Inside: The gravity-defying towns of Cinque Terre are one of Italy’s most spectacular destinations. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip.
This morning, my new husband Dave and I said goodbye to our friends and family and struck out on our own.
Newlywed Adventures: Day One.
Don’t worry, we left them in good hands. And by that, I mean, comfortably enjoying one last day in the Tuscan villa where the world’s most amazing wedding took place yesterday. (OK, OK. I’m sure everyone thinks their wedding was the world’s most amazing!).
Read More: A Dream Wedding in Tuscany
And now, the honeymoon adventure begins! We’re catching the train to a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting – Cinque Terre.
It’s the first stop on what will be a 3-month Round-the-World Honeymoon and I am positively bursting with love drunk excitement.
And what better place to kick off this honeymoon extravaganza than Italy’s “fantastic five” seaside towns of Cinque Terre?
Where is Cinque Terre?
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 towns of Cinque Terre 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, these unique five villages make up the Cinque Terre National Park. They were inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
How to get to Cinque Terre
It’s not especially easy to reach Cinque Terre.
Road access in the towns is limited to residents only. If you do arrive by car, parking is only available outside the villages.
If you’re coming from the south (Florence or Rome), park in La Spezia and take the train from there. From the north (Milan or Genoa), park in the seaside town of Levanto and take the train.
Local trains cut through a series of tunnels along the coast and are definitely the best way to arrive and depart.
Can you see Cinque Terre in a day?
Yes, it’s possible to visit all five towns in a single day. They are close together and well-connected by both ferry and train. (Note: Corniglia is possibly the lone exception, more on that below.)
But it’s much more fun to spend a couple of nights. Or at least one!
However, if time is short on your Italian itinerary, one day is always better than no day at all. There are plenty of day trips available from Florence or La Spezia to help you make the most of limited time.
Here are just a few:
The perfect home base in Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore
For our stay in Cinque Terre, we chose the village of Riomaggiore as our home base.
Of the five towns, Riomaggiore is the largest and the closest to the gateway city of La Spezia. This makes it the easiest to access from the southern part of Italy (where we came from).
The main National Park office is based in Riomaggiore and the town’s pastel-colored harbor is likely the one you’ve seen in all those drool-worthy images of Cinque Terre.
A room with a view in Riomaggiore
I only have 3 essential requirements for a hotel in Cinque Terre: a terrific view, a private bath, and a reasonable rate (the last one is negotiable).
After extensive research, I find it all at the Hotel Villa Argentina.
Situated at the top of the hill in Riomaggiore, our room has sweeping views of both village and sea from our own private terrace. It is exactly what I had in mind.
The room itself turns out to be pretty basic. But it’s clean, has good A/C, strong wifi, and everything else we need. And did I mention the view?
And to be fair, fancy was not one of my requirements for this stop. I’m saving that for our last stop.
Read More: Honeymoon Paradise in Tahiti
It’s mid-afternoon by the time we get to the hotel so we devote our first afternoon to exploring Riomaggiore.
And it turns out to be quite a workout! The first thing you learn about Cinque Terre hotels with a good view is that they are typically HIGH up in the village.
Which means stairs. And hills. And eventually recovery gelato. Because Italy.
It’s a vicious cycle.
We stroll the beautiful streets of Riomaggiore exploring the shops and working up an appetite for dinner.
Eventually, we settle into a seaside trattoria for dinner before heading back to enjoy the sunset from our terrace with a million-dollar view.
Getting Around the Towns of Cinque Terre
The next morning, it’s time to get out and explore. With just one full day on our 48-hour stay in Cinque Terre, we want to see as much as possible.
There are three main options for getting between the five towns of Cinque Terre.
1. Take the Train
The easiest is the train, which runs between most of the villages every 20-30 minutes or so. Stops in Corniglia are more infrequent.
2. Take a Hike
You can also hike between villages. In fact, Cinque Terre has some of the best hiking in all of Italy.
Covering the distance from Riomaggiore to the next village of Manarola takes a mere 20 minutes. However, the distance between some of the other Cinque Terre towns is as long as 2-3 hours.
