The undulating sapphire of the sky meets the deeper than blue, indigo of the ocean;
The tall mountains covered in green kiss the golden sunlight, creating refraction of emotions.
The bright coloured houses of smiles and blossoms, roughly steeping up the embracing valleys;
Happy carefree giggles resonating with sweet clatter of the stream, adorn the small squares of cobbled alleys.
Welcome to the land of 'Caio Bella' Syndrome.
Cinque Terre, an assemble of 5 picturesque quaint villages on the Italian Riviera, in the province of Liguria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which boasts of wonderfully maintained hiking paths winding their way along the coast and high above the turquoise-blue waters. It is commonly known as the playground of the photographers, the romantics and the nature lovers who want to lose themselves in the morning mists wrapped around the cliffs and embrace the long rays of sunset that shimmer on the surface of the sea.
The 'Five Lands' of Cinque Terre includes the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare , which are one of the most sun-drenched and languid stretches of coast in all of Italy.
My Long Lost Tryst with Cinque Terre
Switch to October 2011, massive flash floods swept through Cinque Terre causing massive devastation. Amongst the 13 dead in the Apocalypse was my pen-friend of 12 years, 'Anjuli'. Anjuli, an abandoned Indian girl child, was fostered by the Diocese of India and eventually adopted by a couple in the United States of America. I met Anjuli for the first time in 1999 when she was visiting India as a part of the tour group organized by the Diocese. My school, also administered by the Diocese, was hosting the tour group on their visit to the Taj Mahal and as a class prefect I was part of the student group who were to interact with the tour group.
Belonging to the same age and class, Anjuli and I hit-off in the first few minutes of exchanging pleasantaries. Though, our interaction was brief, we exchanged postal addresses in lieu of writing to each other and keeping in touch. Over the period of next 12 years, Anjuli and I wrote to each other religiously talking about aims, dreams, adolescence, crushes, love affairs, heart-breaks, disappointments, griefs, accomplishments. In 2010, whilst, I was in my 4th year of 5 years law school, Anjali had completed her 4 years of undergraduate studies from Columbia and was taking an year off to travel (privilege of first world education). She was making her way to Europe.
And then suddenly, Anjali vanished. No emails, no texts, no postcards, no letters. I incessantly wrote to her believing that amidst the new world of travel she wouldn't forget the old me. And in December 2011, I finally received an email from Anjuli, after a gap of more than 2 months. It was undersigned by her mother informing me about the catastrophe that had engulfed Anjuli. She was no more. The vacuum that Anjuli had left behind could never be filled but from mourning I graduated to fondly remembering her on every good day and bad day of my life.
In 2016, when I was planning my Italy escapade, Cinque Terre was the but obvious part of the itinerary. Though the ineffable beauty of the 'Five Lands' was far too enticing to miss but a large part of the fascination was also because of the homage I wanted to pay to my 'long lost friend'.
How to Reach Cinque Terre?
In 1998 and 1999, the Italian Government passed a legislation to protect the natural environment of Cinque Terre and to encourage ecological balance and thus assigned it a 'National Park' status which protects the area from further development.
Cinque Terre is in the Linguria Region of Italy, well connected by air, railway and road. Nearest Airport to Cinque Terre is Florence and Pisa. The railway line, 'Trenitalia', connects Cinque Terre to all the major cities of Italy and by road though Cinque Terre is reachable but the same is not recommended due to varied terrains.
Most visitors arrive by train; between Genoa and Pisa, and easily reached from Florence, Rome and Milan, this is truly the most preferred way to arrive. Train passes for travel to the villages are available at the train station in La Spezia (station for Pisa) and in each village's train station. All the tickets in and for Cinque Terre, as in the rest of Italy, need to be validated at the station. (For those of you not familiar with ticket validation, you will need to locate a yellow box at the station before you leave, place the ticket in the slot and print a validation stamp on your ticket. Failure to do so will result, if you are asked to produce a non-validated ticket, of a fine from the conductor.)
For travel in between the villages, an efficient train system with the caveat of 'the Italian time' exists but in my opinion hiking is the best way to see this virgin beauty.
