Brian and I got back a few days ago from a 3-day trip to Cinque Terre on the western coast of Italy, and it exceeded every. single. one. of my expectations (which were already too high, IMO, especially for a place I’d never been before).
We stayed at a hostel in Riomaggiore, which is the southernmost village of the five, and spent three days hiking between them all. You can certainly hike all four paths in one day, but we decided to break it up and really enjoy the hikes, the scenery, and each individual village on a more intimate level.
Here are some of my favorite pictures and a brief, Erin-like description of each of the five villages, from north to south.
Monterosso seems to be where the older, wealthier crowd stays, with fancy beach resorts and more sandy beach access. There aren’t as many windy roads or steep staircases you can get lost on for days. We did have the best gelato in Cinque Terre in Monterosso, though!
Vernazza was the by far the busiest of the villages, despite not having the easiest access to a beach (we couldn’t figure out how to get to the beach in the picture haha). There was also a swimming hole in the port/marina, but the water kind of screamed “this is where all the trash washes up” to me. Despite that, we had a delicious lunch here of Trofie al Pesto, which is a specialty from this region. It’s pasta made with flour and water – no eggs, so it’s particularly dense and seriously delicious.
Vernazza was also, in my opinion, one of the most photogenic of the villages, as you were able to get very detailed aerial shots from both sides while hiking either from Corniglia or to Monterosso.
Unfortunately, we didn’t spend much time in Corniglia (like at all), so I don’t have a really great landscape photo of it. It’s perched about 100 meters above sea level, so it’s the only village without access to the Cinque Terre ferry, and to get to the town center you have to take a local train to the Corniglia station and then climb an unimaginable amount of stairs. We did so twice, but only to get to the starting point for both hikes (to Vernazza and to Manarola).
This is definitely the quietest of the five villages, and I wish we’d had a little more time to explore the tiny, cliff-top area for something other than buying water and hiking starting points.
Manarola may be my favorite of the five. We were here several times and spent a lot of time watching teenagers jumping off of rocks into the swimming holes below. Manarola is kind of situated in a bowl – from above, on the hike from Riomaggiore, you can see the hills rising above the town in a circular fashion, seemingly blocking the village from any weather elements other than rain.
I ate the best calzone of my life in Manarola, at a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizzeria (aren’t those always the best ones??)
Riomaggiore is the village we got to know the best since this is where our hostel was. It’s actually fairly small, with the main drag measuring probably less than half a kilometer, but it’s on a very steep hill. You can step off the main street, though, and find yourself lost in the twisty staircases that have totally uneven steps (seriously – some of them are probably 6 inches tall, and then the next will be a foot and a half). And there were usually no less than 70 steps per excursion. Talk about a great workout! #SoreLegsForDays
We spent every evening in Riomaggiore, watching the sunset either from the marina or from a walkway above the city, both places with totally spectacular views of the water and nearby villages.
I could have definitely spent more time here, doing other nearby hikes and swimming in each of the villages (except for maybe Vernazza). I bet the snorkeling and/or diving here would have been great, too!
Consider this my personal endorsement of Cinque Terre. It’s not so much “off the beaten path” anymore, and it’s pretty obvious that tourists have altered some of the business models around, but the buildings, sea, and scenery have all remained the same for years, and that’s the important part. It’s a beautiful area with great hiking, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then Cinque Terre is definitely a must-do!