares to approaching Riomaggiore on a boat.

The whole route between all five villages can also be walked in a matter of hours. Active holiday fans will need to check whether the paths are open as landslides are quite often in the area. To get on the popular blue trail connecting Monterosso to Vernazza, you will need to purchase a pass for around 7 euros.

When to visit

Cinque Terre has been a national park since 1999 and is renowned for its unique landscape with terraced hills and wild coastline, Romanesque architecture and delicious wines, so the area can get quite busy during summer months. Late spring and early autumn are the perfect times to visit Cinque Terre as the temperatures aren’t soaring, the water is reasonably warm and there are fewer tourists. Winters are mild with average temperatures around 12 to 14 degrees, but bare in mind that most restaurants close from late November until March or April.

Top things to do in the Cinque Terre

Visitors from all over the world have been fascinated with the unique charm of these Mediterranean villages. It’s like stepping back in time, away from your day-to-day life, where there are no cars, no need for speed, just visual and gustative pleasures, one step at a time. Walk around to discover colourful buildings towering over crystal blue waters and fishing boats, windy coastal paths, vineyards and olive trees hanging on steep terraced hills, ancient churches and castles, delicious seafood and pouring wine.

A view of the beaches in Liguaria Cinque Terre

Liguria, Cinque Terre, Image by Daniel Horacio Agostini,CC BY-ND 2.0

Fall in love all over again while walking parts of the famous Via Dell’ Amore, a paved path along the rocky shores which used to link Manarola to Riomaggiore. Don’t forget to bring your own padlock to seal your love.

Then stroll round the bay in Manarola for stunning views and the perfect setting to capture those magical moments with your camera. As you pass a white-marble cemetery with many flowers – yes, here even cemeteries have something charming about them – you will come across a red brick photo frame caressed by bougainvillaea, the purple flower that has become a symbol of Mediterranean towns.

Hit the beach in Monterosso al Mare, the largest and the only resort-like village. The southern-most village is very different from the other four and its sandy beach with crystal blue water and boardwalk with plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants are its main attractions. Swimming alternatives in Cinque Terre include a small sandy beach in Vernazza, a pebble beach in Riomaggiore or jumping off the rocks in Manarola.

The so-called blue trail connects all five villages in only five hours and it is great for hiking. Pack lots of water and a hat as sunny days can get quite hot. There are numerous footpaths and Cinque Terre is mostly pedestrian, so a true paradise for ramblers of all ages.

Climb up the stairs of the fortified Doria castle dating back to 1088 in Vernazza for stunning views of the harbour, the church bell tower and the square. Vernazza is one of the most popular villages with tourists.

Listen to the waves splashing against the narrow harbour with its colourful boats guarded by the tall imposing buildings in pastel tones in Riomaggiore. Walk up to the hilltop botanical garden.

An image of the streets of Cinque Terre

Streets in the villages, image by Daniel Horacio Agostini, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Get your blood pumping by walking up the almost 400 stairs from the train station to Corniglia, the highest village at 100 metres above sea level and one of the quietest, and reward your strife with a glass of locally-produced wine.

Shop around the local stores hidden on the small streets of all five villages. You won’t find any chain stores here, just hidden gems.

Regardless of the village, you choose to spend more time in, Cinque Terre is an exquisite wining and dining destination. What would a romantic weekend be without a candlelit dinner? Try some local specialities like the anchovies in Monterosso, Corniglia gelato, farinata, similar to focaccia but made with chickpea flour, or trofie pasta made of wheat flour and chestnut, with delicious pesto sauce. The terraced hills are covered in vineyards so a local wine like Cinque Terre or the Sciacchetra, a desert wine, will go great with your meal. A tasty dessert wine made of lemon peels called Limoncino will keep you smiling well into the night.

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