One is required to pay to walk the trails in the Cinque Terre. Manned booths are set up on the trail outside of each Cinque Terre town. There are two options available:
If you plan to use the trains and the trails, buy the Cinque Terre Card at the train station. This is a one day card that covers unlimited train rides between Levanto and La Spezia (including all the Cinque Terre towns) as well as use of the walking trails. Show your Cinque Terre Card at the booths on the trail. Don't forget to validate the card in one of the stamping machines at the train station before using it.
If you are not going to use the trains, you only need buy the trail pass. You can buy this on the trail at the first booth you see.
Best Time of the Year and Duration for Exploring Cinque Terre?
The best time to visit Cinque Terre, depends on the traveller's preference. Most travellers obviously visit in late spring or early fall to get the best weather to witness the unique spectacle of magic scenery with villages clinging to the beetling limestone mountain and for swimming and lounging on Prussian-blue water beach.
There are many who would suggest Cinque Terre to be a day's trip from Florence but if you ask me the five tiny colourful, old-world villages, hidden away and unhindered by modern intrusions, nestled on jagged cliffs and towering over sparkling teal waters, need to be felt rather than seen.
Below are my takeaways from the five villages, what to eat, where to stay and how to explore the 'Five Lands'.
Riomaggiore - Best for Sea Views
45 minutes on a train from La Spezia towards Liguria Region will bring you to the first village of the 'Five Lands' - Riomaggiore. Fishing boats resting on cobble stoned streets, narrow lanes with cooling shadows, and persisting murmur of the sea, welcome you to the smallest of the Five Lands.
This quaint village has just one main street, which follows the original water source coming down from the mountain. Shops selling seafood on sticks or clothing with a nautical theme line the street. Splashes of colour, which define Cinque Terre, appear: pink, yellow or orange buildings with dark green window shutters; on sunny days, the locals hang their washing out above the streets for all to see. The main town is divided into 3 parts, the railway station (from which the famous Way of Love starts), the old town and the wharf (which has a mooring and a small rocky beach).
Shortest and simplest tourist walking trail in Cinque Terre, connecting two villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. The path length of 900m can be covered in roughly 15-30 minutes, depending on the individual's pace.
There are two paths in this trail which move towards opposite directions but intersect again a little far from the Montenero Sanctuary. The path length is of 3 kms and can be covered in roughly 1-1.20 hours.
One of the most popular long routes amongst tourists. Large section of the path runs not far from the sea and crosses several small paths leading to nearby villages and beaches. The path length is 12 kms and can be covered in roughly 5 hours.
Riomaggiore is a lovely little town with stunning views of the Ligurian Sea. There are not any major 'touristy' attractions but there are a number of photographic spots, trails and hikes, decent swimming spots in the pebbly beach and abundant local variety of food and wine.
The no-reservations, cafeteria-style procedure requires waiting in line to order. Once seated, however, one surrenders to the captivating surroundings. The best ordered delights include basic salads, anchovies, salume, cheese and meat along with local wines such as Riomaggiore's own Prima Terra, Walter de Batté and Campo Grande.
You can't go wrong at Enoteca Dau Cila, which boasts dishes made from locally sourced ingredients like their fish, lemons, homemade pasta and herbs. Inspired by traditional Mediterranean cuisine, Dau Cila offers guests a range of typical seafood and meat dishes. Located right along the harbor side, this charming restaurant boasts both spectacular dishes (don't miss the lobster gnocchi!) and beautiful by-the-water views.
The other options for authentic local Cinque Terre food are Grottino on Via Colombo, Ripa Del Sole at Via De Gasperi and Cappun Magro.
If you plan to make the first village itself your base, then the options can be many but be prepared for nothing too fancy. La Dolce Vita , is a great bargain for the price, location and service.
Manarola - Best for Terrace Trails
Brightly coloured houses wedged above the tiny harbour with terraced vineyards hewn from the cliffs behind it, is the first glimpse of Manarola. Only 500 meters away from Riomaggiore, Manarola boasts of highest number of grapevines in Cinque Terre. It's also awash with priceless medieval relics, supporting claims that it is the oldest of the five.
Manarola is famous for holding the biggest nativity scenes in the world in winter and San Lorenzo feast in August.
