Pronounced [CHINK-weh TAY-reh]. I hate to say it but I had pretty low expectations for Cinque Terre. Of course all the colorful, cliff dwelling towns are picturesque but everything I had read talked about how uncomfortably packed the five small fishing towns are with tourists, the unwelcome cruise ship ports and the threat of imposing tourism limits. I was pleasantly surprised when Cinque Terre turned out to be one of my favorite stops in Italy!
If you’re planning to stay in Cinque Terre for a day or more, I suggest purchasing the Cinque Terre Card when you arrive. You can’t buy these online but they are available at any of the train stations. You can purchase them for one, two or three day increments and it includes unlimited local train and bus rides, access to the trekking trails and wifi at the train stations. Once purchased, make sure to validate it at one of the green machines in the train station before using it. We purchased a three day pass for 41 EUR per person. Between the hiking and all the train rides, it was definitely worth it.
May 8, 2017 – Manarola & Vernazza
Accessing Cinque Terre by train is very easy once you reach one of the main stations – La Spezia or Levanto. Between the two, there’s a local train that runs frequently with stops at all or select Cinque Terre towns, complete schedule can be found on the main Cinque Terre website.
We arrived at La Spezia Centrale via train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella and transferred to the local train before continuing on to Manarola. [Note: The train ride from Florence takes approximately 2.5 hours and cost 23 EUR/person. It is fairly common, even popular, to do a day trip to Cinque Terre from Florence. It is also possible to visit the Leaning Tower as the train passes through Pisa; we did not.]
After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we set out to explore Manarola, the second smallest town in 5 Terre. There’s only one main road lined with boutiques and gelateria shops that leads to the harbor where you can find beautiful views of the water and a small Piazza with a few restaurants. We sat down for a quick lunch at Bar Enrica which is very casual and caters to the trail hikers due to the takeaway food.
After lunch we decided to visit another of the five towns so we hopped back on the local train to Vernazza. [Note: if you choose not to purchase the Cinque Terre Card, local train rides cost 4 EUR each way.] Vernazza is a lot like Manarola in size and makeup, though it is slightly larger. I like their harbor, Piazza Marconi, a little better than Manarola’s and, in my opinion, there are better restaurant options in Vernazza – I wish we had waited to eat lunch there!
We visited the Gothic-Ligurian style Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia built in 1318 before climbing the steep and narrow steps to the Castello Doria [Church entry is free and Castle entry is 1.50 EUR/person]. Originally built to protect the village from pirates, the Castle and its tower now offer beautiful, 360 degree views of the sea and surrounding town of Vernazza.
That evening we dined on the roof of Ristorante Belforte which has incredible sea and sunset views. It is a bit windy though so make sure to bring layers for after the sun sets. We enjoyed the food, service and ambiance all around! [Note: the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays but otherwise, make reservations in advance for a table with good views.]
Since the train runs less frequently at night, we had some time to kill after dinner so we popped into the Blue Marlin Bar, which seemed to be one of the only late night spots open in town for those seeking a nightcap.
May 9, 2017 – Trekking 5 Terre
AKA MY 30th BIRTHDAY! Woke up to a wonderful surprise from Kevin – flowers, champagne and breakfast on our private terrace scattered with rose petals overlooking Manarola and the sea below. After a leisurely breakfast, we donned our trekking clothes and hit the trails.
In total we trekked through 4 / 5 towns, Manarola > Corniglia > Vernazza > Monterosso. We skipped the section from Riomaggiore > Manarola which is said to be the most vertical and vigorous of them all since Lovers’ Lane (Blue Trail) is currently closed. In total, it took us about four and a half hours to get to Monterosso but they say to estimate six. The trails goes through each town so the most strenuous parts are typically coming out or going down into each. Otherwise, the trail is relatively flat and very manageable for all levels of physical fitness.
Manarola > Corniglia. Steep incline as you leave Manarola but great panoramic views of Manarola. This part of the trail is unregulated so you don’t need the Cinque Terre Card. I really enjoyed this section – it goes through vineyards, lush greenery and a small town at the top of the hill, Volastra. The descent into Corniglia is pretty steep with lots of stairs. In total, this section took us about two hours to complete the trek.
Corniglia > Vernazza. We didn’t stop to explore Corniglia and just continued straight through to the Coastal trail. This part of the trail is regulated so you need to show your Cinque Terre Card in order to gain access. The incline coming out of Corniglia isn’t as bad as Manarola and the trail is mostly level throughout. It is also maintained better with handrails, stone steps and actual break areas with picnic tables. This was the shortest of the treks which took us about one hour to complete.
We took a small break in Vernazza for lunch where we picked up focaccia breads from Batti Batti Focacceria and bruschetta from Bruschettae and ate down near the port. After our quick lunch, we were back on the trail to Monterosso.
Vernazza > Monterosso. Still part of the regulated hiking area, you need to show your Cinque Terre Card to gain access to this section. The final leg out of Vernazza climbs pretty steeply with many steps but eventually levels out before a steep descent into Monterosso. This part of the trail is quite lush with lots of trees, small running streams and more vineyards. The path here is more narrow, making it difficult to pass people [in case you like to move fast, like us]. We completed this segment in one hour and 30 minutes.
When you arrive in Monterosso via the hiking trail, you are in the ‘Old Town,’ not necessarily near the train station which is located in the ‘New Town’ so be prepared to walk another five minutes to catch the train.
[A few notes: the trail gets HOT and there isn’t much coverage from the sun so be sure to take protective measures and bring water and snacks. As previously noted, the trail does go through each town so it is possible to stop for rations but there are picnic tables and benches along the way should you decide to pack a lunch instead.
