One, if not my favourite place in Italy is Cinque Terre (5 lands), comprising 5 villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) and is located in the Liguria region of Italy. The coastline is stunning and for me is far superior than the coasts of Amalfi. It is part of a national park and the area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site I’ve been several times and over the years it has become massively popular with tourists to the point it can lose it’s charm with countless coach parties and day trips from Florence, Cruises in to Genoa and Pisa. However find the right time of year and stay in one of the villages then you will understand why I love it so much. There are few words to this post, all you need to know is that it looks this amazing and the food and drink here is equal.
It’s easy to get there with a train line running under the mountains stopping at each of the villages. The trains run from the major towns along the coast, there is a direct train from Pisa or you can get trains to the nearby La Spezia and then transfer on to local lines. and are a great way of nipping between the villages during the day. You can try and avoid the ticket inspector as the stops are so close together. Not something i’d recommend but something that is definitely doable. You can get there by car but you have to park your car outside the town and walk in. There is also a boat service between each of the villages and further along the coast to Porte Venere a worthy day trip in itself.
Best way to see the villages is to spend some time here. My favourite places to stay are in Manarola or Riomaggiore. Smaller than Monterosso and Vernazza they have a peaceful charm with extremely narrow walkways which often open up to stunning views over the coastline. There are very few hotels and the best way to stay is to rent one of the flats or houses. If you book ahead then you can get some small and cheap places with stunning views over the rocky coastline. There are loads of places, you feel the locals all have second homes which they rent out and then they just relax and watch the world go by. The big benefit of staying is that as the day closes all the tour parties go home and you can be left to enjoy some of the excellent seafood restaurants and the tiny bars. You also get views like this while supping Campari.
In the morning you can wake up to the view below. There really is nothing better than leaving work in London on a Friday night getting a late afternoon flight to Pisa and waking up to this. It also gives you a few days of exploring before going home. Although most of the places you can rent have kitchens, it is best to grab a coffee in a local cafe and a con creme pastry while working out what to do for the day and before everyone shows up to visit the town. This is what we did in July last year (2015). Myself and Em my girlfriend travelled here for a long weekend.
Now you could decide to take the train and visit each of the towns but that is not the way to do it. The villages are linked by a ancient pathway which you can walk travelling around the rocky coastline through the grape and olive growing terraces. There are a number of different routes. If you go high in to the mountains then there will be few people you will meet along the way, most people take the route by the sea. This route had been undergoing repairs when we were there in 2015 as large parts had been washed away in storms which had caused flooding and landslides. In summer these routes are stunning. Pack some water, some good shoes and set off on what is a full days walk between the villages.
When we did it we were staying in Manarola so took a decision to not visit Riomaggiore (we’d do that another day). Corniglia is located on a rocky cliff so it is a climb to start with. It isn’t arduous and if you walk and climb stairs then you will be fine. We actually took one of the red routes as the lower route was closed. This gave a great view over the small village below. The village feels a bit more rustic than the others, probably because it is least popular but it does have a arty feel with a variety of small craft shops and as with all the villages there are places to stop and eat or grab some more water.
Vernazza is my favourite part although the longest part of the walk there are spectacular views over the sea and each of the villages. Vernazza is probably the more expensive place to stay with a stunning little harbour lined with places to eat (you can see a theme here). Each village seems to have it’s own vibe and things to see. A castle and church dominate the town vista and the water in the harbour is crystal clear tempting many in for a cool down after the walk down from Corniglia. This is the best place to stop some some good value lunch and you can do no better than some locally sourced seafood or pesto.
After food you are going to want to head off on the final leg and burn some calories. The final town to walk to is Monterosso which is the largest town and where most people stay when visiting and staying in the towns. For me this is a good reason not to stay there as it has a much more touristy vibe although this also means there is more bars to drink in and hotels where you can stay. They feel much less local but the village itself is still pretty to wander round and get lost down the narrow alleys. There are some proper beaches here which you spend some time before heading back. You can walk but that would leave you walking the paths late in to the evening. It is at this point you thank the Italians for building a rail line through the mountainside.
Once back it is most certainly aperitivo time which is possibly the next best thing in Italy after the stunning coastline. We found a place which did some amazing cocktails looking back over the village of Manarola. If you find the right bar and they like you then you also get some great small dishes which accompany the drink well and get you ready for the evening food. Wherever you go there is a stunning sunset to watch as the sun sets over the sea.
We’d walked the coastline so decided that the next day we’d travel by train to La Spezia the biggest town nearby. There isn’t much reason to stay here other than to visit the nearby coastal villages or do some shopping. This is a big naval port and it is has a nice marina and you can get boats to the nearby Portovenere. This is what we decided on doing.
Portovenere has a castle which dominates the hillside with tall narrow but colourful housing lining the promenade. You can walk through the towns gates and then follow the streets up to the castle. Byron apparently spent alot of time here and got inspiration for his writing and you can see why.
After exploring the town and castle we decided to get a boat round the coastline to the final village we missed the day before, Riomaggiore. I’ve stayed here before and although the smallest has lot’s of character. When visiting about 10 years ago I remember watching a death march band walking through the village as part of a funeral procession. It sounds morbid but the music and the atmosphere was truly unreal. It’s one of the few memories that has stayed with me other than the bar we visited nightly. Much of the visit this time was remembering those previous nights and the atmosphere here. I’d like to come back here. With the town wandered and the day drawing to a close we took the train back to Manarola.
Although we had some great weather the last time we were there you can get some stunning storms which dramatically transform the coastline. On our final night we saw some incredible waves lashing the rocky harbours. You also get some crazy people swimming still in these waves (see the photo above and spot the crazy diver). It almost looks like a local rite of passage!
It is difficult to describe this place without just posting photos of the views and sunshine. So here are some more. There are various times of the year you can come here. We came early in the summer season this time but I’ve been in the winter which although much quieter with less places open is still an experience in a different way. Just make sure you stay in one of the towns, rent one of the small flats, wake up and get coffee in the village cafes and just soak up what is truly one of the nicest places on earth. Enjoy.