The famous Via dell'Amore, 'Lover's Lane', starts at the railway station of Manarola with stairs. It is the most popular stretch of path of the Cinque Terre, excavated in hard rock, winds along the coast on rocks overhanging the sea.
At the end of the Via dell'Amore, going downstairs, you will arrive at the railway station of Riomaggiore. The path length is 1.5 kms and can be covered in roughly 30 minutes.
Manarola offers the best view of the Lingurian Sea amongst all the 5 villages. Soak the sun, cliff jump, swim through the serene waters and chat-up with a local to know the pleasure of doing 'Nothing'.
The touristy checks of Manarola are the Church of San Lorenzo, simple, austere and lovely, dedicated to:
They say there wouldn't be a Manarola if it was not for the Da Aristide family.
An old village house in bright modern marque terrace. The concoction of traditional cooking with the organic Italian herbs is a speciality of the place. The food that I recommend here is the the antipasti sampler, pastas including handmade short tagliatelle with scampi and the signature house-made taglierini alla, billy with shrimp, peppers, pine nuts and tomatoes, stuffed mussels and a fritto misto with a glass (or two) of the famous Sciacchetrà wine, the local of Manarola.
Nessun Dorma offers customers a Mediterranean cuisine rich in garlic bread, bruschetta and antipasti, which is all made with only local produce, cold cuts and cheeses, salads, and fresh fruit. With an extensive wine collection and a variety of craft beers, this dining locale also has a spectacular view of the town below. 'Nessun Dorma', which translates as "no one sleeps," prides itself on being always open. Yes - that's right, this beautiful restaurant with delicious food never closes, so enjoy!
Trattoria Dal Billy is not to be missed, especially if passing through Manarola. This trattoria prides itself on the longstanding fisherman tradition that is so central to the towns of Cinque Terre. Whether you order their salted anchovy appetizer or their squid ink pasta with seafood and their freshly caught fish off the coast, this seaside dining spot is the perfect place to end a day of traveling. For dessert, try their Cake Caprese, a chocolate and almond cake.
In close vicinity of the centre is 5 Terre Pelagos , a home created for the ones who value beauty, culture and serenity. It's fancy as well as warm and cosy.
Corniglia - Best for Keen Hikers
The village of Corniglia occupies the high ground above a stunning headland on the coast of the Cinque Terre. Unlike the other villages along the coast, this one surmounts the sea and clings to the rocks above. Its position offers incredible views and it seems somehow appropriate that the middle village of the five villages along this coastline would be situated on a high promontory above the sea.
Corniglia is perched at the top of the hillside and once arriving at the train station visitors are presented with a few options for getting there.
The stretch between Corniglia and Manarola is one of the longest on the coast. Take the stairs (377 steps) down to the raiway station of Corniglia and continue the path following the railway lines. The path continues almost flatly and you will reach the bungalows of the Holiday Village Europa, a bar and a beach with rocks which invite you to have a bath. Once arrived at the characteristic cemetery follow the path and you will reach the picnic area from where you have a wonderful view over the houses and the wonderful port of Manarola. A tunnel will lead you to the railway station. The path stretch is for 3 kms and can be covered in 1 hour.
Keep in mind, also, that there are stretches of the hiking trails that offer no bannister and drop precipitously to the sea.
This is the second section of the Blue Path. It connects the railway station of Corniglia with Manarola. For reaching the station from Corniglia you need to descend 382 steps staircase; it is much easier and more pleasant to descend than ascend it. The path stretches for 2 kms and can be covered in 1 hour.
The path is laid through forest. From here you get a very beautiful panoramic view overlooking the Cinque Terre Riviera, Corniglia and a small hamlet San Bernardino seen on the top of a rock. You can reach famous beach of Guvano from here. The path is of 3.2 kms stretch and can be covered in 1.5 hours.
It is the only town that does not have a seaport and thus exploring is restricted to walking and hiking. But there are a number of touristy things one can see:
A big beautiful church in gothic Ligurian style. It was built in 1334. While the chapel was built before 1000, unfortunately, the exact date is unknown.
The chapel is located in the central square of Corniglia; it was built in the XVIII century. On this square, there is a Monument to those who fell in Corniglia in 1926. Behind the chapel there is a very spacious terrace with a good view over the entire Riviera.
