Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore; the five villages that make up the stunning coastline of the Italian Riviera and altogether known as Cinque Terre “Five Lands.” Cinque Terre is located in the Liguria region in the Northern part of Italy. Although each village is quite small there is some magic to this colorful region. You could spend days exploring and getting lost in the hills between the villages along the Azure Trail, and the views alone will absolutely take your breath away.
The easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is by train. From La Spezia it takes ~10 minutes and trains run every 15-30 minutes. If you’re driving I would suggest either leaving your car in La Spezia and taking the train to the villages to stay there or stay in La Spezia and take the train to the villages daily as driving in Cinque Terre can be challenging and parking is limited. The village we chose to stay in was Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages when coming from La Spezia. Upon arrival we knew we were in for a treat, the views from the balcony of the hotel were stunning and this was only a small part of the Riviera.
First on the agenda was to catch the sunset and get some food. We were told the best place for watching the sunset in Riomaggiore is at A Pie’de Ma’, right on the edge of the cliff and can be seen in the lower left corner of the photo above. Unfortunately when we arrived there were no tables available until much later as there are only 5 or 6 tables for dining. Appetizers, small plates, and drinks are served at the bar below but we needed some actual food so instead we camped out for a bit and watched the sunset and then went off to find a restaurant for dinner. The first we came to (only steps from A Pie’de Ma’) was Trattoria Via dell’Amore which serves Italian, Mediterranean, and Seafood. We tried various dishes from their set menus, the most interesting of which being fried anchovies which is actually a staple food in Cinque Terre and served a variety of ways; marinated, salted, deep-fried, etc. I have never had anchovies before and was hesitant at first to try but they are actually quite tasty!
Day two in Cinque Terre we set off to explore. We were there mid-August and it was extremely hot during the day so we set off first thing in the morning to go hiking. First we grabbed some cappuccinos and pastries from a coffee shop and hopped on the train to Monterosso, the most Northern of the five villages and best spot to start hiking between them. The ticket machines at the train station are very slow so if you are running tight on time and know your schedule in advance the best thing to do is purchase your tickets before online. Tickets between the cities are only 2-3 Euros, you can also buy day passes which are good for 7+ trips/day but if you plan to make only a few trips by train between the cities I wouldn’t suggest this. You can find more about the costs of day passes here. This link will also give you the information for the trekking cards which are required for hiking in Cinque Terre. It’s 7.50 Euros for a 1 day trekking card, you can also buy this when you are on the trail. There are checkpoints between the cities which you must show your card at and if you don’t have one you will have to purchase one so make sure to bring some cash with you!
Upon arrival in Monterosso al Mare we walked out of the train station and straight to the beautiful blue sea ahead of us. We stared out at the sea for awhile then decided that it was time to set out on our journey through the hills! To get to the walking path you walk to the left along the water after exiting the train station. Walk all the way to the end of the beach and you will start to see signs for the path and a red and white striped flag to mark the trail. The first part of the trail is from Monterosso to Vernazza and in my opinion has some of the most beautiful scenery. It’s also one of the most difficult and longest trails so definitely come prepared for hiking with tennis shoes and water! You will hike around beaches, up and over hills, through wineries, and along the coast. Vernazza was my favorite village for things to do as it is very open and more spread out than the others with cozy cobblestone streets to wander around and get lost in. You can sit along the harbor, go for a swim, explore Castello Doria- the tower above the harbor and the most iconic part of Vernazza, or just enjoy the stunning view from one of the many rooftop patios. We opted to continue along the trail after visiting the castle and have lunch at “Bar La Torre” which is directly off the trail and nestled away on the hill. This was my favorite spot on the trek, the views from the restaurant are incredible! Definitely make sure to stock up on more water before continuing your trek though as there is not another stop or restaurant for miles!
After this we continued the trek through the hills to Corniglia (we didn’t stop here) then to Manarola where we were on a mission to find the best viewpoint for this village. We found this at the top of the hill that you get to by walking towards the beach and up the hill on the opposite side, you walk through a cemetery/church to beautiful brick open windows that look down upon the village and offer the best views.
At this point we had trekked close to 10 miles through the villages and decided it was time to hop on the train back to Riomaggiore instead of taking the last mountain crossing between Manarola and Riomaggiore. These villages are also connected by Via dell’Amore the “Love Walk” which goes along the coast and is much faster, but it is currently closed as part of the trail has washed away. Once back and cleaned up from a day of trekking we went out for our last dinner in Cinque Terre. We went to a lovely restaurant “La Lampara” in Riomaggiore, again recommended to us by locals. Our meal was delicious, I ordered the seafood pasta (Frutti di mare, my go-to in Italy) and it was the best I have ever tasted! I would highly recommend this restaurant for an intimate evening out.
In Cinque Terre there is very little light pollution compared to other more populated cities in Italy and at night this makes for the perfect conditions for star-gazing. There’s nothing more relaxing than having the moonlit sky above you and nothing but the sea ahead of you…
On our last day we decided to head back to Monterosso which we found to have the best and biggest beaches out of all the villages. We wanted to experience Cinque Terre from another perspective so although it takes longer and a bit more expensive (10-15 Euros) we hopped on the ferry which stops at all of the villages. You really don’t see the true beauty of the Italian Riviera until you are out on the water and seeing it from every angle. The views from the coastline are incredible but somehow the views of the coastline itself are even better! With the dramatic cliffs and enchanting villages dotted along the coast, it truly is spectacular! At the beach in Monterosso you can rent a lounge chair or bring a towel and find a space on the beach. The beach is gravel instead of soft sand so we opted for the lounge chairs. Went for a dip in the Ligurian Sea and caught our last few rays of sunshine in the Italian Riviera. Such a unique and magical place! Happy travels!