The Saturday City: The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre consists of five beautiful hillside towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso) on the west coast of Italy. They are famous for being historic and, well, beautiful. Not just “This place is beautiful” beautiful but more like “I died and gone to heaven and never want to leave” beautiful. I visited here on my first tour through Europe and was only supposed to spend three days. I spent a week. If it wasn’t for the money (The Cinque Terre is as expensive as it is beautiful), I would have stayed longer. When I went back, I got a chance to hike some of the harder trails I missed the first time.

The Cinque Terre has amazing walking trails that give you a chance to fully explore the towns, olive groves, vineyards, and surrounding area. There are quite a few trails around, the easiest of which is the coastal path. You can start the walk in either Riomaggiore or Monterosso.

Riomaggiore
From Riomaggiore, you walk to Manarola along the section called “Lover’s Lane”. This is the easiest part of the walk, with the path paved and flat and giving you great views of the ocean. It will take you right into Manarola.

Manarola
From Manarola you can follow the coastal trail to Corniglia or follow the harder trails up and through the vineyards and olive groves. I took the harder trails. These trails provide better views and scenery and have fewer tourists getting in your way.
Corniglia
You come upon Corniglia, which I thought was the prettiest of the towns. It was small, beautiful, relaxed, and the narrow streets were fun to get lost in. The color of the buildings jumped out at you and the large town square had amazing eateries.


The path from Corniglia to Vernazza is one of the hardest parts. The coastal path can be steep at times and get quite crowded. However, you’ll get great views of the towns behind you and the terraced vineyards. More importantly though, walking down into Vernazza gives you the best photos of the town.


Vernazza was my favorite spot. While Corniglia was the most beautiful and peaceful, Vernazza was the liveliest. It’s the only town with a real night life, I liked the beach, and its castle like tower is pretty cool. Of the five towns, I thought it had the best energy.


Leaving Vernazza for the final stop of Monterosso is the most challenging. The trail gets very steep at points and it’s a lot of up and down walking. However, you are rewarded with beautiful vineyards, olive groves, ancient stone houses, and crumbling walls. It’s the hardest but the prettiest part of the trail. If you’re lucky, you might even find someone selling Limoncello along the way.


The trail and the day ends in Monterosso, the biggest of the towns. You’ll find a lot of accommodation here and, while it’s not the most appealing town, the beach here is bigger and there are more tourist services around the city. It’s the most convenient out of all the five.


During the summer, all the towns are packed and the prices skyrocket. I found the best time to visit is the end of September or early October when the crowds are fewer but the weather is still warm and the water still nice to swim in. A trip to Italy just isn’t complete without a trip to the Cinque Terre. It lives up to all the hype and is one of my favorite places in the country.

49 Comments
  1. We ended up on one of the alternative trails Manarola because the traditional trail was under repair – most people took the train but we decided to go up in to the hills. The view and the experience walking through the terraced vineyards really is worth the extra effort and time. And, we had the whole trail to ourselves. I highly recommend this alternative trail to anyone wanting to hike this route.

    At the end of the day, relaxing with a bottle of local wine looking over the Mediterranean Sea is pretty nice too…

  2. For the hardy hiker a great option is to hike SE from Riomaggiore to Portovenere. The views are outstanding and the trail challenging but well worth it. Another option further north of the Cinque Terre is the Parco Regionale di Portofino set above the town of Portofino with trail access to a the small 16th century fort and abbey of San Fruttuoso. Both of these hiking areas are relatively free of the touring masses especially in the months you mention above.

  3. I’ve heard so many good things about Cinque Terre. I will make it a point to visit this part of Italy. Is Florence the closest big city?

    Happy New Year, Matt!
    -Jen

  4. I agree with you Matt. Cinque Terre have some kind of magics, that one can feel again and again. As you say, better avoiding peak season. I love going there in spring, when the days are very long and the light is brighter. And I also like the place in winter, when there are only a few people and Cinque Terre look as if time had stopped many years ago.

  5. Truly a beautiful place, that’s on my list for Europe. Almost pains me to see pictures, the vibe and feel of place seems to be so amazing! Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to get there one day myself.

  6. DEFINITELY agree about avoid le 5 terre in summer! I was silly enough to go in July and had to find a rock on the beach hidden from the local police to sleep on since the hostel was booked out and all hotels were ridiculously expensive. Despite the huge amount of tourists I still really enjoyed my time there. I can only imagine how serene it must be off-season. :)

  7. Monna McD

    The Cinque Terre is ridiculously beautiful. We have visited in both November and in December; of course it was cold but there were no crowds at all. We had this magical place all to ourselves. In addition to the walks and the amazing food, I recommend that people check out the gorgeous nativity scenes displayed in each town.