In the past, a castle with huge tower stood here. Unfortunately, not much is left except some ruins near the cemetery.
A very beautiful beach between two villages: Corniglia and Vernazza.
The tiny, 20-seat restaurant emits Old World ambience juxtaposed against just the right amount of kitschy objects to charm. The menu includes testaroli with pesto, pansotti with walnut sauce and Ligurian-style rabbit, while the day's catches may include grilled octopus, frutti di mare taglierini and mussels marinara.
Just know that when you reach the quaint town of Corniglia, you'll have a treat at this gelateria! All flavors are made by the owner himself & he has a good selection which makes Alberta the best Gelateria in the entire Cinque Terre.
While there aren't many restaurants in the small town of Corniglia, you're almost guaranteed to find an excellent meal wherever you go. Il Pirun is a small, slightly hidden enoteca that serves delicious, local fare with dishes such as fried anchovies, gnocchi con pesto, paccherri pasta with shrimp and zucchini, spaghetti and mussels - and, of course, an abundance of Italian wines. Try pairing your dish with a local white or the Sangiovese.
Corniglia does not have any hotels, thus the best accommodations are through AirBnb or homestay.
Vernazza - Best for Foodies
Veranazza , possibly the smallest of the villages, rises from the sea, a fortress of multicoloured buildings. The main goings-on happen mainly around its horseshoe-shaped harbour. Narrow alleys, called caruggi, branch out from both sides of via Roma. These caruggi take you back and up into the stacked homes of Vernazza.
The flash floods of 2011 had hit Vernazza the most. The people of Vernazza are working hard to reclaim their town. Each day we visited there was something new. I have no doubt that Vernazza will one day soon be returned to its full glory. Even the way it was, I think Vernazza was my favorite.
The path is laid through forest. You get a beautiful view over the Cinque Terre Riviera and Corniglia. This path leads to the famous beach of Guvano. The stretch is 3.2 kms long and can be covered in 1.50 hours.
Of the whole Blue Path, this section is the most difficult, but even children can pass through it easily. Almost in the very beginning you come across a beautiful glade, where all tourists stop to take pictures on Vernazza background; it is a very comfortable and beautiful place. The stretch is 3.3 kms in length and can be covered in 2 hours.
Apart from other interesting paths, the other two interesting paths are: (1) Leading to the Sanctuary of Reggio, and to Levanto and path (2) Connecting Vernazza with San Bernardino, where Our Lady of the Graces temple is located. The stretch is 2 and 2.2 kms respectively and can be covered in approximately 1 hour each.
Most of the people who have been flocking to the pretty town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre for decades do so because of the famous hike that connects Vernazza with other towns along the coast.
By many accounts, Vernazza has the prettiest harbor of all the Cinque Terre towns. The beach in Vernazza has the benefit of being entirely public, so there aren't any umbrellas or beach chairs set up that you'd have to rent. You just need to find an available spot on the beach, put down a towel, and enjoy the sun and sea.
The church was built in the XI-XII centuries; the exact date is unknown. Architectural style: Roman (in 1750 it was changed to baroque, and in 1970, after one major renovation, the original style was restored).
Built in the XVII century, it includes a quadrangular tower of the XVI century and remains one of the most ancient walls.
Opposite the Church of St. Margaret, there is an old building with narrow galleries. It is a traditional meeting place for the residents of Cinque Terre.
This temple was built in the XI century on the ruins of an ancient religious structure (proved by a preserved vault). Within the temple walls, a revered image of the Black Madonna's holy face is kept. Evergreen oaks and cypresses provide shade over the square decorated with fountains giving a magnificent view on Vernazza.
A very small hamlet not far from Vernazza, gives a very beautiful panoramic view on Vernazza, Corniglia and Guvano beach. Also, it has a sanctuary belonging to Corniglia.
The only village with an open piazza overlooking the sea, Vernazza is a bustling spot and perfect for a lunchtime stop. The piazza houses a number of eateries with the best seats under the colourful umbrellas facing the waters.
