Cinque Terre: a hidden gem along the Italian Riviera

Exactly three years ago, we chose the picturesque Cinque Terre for our summer vacation. I hold this destination dearly in my heart, as my now husband popped the question during our stay there.

The most famous part of the Ligurian Coast comprises five centuries-old small fishing villages (Cinque Terre translates to five lands) of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. The wider area, known as Cinque Terre National Park (a UNESCO WHS site since 1997), includes also the towns of Levanto and La Spezia.

We stayed in the town of Levanto, which is a famous seaside resort and a perfect starting-point for visiting Cinque Terre. Our choice of accommodation was a B&B named Affittacamere La Lanterna Sopra il Moggia, which was absolutely lovely and also budget friendly (5 nights cost us only EUR 475). The owners Elisa and Enrico were extremely friendly, they provided us with helpful information and they even offered a complementary ride to and from the train station, which is otherwise a 15-min walk from the B&B.

Tip: when booking a hotel, B&B or hostel, don’t forget that Cinque Terre is actually five villages

We drove to Levanto by car (from Slovenia), but the best move to explore the villages of Cinque Terre is to park your car nearby, for example in Levanto, La Spezia or Bonassola, and use the train (vehicle traffic is also restricted in some parts of the National Park). The train connects the following stops: La Spezia – Riomaggiore – Manarola – Corniglia – Vernazza – Monterosso – Levanto, and the ride between neighbouring villages takes less than 5 minutes.

This area is also known for hiking trails, some of them quite long and strenuous, however, a very nice way to observe the colourful villages – especially if you have more than just a couple of days. Occasionally, particular trails can be closed – e.g. we wanted to do the famous Via dell’Amore (i.e. the Path of Love), which was unfortunately closed during our stay there. A nice and easy walking trail, with pretty views of the sea, connects the towns of Levanto and Bonassola. This is actually an old, unused railroad line turned into a biking and walking trail (through tunnels as well).

Tip: for access to trekking trails (some are payable), unlimited train travel and more, buy a Cinque Terre Card Train 

During our 6-day stay, we visited all the “official” villages, as well as the beach in both Levanto and Bonassola. Each town or village is different and unique in its own way, so I recommend visiting all of them (if the length of your stay allows it).

Corniglia is the smallest, and the only village which is not directly adjacent to the sea. After taking a walk through the signature narrow streets, you can access the beach below the village, where the sea takes on a colour of emerald green, by descending on a steep path.

The only natural port in Cinque Terre, Vernazza is known for elegant colourful houses that surround the marina and the Doria Castle.

Monterosso al Mare is the only village out of the five with a proper extensive sand beach (also the very location of the proposal), making it a popular tourist site. There you can encounter the Monterosso giant.

Possibly the oldest, Manarola connects to the neighbouring Riomaggiore with the famous trail Via dell’Amore. It is also the most iconic and most photographed village, a popular spot for photographers. You can take a dip in the sea at the harbour.

Considered the unofficial capital of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore offers views over charming houses and colourful boats parked throughout the centre. You can visit its lovely rocky (pebble) beach, but beware of the strong currents and waves!

Vacationing in Cinque Terre can be quite costly (two sunbeds and an umbrella cost EUR 30), but the wining & dining is absolutely d e l i c i o u s. Try the sea food in L’Ancora della Tortuga in Monterosso, Belforte in Vernazza or Antiga ustaia zita in Levanto, have a glass of wine or a cocktail and watch the sunset from Nessun Dorma in Manarola (named after the aria from the famous Puccini’s opera) or grab an ice cream from Gelateria Alberto in Corniglia. Of course, don’t forget the signature focaccia.

Plan to stay in the Cinque Terre area for at least three nights to fully experience this hidden beauty!

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