The Cinque Terre is definitely one of my favourite spots in Italy. Scenic, colourful, immersed in nature, calm.. they make for a perfect romantic getaway or even family vacation. You don’t need too long there either, in 2 days and 1 night you’ll have seen it all, 2 nights max if you want to take it easy, but you must visit Cinque Terre at least once in your life!
Remember that the Cinque Terre as the name itself says is not one place but rather a series of villages, so you will have to pick which one you want to stay at. You can also easily stay in La Spezia, which although not as scenic, is far cheaper and only a short train ride (10-15 min) away from Riomaggiore. I’ve tried both options and they are equally good.
DO THE TREK
To me the best thing about the Cinque Terre (five villages) is that they are all connected by a stunning path that takes you up the mountains and down by the sea. I’d say that to do it all properly it takes good part of a day. Just beware that during past years they have suffered terrible landslides, so check before you go whether the paths are actually open, because it’s quite disappointing to get there and discover that only one path is open and the rest must be visited by train. There is a train line that connects all 5 of the Terre to La Spezia, but it’s not quite the same as walking from one to the other.
The first town you approach if you come in from La Spezia is Riomaggiore; from here it is only a very short walk to Manarola, also considered the most scenic of the Cinque Terre, features in most of the photographs with its cluster of colourful houses trailing along the coast and up the mountain. From there on, the walks get longer and definitely steeper, now taking you literally up the mountain and back down to reach the next village instead of simply cutting through.
The next stop is Corniglia, pretty but a b**ch to get to given she is built up above the ocean cliffs, meaning you can’t avoid the 365 steps down to the village itself. My advice would be NOT to book your accomodation here for obvious reasons.
Vernazza is next and considered ‘the popular one’ – with a beautiful ancient castle and one cobble street, she is a delight to wander around.
Lastly and with by far the most challenging trek to get to is Monterosso, where you have the biggest beach where you can enjoy a well deserved swim!
The trek is challenging and made me feel utterly unfit, especially when I had old men trekking past me with their walking sticks! But it’s so rewarding when you finally reach Monterosso and just jump in the sea 🙂 You can do the trek either way to be honest it doesn’t change much, it simply depends whether you want to build up as you go or start tough and then have the walk lightening up (which may be a good idea) as you go, this option also means you finish at Riomaggiore which is where many people stay.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT PORTOVENERE!
This is a bit of a hidden gem – most people only consider the 5 most famous villages when they go to the Cinque Terre, however there is a 6th stunning village, called Portovenere (Venus’ Port). It can be reached by bus from la Spezia in about half an hour and I highly recommend making it there. Especially if you go a few hours before sunset so that you are there when the sun does go down which is quite the spectacle. It also has some awesome spots for an aperitivo along the bay. The houses are equally as colourful as in the other villages and comically narrow, they look more like pencils than real houses!
Portovenere is far less touristy which just adds to its charm. There is the medieval church of St Peter which dates back to 1198, situated up on a cliff by the ocean and is simply stunning, as is the view.
VISIT THE CEMETERY
One of the most amazing things to visit here and probably not as obvious is the cemetery. I have a strange fascination with cemeteries, they give me such a sense of peace. Although I’m not one to venture in at night, I like the fact that it is where people are laid to rest and where their loved ones go to talk to them. I find them incredibly calm and soothing and the one in Portovenere is simply breathtaking.
EAT AS MUCH PESTO AS YOU CAN!
The Genova region, which is where the Cinque Terre are located, is pesto heaven. They make it in mass quantities and introduce it wherever they can, even in ice cream!! So make the most of it 🙂 The food all round is pretty incredible if you manage to avoid the super touristy places. Venture through the tiny streets which is where you are more likely to find something more authentic. If I recall correctly the best food I had was in Portovenere in a tiny cobble street called Portivene un Mare di Sapori. The place is super cute and even has an old fisherman’s boat inside, so hard to miss!