To hike the entire Sentiero Azzurro trail connecting all 5 towns, it’s 11 kilometers and takes about 5 hours.
3. Take to the Water
Regular ferry boat service connects the towns of Cinque Terre seasonally from April 1 – November 1. This is certainly the most scenic way to travel between towns but keep in mind that ferries can be canceled for high seas. You can also rent a kayak or powerboat to explore the coastline yourself.
Note: The ferries do not stop in Corniglia because the town has no water access.
The one-day plan for Cinque Terre
Our plan for today is to hike one-way from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (the 5-hour trail). Then, we’ll take the train or ferry back.
Unfortunately, that plan is quickly foiled when we learn that the entire trail, except for the portion between Vernazza and Monterosso, is closed due to recent landslide damage.
It seems I will have to come up with another excuse for the extra servings of gelato today.
We are especially disappointed that the portion of the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola, known as the “Via dell’ Amore” is closed. This part of the trail is home to the love lock bridge where we hoped to secure the lock Dave made us before the wedding.
Update: We later found the perfect home for that lock in Santorini.
With our hiking plan scrapped, we decide to take to the water for the best view of all five Cinque Terre towns.
The ferry turns out to be a terrific way to explore the coastline. The views from the sea are reminiscent of those along the Amalfi Coast or the towns of the Italian Riviera. It’s truly spectacular.
We start our day by taking the ferry all the way to Monterosso. From there, we’ll work our way back to Riomaggiore, one village at a time.
Cinque Terre’s Best Beaches – Monterosso
We arrive in the town of Monterosso al Mare after a scenic 30-minute ride along the coast.
The first thing I notice about Monterosso is that it’s missing the steep terrain and cascading homes that define the other four villages.
Luckily, the second thing I notice are the spectacular beaches. So while it may not be as quaint as the other towns, the incredible turquoise sea and multicolored beach umbrellas immediately draw my focus.
If your idea of a Cinque Terre holiday includes lounging on a beautiful beach, Monterosso is the village for you.
For beachfront views, the Affittacamere la Terrazza sul Mare hotel is the perfect hotel choice.
We explore the main square and stop for lunch at a beachside café. After that, we’re ready to move on to the next town. But when we get to the dock, we discover that the boats are on an afternoon “siesta” for the next 3 hours.
So instead, we catch the next train 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. It’s also the only village with a proper harbor, so it remains one of the truest fishing villages in the region.
Vernazza’s main street, Via Roma, is lined with restaurants, shops and cafes. We spend 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.
We hoped to visit all five of Cinque Terre’s towns on our stay. But we quickly discover that the middle village of Corniglia will 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.
While there is train service to Corniglia, the trains are not nearly as frequent as those to the other four villages. Only a few trains per day make the stop in Corniglia.
So with the hiking trails closed, unfortunately, we have to settle for viewing Corniglia from the sea as our ferry boat passes by.
Manarola’s Cliff Jumpers
Our final stop of the day is the oldest town and the closest to home, the rambling village of Manarola.
Similar in design to Riomaggiore, Manarola has an exceptionally beautiful coastline with lots of rocky outcrops for sunbathing. It also has soaring cliffs favored by the local kids for plunging into the sea.
We watch a few kids make the jump and then decide that grabbing a gelato is a much safer activity choice.
Riomaggiore – The Perfect Choice
It’s been a full and relaxing day of sightseeing. Finally, we catch one last ferry back home to Riomaggiore.
After seeing four of the five towns, we are more sure than ever that Riomaggiore is the ideal home base for exploring Cinque Terre. It turns out to be our favorite town so we definitely made the right choice for our brief 2-night stay.
It’s our last night in Cinque Terre so we sit on our terrace, pop the cork on a chilled bottle of Prosecco and enjoy a slice from the top of our delicious wedding cake (which traveled carefully with us on the train).
It has been a perfect 2-day visit to the fantastic five towns of Cinque Terre. We’ve truly put the stress of wedding week behind us and are easing into our 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!
(Unfortunately, first, we’ll have to figure out how to get there during an Italian train strike! More on that tomorrow…)