UNESCO Heritage Site from 1997 and chosen by Disney for the movie Luca, Cinque Terre in northern Italy, are a dreamy destination that you should include in a trip to Italy.
The correct pronunciation of Cinque Terre is something like “cheen-kweh teh-rreh”
To visit these five small fishing villages squeezed between the hills and the sea, with colorful houses and cobbled streets, overlooking a crystalline sea, you’d better consider a couple of days. To visit Cinque Terre one day is enough, but since their location is not so well convenient connect, I recommend you to consider at least two days in the area and fill the time visiting the interesting nearby area called “Golfo dei Poeti” (Poets’ gulf).
What and where is the Cinque Terre?
The Cinque Terre is located in Liguria, northen Italy, between Genoa and La Spezia and the name “Cinque Terre” means “Five lands”. Exactly, Cinque Terre is not a single place but 5 different villages with similar characteristics developed in a coastal area of northern Italy. When these villages were born, there were no connections between them, if not using steep mountain paths or by sea. This isolation, and the consequent development of peculiar characteristics of each village, make the people refer to them as different “lands”. So, when we talk about the Cinque Terre we, therefore, refer to the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
A palette of colored houses overlooking an amphitheater on the sea. This is the image of Riomaggiore imprinted in my mind. A maze of alleys that branch off from the tunnel that connects the station to the small village that extends up the hill from the sea. Steps, slopes, narrow streets, and then suddenly splendid views of the sea. The small port of Riomaggiore, with its boats and colored houses, looks like a painting and lovers of Street Art will have fun admiring the murals scattered around the town. The Via Dell’Amore trail, one of the most famous trekking routes in the Cinque Terre, starts from Riomaggiore and leads to Manarola through a spectacular path dug into the rock overlooking the sea of about one kilometer. Unfortunately, due to a landslide in 2012 is currently closed and is expected to reopen only in 2024.
Although Manarola is a fraction of Riomaggiore and in fact resembles it a lot, it’s the symbolic image of the Cinque Terre. The colorful houses that surround the port here are clinging to the rocks overlooking the sea and offer a truly postcard view, especially observing it from the street that leads to the restaurant Nessun Dorma, a very famous place for an aperitif at sunset when the light of the Golden Hour illuminates Manarola making it even more magical.
The land in the middle, is unique and different from the others because don’t have direct access to the sea, Corniglia is a gem of stones surrounded by vineyards and lemon groves. From the station, there are 365 steps to climb up to the village, but a frequent shuttle included in the Cinque Terre Card will take you to the front of the main square. Small shops with typical specialties fill the narrow alleys of Corniglia and the scent of lemon fills the air, when suddenly a splendid panorama of the sea opens in front of your eyes. In Corniglia, be sure to quench your thirst with a delicious lemon and basil granita with an interesting, intense and super thirst-quenching flavor.
The favorite land by many people, including myself, whose main square is the one you see in the Disney film Luca (whose locations are scattered throughout the Cinque Terre and surroundings). In Vernazza, there is everything you expect from the Cinque Terre: colorful houses, a small beach, boats anchored in the crystal clear sea, alleys and stairways, splendid panoramic views and many restaurants and shops that serve excellent fried food. With Doria’s tower overlooking the village, Vernazza seems to come out of a fairytale book and here is also one of the best photogenic spots of all the Cinque Terre IMHO.
Monterosso al Mare
The largest village of the Cinque Terre, flatter and with a pleasant promenade where you can find both free and equipped beaches. For those who want to enjoy the sea of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso is certainly the best place to spend a few hours on the beach. Walking toward east you’ll arrive at the center of the town, a pretty village with wider streets and several squares where you can stroll and enjoy the light atmosphere that also inspired the famous Italian poet Eugenio Montale.
How to get to the Cinque Terre
The easiest way to visit the Cinque Terre is definitely by train, using the railway line that runs between La Spezia and Levanto.
From Firenze, you can take the train from Firenze Campo Marte Station to La Spezia (1.45h) or from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station you can change the train in Pisa and then La Spezia (2-2.30h). Form La Spezia there is the Cinque Terre Express Line, running between La Spezia and Levanto and very convenient to visit the Cinque Terre.
In the case you’re travelling by car, I recommend you to park at Levanto or La Spezia and move by trains for visiting Cinque Terre. Parking fee inside the Cinque Terre are rare and very expensive!
The Cinque Terre can then be visited on foot, by bus, by train or by sea or even a mix of all these options.