Offering visitors a slice of Sicily, Il Pirata is run by two Sicilian brothers, Gianluca and Massimo. You can expect both sweets and savory dishes here. Whether it's for breakfast, lunch or dinner, it's sure to be authentic and delicious: think homemade pastries, cream-filled croissants, panzerotti with ricotta, and millefeuille with chantilly cream. If you're craving savory dishes, Il Pirata serves up bruschetta with pesto, baked calzoni, sausage rolls, arancini, panini and many other baked specialties.
Belforte boasts dishes with Ligurian flavors made with simple, fresh ingredients. Dine indoors or on the outdoor terrace, where you'll have a gorgeous view of the coastline overlooking Monterosso. The menu is extensive, with options like tagliolini with cuttlefish, shrimp and seaweed, scallops with lemon, or soup 'Michela' with mixed seafood such as mussels and shellfish in a tomato broth. End the night with some fresh gelato or a tiramisu, and you're sure to go home happy.
The 'Street of Love' - what more appropriate name could this stretch of the pathway between Riomaggiore and Monterosso have? Relatively flat and easy to walk, this is the most traveled section of the hiking trails that connect all five of the fishing villages along the Cinque Terre. From sculptures that portray vision of love to the padlocks of lovers who close their personalized lock on a fishing net then fling the key into the sea, this is a beautiful section of the coast.
It is a family run affair (opened in 1966) serving hearty plates of fresh pesto made with the local pasta shape, trofie, and succulent seafood linguine with fresh mussels, prawns and clams pulled from the sea that morning. The anchovy's starters are also recommended all washed down with the local vermentino wine.
Francamaria Rooms is placed just in the main plaza of this town, the famous Piazza Marconi, in the central red building names "Isolotto", like an island in the town, for its central position. Francamaria offers rustic-style rooms set in different buildings in Piazza Marconi square, some overlook the harbour and beach. Situated in the historical centre of Vernazza, this property is ideal for visiting the surrounding Cinque Terre territory.
Monterosso al Mare - Best for Shopping
Monterosso al Mare is the fifth and the last of the five towns. It is divided into old town and new town by a tunnel. The old side and the Fegina side where the big beaches are in the old side. Moreover, the old side is charming, and composed of old buildings with a maze of narrow alleys (caruggi) where you'll find shops, most of the hotels, eateries, and restaurants. In the new town you'll find the popular umbrella-lined beach, promenade, and a few hotels and restaurants.
The train station is exactly mid-way between the two sides. Walking from one side to the other takes approx. 5 minutes. You'll find markets in both sides of the village as well as bars and restaurants. It's the only village with a big parking area.
This part is the most difficult part of the Blue Path, but can easily be passed even by children. Negotiating this path from Monterosso is much more difficult than the return. At the very beginning the path has a steep slope, so save your energy. Path length is of 3.3 km and can be covered in 2 hours.
A very popular path among tourists. It is the shortest way to reach San Antonio Monastery situated on the very beautiful Cape of Mesco, which gives an awesome panoramic view over the entire Cinque Terre. Path length of 2.2 km can be covered in 1.20 hours.
This trail onnects Monterosso with its Sanctuary of 'Soviore', as well as the path towards Portovenere. The trail length is of 2 kms and can be covered in 1.10 hours.
The Church was built in the XIII-XIV centuries, and it is situated in the old part of the town, not far from the sea. Architectural style: gothic.
Near the Church of St. John the Baptist, there is the Chapel of Mortis et Orationis. Its name stands for 'Death and Prayer'.
The Church of San Francesco together with the Cappuccini Monastery was built during 1619-1622. They are situated on the top of the hill that separates the old part of the town from the new one (San Cristoforo Hill).
In the past, Monterosso was guarded very well: there were thirteen towers, but only three are left as of today, and one of them is the Aurora Tower; next to it, on San Cristoforo Hill, there was a castle, and there was the Monastery of San Antonio al Mesco as well. Unfortunately, nothing is left now. The tower was built in the XVI century and it is currently used as a private house.
On the outskirts of the new town in Monterosso, on Fegina beach, there is a gigantic statue: famous sculptor Arrigo Minerbi and engineer Levacher built it in 1910. The statue depicts Neptune carrying a gigantic seashell. The statue weighs about 1700 tons, and is 14 meters high. The sculpture was heavily damaged during World War II and by a severe storm in 1966.