  8. On our trip last year we spent a few days in Cinque Terre, staying in Vernazza. The area is absolutely wonderful and we are definitely returning. The hikes range from being pretty easy (if you go on the paved lower ones” to pretty challenging, though you are definitely rewarded with fantastic views. Bring some water because they’re real hikes, not a stroll like the Lover’s Walk (which is great near sunset). If you head out early, the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso is a lot of fun and you can reward yourself with a dip in the ocean afterwards. :)

    The food is absolutely wonderful too and it’s a treat to just sit down, enjoy a bowl of mussels, and drink some wine. I have yet to meet someone who has gone to Cinque Terre and been disappointed.

    • NomadicMatt

      The food there never disappointed me but my wallet walked away pretty sad lol. The food and wine was worth every penny though.

  9. Oh I forgot to mention, Vernazza is the only one that has a conveniently located “town square” surrounded by restaurants. That contributes to the lively nightlife you mentioned. We had a great time staying in Vernazza because we could enjoy the nightlife and not worry about what times the trains stopped running. We didn’t know it when we chose it but we were pleasantly surprised as we visited the other towns.

  10. I love this “The Saturday City” series of yours. Such amazingly beautiful photos! Have wanted to visit The Cinque Terre ever since I learnt the place existed.

  11. Forest

    Ah, I agree so so so much! I too was supposed to stay for two nights, but ended up staying more than a week, eight days I think. I think it is literally my favorite place on earth :) The only downside nowadays is the crowds, it’s gotten very popular. At least it’s been made into a national park!

  12. I went in May and it wasn’t too crowded yet. I stayed in Monterosso, which made the hardest part of the hike the first one I did in the day, and that made it a lot more manageable! Make sure to get the train pass so you can hop on the train at the end to go back to your hotel.

  13. Simone Gorrindo

    I went to Cinque Terre twice, and was disappointed the second time by just how touristy it had become. I loved those hikes between towns, though. We moved on each day by trail, and slept on each beach by night. What a truly breathtaking place.

  14. Ohhhh I was so excited when I saw this post. We are leaving for Italy as the start of the big trip in 2.5 months and I cannot wait for Cinque Terra!! I have been daydreaming about it for a long time now so it was great to read about your experiences and the hike.

    RT @nomadicmatt Walking the Cinque Terre http://is.gd/5YzX4

  15. Cinque Terre is indeed beautiful. Great synopsis and amazing pictures! It is truly “died and gone to heaven and I never want to leave” beautiful. I went when living in Florence a couple years ago.

    Another Cinque Terre feature is due shortly at http://www.RidingOutTheEconomy.wordpress.com Where there are already some great Italy tips and pics for Florence and Venice.

  16. I have visited the Cinque Terre region several times, once as a backpacker on an interrailling trip, once with my parents on a walking holiday (which nearly gave me a heart attack, was not quite as fit as I thought for those steep hills but the views are worth it) and once with my boyfriend on a nice romantic long weekend break. I would highly recommend taking a boat trip up to Porto Venere. As you approach by boat the old ruins of an atmospheric Castle look down upon you from the cliff face and you can see the snow peaked mountains in the distance under an endless cerulean blue sky. My stay here is one I will never forget.

  17. Great pictures Matt, absolutely stunning! I can’t believe I was in Italy for almost two weeks and missed the Cinque Terre … reason to go back, I guess!

  18. Laura

    It is necessary to reserve a room in advance, or ok to play it by ear in May? Also, better rates on the weekend or in the week?
    Thanks!

  19. Fiona

    Matt,
    My husband and I are going to Italy at the end of September and looking at two nights in Riomaggiore. Do you recommend staying elsewhere or is this good. The travel agent suggested Hotel Villa Argentina. From the bloggs it sounds like Vernazza is a good place to stay. Any suggestions would be really great.

    Thanks,
    Fiona

  20. Laurie

    I noticed that your comments were written on Jan. 2010. We are planning a trip to Italy in January 2011, and want to go to the Cinque Terre at that time. Were you there in January, and if so, where did you stay? What was the weather like?

    • NomadicMatt

      The weather is pretty cold in January. It’s winter after all. I wouldn’t go swimming but you can still go hiking. I stayed at the hostel in Monterossa. It’s very good.

  21. Robin

    I’m putting together a trip for this May and the Cinque Terra is on it. Is the ‘walk’ from town to town something you can do in one day or should I schedule overnight accomodations along the way? Also wondering about the safety of an older woman (59), traveling alone.

    Thanks for all your tips! I’m happy that I found your page!
    R

  22. Patrick

    Great Pictures!

    My girlfriend took me to Cinque Terre for about 3 days this last summer. It was amazing 3 days of swimming, hiking, and great company.

    We enjoyed a romantic dinner near where the fisherman leave their boats for the night in Riomaggiore.

    I would suggest to anyone to take a week there and enjoy with someone you love.

  23. This is a great post because it proves that even though a few of the seaside paths are closed there is still many great trails to explore. Sometimes it seems travelers are under the impression that just because the Via dell’Amore is closed, all the trails are closed… That’s simply not true! :)

  24. Christine

    Hey! How long did it take you to hike between towns? Also where did you stay (hostels)
    and last question, which town is the easiest to arrive to by train? I will be coming from Florence and will have a Eurail pass!

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