Cinque Terre, Italy
After seeing photos of Cinque Terre all over Instagram, I knew it was somewhere I had to visit. Nestled along a rugged portion of the Italian Riviera coastline, Cinque Terre is a string of five centuries-old seaside villages that are known for their vibrant colored houses, endless vineyards, fresh seafood and beautiful harbors. We planned our trip for October, just after high season and while we missed the good swimming weather by a week, it was a perfect time to visit. The fall weather was ideal for hiking and the tourists had all gone home so the small little villages were quiet and peaceful. We spent our days exploring the towns, drinking wine on our rooftop terrace and relaxing by the water with good books and plates of fresh pasta.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the towns
Monterosso: The largest of the five towns and the most accessible by car, Monterosso is home to the most hotels and restaurants. The seaside village is split in two halves between the new and old and linked by an underground tunnel. It’s also the only town to have a proper sandy beach, so during the summer months the sand is littered with orange umbrellas and endless crowds.
Vernazza: Recognized as the quaintest of the five villages, Vernazza is built on narrow, cobblestone streets and lined with cozy cafes. One of the highlights is the beautiful church of Margaret of Antioch, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century. The best view point can be found an the end of your hike from Monterosso to Vernazza.
Cornelia: Unlike the other towns in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is not directly adjacent to the sea. It’s recognized as the quiet village that sits atop a 100m-high cliff surrounded by endless vineyards. It’s a bit of a trek from the railway station to the village, but you can reward yourself with a refreshing cocktail after you tackle the 377-step brick stairway.
Manarola: This is the oldest and the second smallest of the towns in the Cinque Terre. Although there is no real beach here, the tiny harbor has a small swimming hole for those more adventurous swimmers.
Riomaggiore: The first in the chain of the five towns, Riomaggiore has the famous postcard view of the pastel colored houses that light up at sunset. Grab a gelato from the tiny ice cream shop nestled cliffside or sit on the rocks in the harbor watching the fisherman bring in their daily catch. This town is hard to access by car, so it’s best to park in Monterosso and take the train into the village.
Hike the trails: Cinque Terre has some great hiking, especially in October when the mornings are cool and free from crowds. In the last few years they have closed some of the seaside trails, however there are still a few open that are worth checking out. One of my favorite routes was from Monterosso to Vernazza. This 3km/2 miles trail takes about 2 hours and is the most challenging of the treks with a steep ascent and descent over the ridge. Another great trek is the one from Vernazza to Manarola via Cornelia. The first half of the trail is cliffside, but because the rest of route from Cornelia to Manarola on the seaside is closed, you’ll have to follow the red line or “high path” as it’s called on the map. This takes you up into the forrest, where you bypass a small, charming village called Volastra. Note: you have to pay for all seaside trails at the start of your trek.
Go for a dip: If you you happen to visit Cinque Terre during the summer months (or are brave enough to go for a swim when the weather cools) head to the beach in Monterosso, sit beneath an orange umbrella, indulge in that second gelato of the day and enjoy the sounds of the Ligurian Sea crashing into the rocks.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
Nessun Dorma: Located in Manarola, high on the cliffside, this place has THE best view of the tiny colored houses below. Grab a seat under a big white umbrella to shade you from the sun and sip a glass of crisp rosé, while indulging in fresh bruschetta.
Da Eraldo Tigelle: This place has the most perfect cheese and charcuterie board, but I warn you it’s huge, so don’t make the mistake of ordering full enters after. Seriously, come hungry and leave happy.
San Martino Gastronomia: This little local hole in the wall in Monterosso is so good we went back twice. Family owned and served cafeteria style, you order at the counter and they serve it to you on the outside patio on paper plates with plastic cutlery. The menu changes daily based on whatever is in season and fresh that day.
Enoteca Dau Cila: Located in Riomaggiore in the small, fishing harbor, this place is a great spot to sit outside and enjoy the sea breeze. Try the fresh shrimp pasta or seared tuna salad. Pretend to be a true Italian and finish your meal with a tasty cappuccino.
Ristorante la Lampara Ciak: We decided to go for a fancy meal on our last night in Monterosso. All week we had watched the chef at Ristorante la Lampara Ciak through the little basement window, shucking fresh oysters and filleting the catch of the day so we figured the food must be good - we were right. After a bottle of red, three pasta dishes (1 each) a huge, steaming bowl of muscles and two desserts, we basically had to roll ourselves out of there!
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb: Due to limited hotel options in Cinque Terre, we opted for an Airbnb. Located on Via Roma in the heart of Monterosso, this was the perfect place to relax on the rooftop terrace with a glass of wine.
Ditch your car and take the train: Driving into Cinque Terre can be tricky, especially if you’re driving up from Tuscany where the narrow roads along the cliffside are full of switchbacks. Even if you manage to make it through, you won’t be able to find parking, as whatever few spots you can find are reserved for locals. So do yourself a favor and leave your car at the underground parking garage in La Spezia Centrale and take the train in.