It is the most ancient Temple in Liguria, which was first documented in 1225 and, probably, it dates to the time of Rotary invasion. The Temple of the Madonna of Soviore, the Mistress of the sea and patroness of seafarers, consists of a church, a shelter and a bell tower. The structures were extended in the XVII century, but restauration is still in progress.
Monterosso is the only one of the five towns that has a proper beach and it is a huge beach. If you want to sunbathe on the beach you can hire one of the many sun lounges and parasols as well as a small changing hut and a shower for a couple of euros. Be aware that this is a popular beach destination for many visitors so if you are visiting in the summer months you will find that the beach gets very crowded.
One of the best ways to see the towns of the Cinque Terre is to take a ferry trip to the four villages with access to the water. Leaving from Monterosso you can visit Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore. This is a great thing to do when you first get to the Cinque Terre so you can get an overall view of the different villages. The only village that isn't accessible by water is Corniglia which is located at the top of a hill. You can also board the boat from the other villages. The ferry runs from Easter through October or later if the weather is warm and dry. Schedules are posted at various points around the villages and information can be obtained at the information offices located near the train stations in each of the villages of the Cinque Terre.
Ristorante Milky knows how to serve excellent food, with fresh seafood and pasta dishes (like the cappellini with tomatoes, olives and local fish baked in a puff-pastry shell). The wine selection is extensive, and you can expect every meal to be beautifully presented.
San Martino prides itself on authentic, genuine Italian cuisine. You'll find pasta dishes such as trofie with pesto, carbonara and seafood pasta to warm your heart and stomach. Their fresh fish options, which change daily, could be anything from poached salmon in a white wine sauce, to swordfish with pasta. Always fresh and consistently prepared with high standards, San Martino's food is a must.
Cantina du Sciacchetra arguably makes the best lemoncino in town - the local digestive, and a relation to limoncello made in the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. Lorenzo, the proprietor of the Cantina, has lived in Monterosso since 1964 and is proud of his produce, which doesn't stop at lemon. Pop in to try orange, mandarin and even strawberry liquors (the latter which Lorenzo calls Viagra, as it gets anyone going!).
A more upscale option with seaside terrace and access to a private beach, Hotel Baia is located at Lungomare Fegina 88, just down the road from Pensione Agavi in the New Town. With its nice stretch of beach, a bustling New Town, a quaint and picturesque Baia is a great base for your stay in Italy's Cinque Terre.
The location is perfect if you are planning to venture to the other towns. the service was excellent. It is not a luxurious property,but is clean, beautiful and feels like home!
The exterior of this incredible boutique-y hotel fits in perfectly with the old-side-of-town vibe. Inside, a completely different story: rooms have been beautifully renovated, and feel modern and new. The bathrooms are sleek and well stocked and the so-close-you-can-almost-touch-it post-cardesque view of the Ligurian Sea and Mediterranean coastline is breathtaking.
A regularly scheduled boat trip makes it possible to admire the whole Cinque Terre coastline along with other nearby places and allows you to move from one village to the next. The service is not provided in wintertime, for further information on timetables and connections you may visit the Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti web site. In winter you can rent private boats.
What and Where to Shop?
Thus, the locally produced wines, pesto and olive oils, as well as the folk art works, stand out as a height of the regional shopping opportunities. Monterosso al Mare is where shopping in Cinque Terre is the most rewarding.
Vineria U Pussu is a venue not to be missed out by the dainty feeders who want to sample what is truly and genuinely specific about the local gastronomic and oenological offer. Ranging from exquisite wines to salted anchovies, the products proudly showcased by Vineria U Pussu entice visitors to delight into the most mouthwatering pursuit.
- Cantina Cinque Terre / Societa Agricola Cooperativa Located in the southernmost resort in Cinque Terre, namely, in Riomaggiore, Cantina Cinque Terre is a definite stop on the gastronomic tour of the region. It gathers all the specific flavors of the region, tempting tourists with the historical wines and the traditional olive oils and salted anchovies. A dreamlike place for visitors never tired of new gastronomic and oenological experiences.