Cinque Terre, directly translating to the five lands, describes the technicolour coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso located on the sparkling Italian Riviera.
You probably recognise the perfect Pinterest pictures that display a heaven on earth, with pastel coloured houses perched upon on a cliff, overlooking crystal clear turquoise water that looks oh-so inviting.
I checked these stunning islands out for myself, and believe me - they looked just as good as the pictures.
Here's my brief guide to the Cinque Terre famous five:
Where to stay
Don’t make the mistake of searching for accommodation in “Cinque Terre” because this isn’t just one place, but five separate villages.
Staying within one of the five towns is quite expensive and offers limited options and availability during the peak summer months.
Staying in the nearby town of La Spezia is the best, most affordable option for accommodation, and offers a variety of cheap hostels and hotels.
The town has a great bustling atmosphere, shopping and wider variety of restaurants and food options. During the mornings I visited a local farmers market in the heart of La Spezia and stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables (they also have clothing markets on Fridays).
How to get there:
Cinque Terre is a natural park and protected waterway listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, therefore there is no car access inside the five villages.
To access Cinque Terre and travel between the five towns you need to catch the local train from La Spezia, called the Cinque Terre Express. At the station you can purchase a one-three day pass called the Cinque Terre Card (ranging from €16-41) that includes unlimited train and bus travel between towns as well as access to all the hiking trails and free wifi connection.
A ferry also leaves from La Spezia that takes you between the five towns, however is a bit more pricey.
- Research the train timetable online before leaving, because transport timing depends on the time and day of the week, and sometimes may only run every hour.
- Arrive earlier on the day of purchasing your train pass because the ticket office often has long lines.
- Also make sure to validate your pass by inserting it at the ticket machines on your first day of travel, or you could risk a fine!
Riomaggiore is the closest town by train from La Spezia, and is one of the most photogenic and romantic spots I’ve ever seen. Head down the stairs from the train station through the tight alleyways until you reach the water, where you can take in the priceless views of the colourful coastal houses that are fit for a postcard.
For the Instagram money shot, the view is best appreciated at sunset – or you can hire a boat to see the whole town from a distance on the water. If you follow the path around to the left from the viewing platform, you will stumble across a cute pebbled beach with amazing cliff views and vibrant turquoise water.
Next to the cliff viewing point you’ll find the best local gelato shop, that has homemade authentic flavours.
Here’s a little gelato tip:
to get the real-deal good quality stuff make sure your buying gelato from the containers with metal tins, which may also have lids on them. These are often denser in texture with a higher proportion of natural ingredients and less added colouring.
Other places often serve from plastic containers that draw in customers with bright colours and fancy toppings, often rich in emulsifiers that makes the gelato pile up high without melting.
The next town across is Manarola, surrounded by grapevines and a waterfront lined with a cascade of pastel coloured houses perched upon the cliff.
Bring your towel and a book and set up camp to sunbake on the rocks of the harbor like the locals do. The bay makes for a perfect swim spot with little cliffs to jump off for fun.
A short uphill hike will lead you to a killer cocktail spot with a killer view to match, called Nessun Dorma. My favourite on the menu is the pesto bruschetta and a frozen strawberry daiquiri, well deserved after all the stairs through the towns.
Cinque Terre is the birthplace of basil and is the ultimate pesto paradise. Pick up a jar of freshly made pesto in one of the towns, and make sure to try the focaccia and farinata breads that still make my mouth water just thinking about.
Pack your comfortable walking shoes for this village, as Corniglia sits high atop a cliff which requires many stairs to reach from the train station.
This charming town is the smallest of the five and is less touristy because there is no direct beach access. Through the town’s little laneways you can find bakeries, restaurants and award winning gelato shops. Corniglia is the only place to photograph all five villages at once.
If you have time up your sleeve and can bear the summer heat, you can hike between the towns on the walking trails. These are also suited to beginners and lazy hikers like me.
Vernazza is yet another picture perfect place with a maze of stairs, tiny terraces and brightly coloured houses. Kick back at a waterside restaurant and enjoy an Aperol Spritz with a view, and indulge in some great Italian pizza and pasta carbs for all the swimming and walking you’ve done. The seafood is oh-so-fresh and is a must try in Cinque Terre!
An epic lookout point over the vibrant Vernazza below can be found in the first 15 minutes of the walking trail towards Monterosso. To access these paths you will need to show your Cinque Terre transport card.
After getting sweaty hiking up to the Vernazza view point, you can continue following the walking trail or catch the train into Monterosso for a swim.
Monterroso is the largest of the five towns and is well-known for its stretch of colourful umbrellas across the waterfront.
The majority of the beach stretch is privately owned by resorts and umbrella lounge chairs if you’re wanting a comfy place to tan and willing to splurge €15.
Coming from Australia where the beaches are sandy and free, you’ll never catch me paying for a beach sunbed, however there is still free public beach access where you can find a spot on the pebbles to lay your towel and swim.
Cinque Terre really is the place to slow down, relax and spend your days by the water or kicking back at a restaurant indulging in the local cuisine. Excuse me while I run away to Italy forever.