There are numerous boats that connect the Cinque Terre one to the others, but if you suffer from seasickness, or if the sea is a bit rough, this may not be the most suitable option for you. Undoubtedly fascinating, it is also the most expensive option.
The cheapest option is to visit the Cinque Terre using buses, whose single ticket costs only € 1.50. Even this option, however, is not suitable for those suffering from motion sickness because you walk along practically mountain roads, with many curves. The buses are also subject to traffic and during high season it may be difficult to find a seat.
Visit the Cinque Terre by train with the Cinque Terre Card
Surely the most comfortable and easy way to optimize time and visit the Cinque Terre is to use the train, and that’s the option I chose. Since the single ticket within the Cinque Terre from April to November, regardless of the route, is € 4, the Cinque Terre Train Card is undoubtedly convenient: € 18.20 includes unlimited travel on trains between La Spezia and Levanto, access to trekking routes, the use of buses within the villages, wifi connection and free access to the area’s paid toilets.
If you love trekking, you can also choose to walk the many walking trails of the Cinque Terre National Park, but note that some trails are totally or partially closed and in some cases, a toll of € 7.50 is required (entrance included in the Cinque Terre Train Card). Check at the info points near the stations about the condition of the paths before planning your day.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre
Staying in the Cinque Terre is certainly an exciting experience, but I must admit that it’s pretty pricey…
A cheaper solution is to overnight in La Spezia or Levanto from where you can easily reach the Cinque Terre by train. Levanto is more interesting for sightseeing than La Spezia, but it seemed to me that in La Spezia the prices were lower so I opted for the Galm Resort Villa Maria Luigia 10 minutes walk from the station where, for € 75 we had a delicious superabundant breakfast with also different types of focaccia to take with us as a snack during the day and an impeccable assistance service via WhatsApp, with instructions to enter, for luggage storage and a fantastic concierge service who answered all of our questions before and during our stay.
For those who decide to overnight in one of the Cinque Terre, I had been suggested Camere Nicolina in Vernazza, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the port and an excellent breakfast, at an affordable price.
Best time to visit the Cinque Terre
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Cinque Terre, both for the mild and not too hot climate and because on average they are less crowded than the months of July and August which I recommend you avoid and possibly go during the week.
Better to visit the Cinque Terre from early in the morning, most visitors (and group tours) tend to arrive from mid-morning onwards and the afternoon is the time when there is greater crowding. I was there on a Monday in mid-September and I must say that there were still a lot of people, much more than I expected, and there were times when the large influx of people made me nervous enough…
How long it takes to visit Cinque Terre and what to visit nearby?
One day is enough for visiting Cinque Terre, but I recommend considering at least a couple of days and exploring the nearby area, where you will have the opportunity to visit delightful corners of Italy full of charm using public transportation.
Often referred to as the “Sixth Land“, this village in the Gulf of Poets is very reminiscent of the Cinque Terre because of the colorful houses of the “Palazzata a Mare” colorful houses overlooking the pretty harbor. But in addition to this postcard corner, in Portovenere there are many other things to visit, such as Byron’s Cave, the island of Palmaria or the Church of San Pietro.
I arrived at sunset and I only stayed for dinner, but that was enough to make me sigh in front of the beauty of its port and its alleys, surely being able to dedicate at least half a day to it would be better.
It can be easily reached by bus from La Spezia.
If you choose to overnight in Levanto to visit the Cinque Terre, you could take advantage of it to visit this town which actually was recommended to me more than La Spezia. Visit the medieval city center and take the cycling/pedestrian path to the village of Bonassola: a path that follows the tunnels of the ancient railway line and offers splendid views of the beaches that leads to a quiet village where you can enjoy the atmosphere of the Ligurian Riviera without too many tourists.
Lerici and the village of Tellaro
A little further away, but easily reachable by public transport from La Spezia, there is the town of Lerici and above all its Tellaro hamlet. An adorable village listed not only among the most beautiful villages in Italy but even in Europe!
Tellaro can be reached by bus from Piazza Garibaldi in Tellaro or with a 30-minute walk that runs along the sea and is a very pretty village made up of narrow streets and colorful houses, boats in the harbor and steps. A village loved by artists and poets, it is also linked to a legend according to which a giant octopus saved Tellaro from the attack of the Saracens by ringing the church bells.
Even Lerici itself deserves a walk through its center surmounted by the castle and a dip in its beautiful beaches. We spent a pleasant day in Lerici, its beaches and the village of Tellaro, just before arriving at the Cinque Terre.
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