The charm of Italy’s Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, a slice of Italy that was once a part of the country’s “off-the-beaten-path” is now on every avid traveler’s bucket list. This rugged portion of the Italian Riviera is known for its jaw-dropping beauty filled with vibrant, colored buildings, sparkling oceanic views, green vineyards and lush lemon trees. While the five towns have their postcard-perfect atmosphere in common, each one has treasures of their own waiting for you to experience.
Rio, as the locals call it, is filled with cafés, restaurants and quaint shops. A narrow path from the town’s peeling-pastel buildings leads to a small harbor where adventurous souls can partake in snorkeling, kayaking and cliff diving. In the evening, sit upon the jagged rocks that line the sides of the harbor to watch Rio’s romantic glow when darker skies roll in.
When in Manarola, eat at Il Porticciolo, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant serving up what is known as some of the best seafood and pesto pasta in Cinque Terre. When heading on the rocky path out of Manarola, stop at Punta Bonfiglio, the most popular viewpoint in Cinque Terre. Nearby is the scenic bar of Nessun Dorma, the perfect place to drink locally derived wine and soak up the beauty of Manarola.
Different from the other four lands, Corniglia is situated high above the shoreline providing amazing views of the beautiful waters below. However, the view comes at a price of climbing 382 steps up from the town’s train station. Reward yourself by stopping in any of the quaint gelato shops hidden within the village’s alleys and taking in the heavenly aroma provided by flourishing lemon trees.
Here you’ll find people sunbathing along the rugged half-circle harbor and small fishing boats floating close to the shore. Near the harbor is a steep staircase leading to the oldest fortification in Cinque Terre, Castello Doria. Dating back to the year 1,000, the Castello Doria is mostly ruins providing phenomenal views overlooking Vernazza and the surrounding Ligurian Sea.
Monteresso al Mare
The largest of the five, Monteresso al Mare, or simply, Monteresso, boasts Cinque Terre’s most popular beach spot. Rent a lounge chair with large, bright orange umbrellas and sip on a refreshing aperol spritzer. Just before the beach is a string of cafés, restaurants and gelato shops. Beyond the buzz of the town and past the beach is, “The Giant,” a massive rock and iron sculpture etched into the front of a rocky structure. Established in 1910, the Giant represents the god of the sea, Neptune.
Despite Cinque Terre’s popularity exploding over the last few years, it is still worth experiencing the charm sprinkled throughout the five villages. Its unique location makes it harder to reach than most of Italy’s destinations, making it the perfect place to getaway. Immerse in the spectacular views, delicious food, rare wine, kind locals and the overall one-of-a-kind experience Cinque Terre offers. A trip to this magnificent region will cure any traveler’s wanderlust.
When deciding on how to explore through Cinque Terre, keep in mind that hiking between the villages fluctuate between 30 minutes and 3 hours. Note that the hikes can be challenging at different points. However, the hiking route provides scenery unlike any other and is the best way to fully experience the five lands.
Train and Bus
Taking the train or shuttle bus between villages takes about 10-15 minutes between each town. This option is best suited for people who need quick and easy access from village to village.
Tip: Purchase the Cinque Terre Card
Buy the Cinque Terre Card at La Spezia or any of the five villages’ train station. It provides access to shuttle buses, trekking trails and unlimited train travel along the Cinque Terre and La Spezia line.
Arriving and departing
The easiest and most recommended way to arrive in Cinque Terre is by train from any major airport in Italy headed towards La Spezia. From La Spezia, you will take the train to Riomaggoiore, the first of the five villages. Note that Pisa is the closest international airport with a 1.5-hour train ride to La Spezia. For prices and schedules check www.trenitalia.com
When to go
For those looking for a beach vacation, the best time to visit is from mid-May to mid-Sept. anytime before or after will leave you jumping into cold waters. During these months, expect a massive flood of tourists and be sure to book far in advance for this time frame. If your main interest is only hiking the villages, then visit as early as mid-March and as late as mid-Oct.