We hiked in workout clothes & tennis shoes and were comfortable but saw others in everything from sandals & dresses to hiking boots & walking sticks. No matter what you decide, I definitely recommend closed toe shoes as the trail is comprised of loose gravel, rocks and uneven pathways making it tricky to navigate.
Cinque Terre has many trekking trails and it’s confusing to know which are open or closed at any given time. Even after going, I’m still confused! I believe that we took trail #6 from Manarola up to Volastra and then trail #7 down into Corniglia. From there we picked up the #2 trail or sentiero azzurro, aka the Coastal or Blue Trail, and took that all the way to Monterosso. The trails are easily identified by red and white markers along the way.
I’ve found this blog to be a great resource while doing research post trip to write this post!]
Back in Manarola, after showering and dressing, we went to dinner at Trattoria Dal Billy, an amazing seafood place overlooking all of Manarola and my favorite meal of our trip! We chose to sit inside [still scarred from the wind situation the night before] but the restaurant boasts great sunset views and many outdoor seating options so be sure to make a reservation to secure a good view. For food, we shared the most incredible mussels and lobster pasta – I highly recommend both. They also spoiled us with complimentary chocolate cake, Limoncino (as they call it in Cinque Terre) and Grappa to celebrate my birthday!
After dinner, we sat in the hot tub at our hotel and enjoyed some local Prosecco under a bright starry night. It was the perfect end to the most perfect birthday!
May 10, 2017 – Monterosso Beach & Riomaggiore
We spent most of the morning and early afternoon relaxing at the Fegina Beach in Monterosso, the largest and only sand beach in 5 Terre. Typically busy with tourists, the beach was not crowded on this day so we rented lounge chairs from one of the beach side snack shops (15 EUR/chair) and decided to take advantage of the peace and quiet.
After awhile, our hunger got the better of us so we left in search of pizza and ended up at Pizzeria La Smorfia – good pizza but not great. Post lunch, we wandered around town and checked out some of the local stores including Artisanal Pesto Lab. We fell in love with the samples and purchased a few jars to bring home with us. Fun fact, pesto originates from the Liguria region of Italy!
While waiting for our train, we stopped at a beach bar blasting country music [we couldn’t help ourselves!] called Cafe Giovannini. Even though it just felt wrong, we enjoyed the quick western immersion while we sipping on frozen cocktails.
When we did finally catch the train, our plan was to stop in Corniglia and explore but we somehow found ourselves on an express train to Riomaggiore. [Note: not all trains stop in all five towns; it takes approximately 12 minutes to go from Monterosso to Riomaggiore.] It was a pleasant surprise as we hadn’t planned on visiting Riomaggiore and were glad to see it although it meant we never got to explore Corniglia, the only town not situated on the water. Oh well, there’s always next time!
Like Manarola and Vernazza, the town of Riomaggiore is a single road lined with restaurants, shops and multi-colored Ligurian style homes surrounding a small marina. If we had more time, I would have loved to check out Vertical Bar which looked like a fun spot!
For our last night in Manarola, we had hoped to keep it low key and get take away pasta from a small shop towards the top of the hill but turns out they’re closed on Wednesdays. [Note: recommend checking the restaurant hours of operation ahead of time because many close for at least a day during the week.] In the end we went to Trattoria La Scogliera for dinner and 5 Terre Gelateria and Sorbetteria.
In total we spent almost three days in Cinque Terre and feel it is the perfect amount of time to see all five towns and complete the trek between them all.
Accommodations & Country Specific Details
Stay: La Torretta Lodge
To say we love this hotel is an understatement, I don’t even know where to begin! I did a ton of research on where to stay in Cinque Terre and while this area boasts many cute B&B’s and Inn’s, it is limited in luxury accommodations. Not to say we were looking for a five star hotel but we wanted to pick somewhere special knowing we would celebrate my 30th birthday here. We booked a few months out and got really lucky with availability. I would recommend booking at least six months ahead of time, maybe even more.
From the complimentary golf cart pickup at the train station to the handwritten welcome note and complimentary bottle of Prosecco waiting in our room, their attention to detail was outstanding. The staff were warm, friendly, informative and gracious. The rooms well appointed, clean, modern and nicely decorated. Our room had a beautiful terrace with amazing views of the sea and town.
One of my other favorite aspects of this hotel is the daily happy hour with complimentary local wines and snacks from 5-7PM. Kevin and I went every night and by the end knew all the other guests staying at the hotel. We really don’t have anything negative to say and recommend La Torretta Lodge to anyone!
To Cinque Terre > Manarola: By train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia Centrale where we transferred to the local train before continuing on to Manarola.
Around Cinque Terre: There are many ways to get between the 5 terre. You can take a ferry, hike, train or drive. From what I understand, driving isn’t super practical as the towns don’t have many roads and parking is limited. We most often took the train between the towns and if you purchase the Cinque Terre Card, it includes unlimited train and bus rides. Once you arrive in one of the towns, they are all small enough to easily walk from one end to the other. You can also trek between them at all in a few hours which is what Cinque Terre is really famous for.
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Language: Italian but had no problem finding English speakers. Our favorite Italian phrase was ‘molto buono’ or very good food!
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type L.
Passport/Visa Requirements: U.S. Passport valid for at least six months from date of departure. No visa for visits under 90 days required.
Weather: We were in Italy the first two weeks of May. While still technically spring season, it is one of the best months to visit before the towns become overrun with tourists for the high season. We got lucky in Cinque Terre and had warm, sunny days with temps in 70’s. A few times it looked like a storm was threatening to break out but we only got one quick rainstorm while we were there, unfortunately while we were hiking.