After saying goodbye to our friends and family at the villa the morning after the the world’s most amazing wedding (to us, anyway!) we hopped on the train to a place I’d always dreamed of visiting – Cinque Terre. It was finally time for our lengthy, carefree honeymoon to begin!
Located along the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region, the five vibrant villages that hug the rugged coastline are collectively known as “Cinque Terre” or five lands. From the nearby town of La Spezia (considered the gateway to the villages) they are, in order – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Dating back to the later Middle Ages, the establishment of the villages represents an astounding example of man successfully cultivating a challenging natural environment. Early settlers converted the steep, rugged terrain into an elaborately-terraced landscape that allowed for the growing of vines and olive trees. Today, the five villages make up the Cinque Terre National Park and were inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
It’s not easy to reach Cinque Terre as road access is severely limited. Trains from nearby La Spezia cut through a series of tunnels along the coast are definitely the best way to arrive and depart but as we would later learn, they’re not always the most reliable.
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre
For our stay in Cinque Terre we’d chosen the village of Riomaggiore, the closest of the 5 to the larger city of La Spezia.
My only essential requirement for a hotel in Cinque Terre was that it have a great view so, after extensive research, we settled on a quaint place called Hotel Villa Argentina.
Situated at the top of the hill in Riomaggiore, our room had sweeping views of the village and the sea from the private terrace and was exactly what I had in mind. The room itself turned out to be pretty basic but it was clean, had good A/C, wifi and everything else we needed.
Getting Around the Villages of Cinque Terre
There are several options for getting between the five villages of Cinque Terre.
The easiest is the train which runs between most of the villages every 20-30 minutes or so. You can also hike between villages. Covering the distance from Riomaggiore to the next village of Manarola takes a mere 20 minutes, though the distance between some of the other villages is as long as 2-3 hours. You can also take the regular ferry boat services between villages or even rent a kayak or powerboat to explore the coastline yourself.
To visit as many of the villages as possible during our brief, two-night stay, we’d originally planned to hike one-way from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (which takes about 5 hours) and then take the train back.
Unfortunately, our plan was foiled when we learned that the entire trail, except for the portion between Vernazza and Monterosso, was closed due to recent landslide damage. We were especially disappointed that the portion of the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola, known as the “Via dell’ Amore” was closed as this part of the trail is home to the love lock bridge where we’d planned to secure the lock Dave made us before the wedding.
With our hiking plan foiled we decided to take to the water for the best view of all five villages. The ferry turned out to be a great way to explore the coastline and we started our day by taking it all the way to Monterosso with the intention of working our way back one village at a time.
We arrived in Monterosso al Mare after a pleasant 30 minute scenic ride along the coast.
The first thing you notice about Monterosso is that it’s missing the steep terrain and cascading homes that define the other four villages. And for this reason, Monterosso is the most accessible of the villages by car. Luckily, the second thing you notice are the spectacular beaches so you quickly forget about any possible lack of quaintness and return your focus to the turquoise sea and multicolored beach umbrellas.
We explored the main square and stopped for lunch at a beachside café before discovering that the boats were on an afternoon “siesta” break for the next 3 hours. So we decided to catch the train on to the next village of Vernazza.
Often considered the area’s most picturesque town, Vernazza is best known for its quaint harbor and Castello Doria – the oldest surviving fortification in Cinque Terre.
There is no car traffic in Vernazza and as the only village with a proper harbor, it remains one of the truest fishing villages in the region. Its main street, Via Roma, is lined with restaurants, shops and cafes and we spent a lazy hour or two just wandering the narrow lanes and visiting the inside of the waterfront church, Chiesa di Santa Margherita, built in 1318.
Though we’d hoped to visit all five of the villages, we quickly discovered that the middle village of Corniglia would be a bit of a challenge.
Considered the “quiet village,” it’s the only Cinque Terre village with no direct sea access so the ferries don’t stop there.
And unlike the frequent train service to the other four villages, far fewer trains make the stop in Corniglia. So with the hiking trails closed, unfortunately, we had to settle for viewing it from the sea as our ferry boat passed by.
Manarola’s Cliff Jumpers
Our final stop of the day was the closest to home, the rambling village of Manarola, which claims to be the oldest of the five.
Similar in design to Riomaggiore, Manarola had an exceptionally beautiful coastline with lots of rocky outcrops for sunbathing and soaring cliffs favored by the local kids for plunging into the sea. We watched a few kids make the jump before deciding that grabbing an ice cream was a much safer activity choice.
Riomaggiore – The Perfect Choice for Home Base
After a full and relaxing day of sightseeing, we caught the ferry back to Riomaggiore.
As the largest of the villages and the easiest to reach, Riomaggiore made an ideal home base for exploring Cinque Terre. The main park office is based here and the pastel-colored harbor is likely the one you’ve seen in images of Cinque Terre. Luckily, it turned out to be our favorite of the villages so we definitely made the right choice for our brief 2-night stay.
On our last night we sat on our terrace and popped the cork on a chilled bottle of Prosecco while enjoying a slice from the top of our delicious wedding cake (which traveled with us on the train).
It was a perfect visit to Cinque Terre and now we’re finally starting to put the stress of wedding week behind us and ease into the carefree globetrotting lifestyle for the next few months.
Next up, we’re excited to move on to our last stop in Italy…the floating city of Venice!