Last June I arrived for the first time in Cinque Terre and generally liked my experience. This summer, I arrived again and fell in love. Zoe, my college roommate, and I spent four days and three nights on the amazing coast of Liguria and vowed to return again next summer and every summer as long as we’re living in Europe. Read on to discover a little more about the amazing Italian Riviera, also known as the Ligurian Coast.
Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are the five colorful villages that make up Cinque Terre. They are connected by walking trails of the Cinque Terre national park as well as a regional train line. Cinque Terre is a draw for tourists of all types.
As I did last year, I stayed in La Spezia, a city that is a little larger and less tourist infested than the actual villages of Cinque Terre, but still quite close. Trains from all over Italy run straight to La Spezia Centrale, including Rome, Florence, and Bologna, so getting there is a breeze. Then, from La Spezia you can easily take regional trains into Cinque Terre. Or, if you’re taking your time and feeling adventurous, a ferry will take you all the way up the coast to the colorful villages. If you’re looking for somewhere a little cheaper, a little closer to more restaurants and shops and five minutes away from the train station and ferry port, I’d suggest staying here. Specifically, Lavanda Affititcamere, a small guest house located in the heart of La Spezia. It’s absolutely perfect and Carlotta, the owner makes sure you feel very welcome.
If you heed my advice and stay in La Spezia instead of the more expensive and tourist packed villages of Cinque Terre, you’ll find several positive points but one of the best is breakfast at Corbani, a tiny pasticeria in the center of town. We ate there every morning and every single pastry we tried was perfect. Plus, at €2.50 for a cappuccino and a pastry, you can’t beat that price. I promise, after the amazing and cheap coffee you’ll have in Italy, you’ll be very sad to return to the States and pay double for a sub-par latte. Italy will ruin you for coffee, but it’s worth ever delicious sip.
After breakfast… walk to the La Spezia Centrale and get a ticket for Cinque Terre from the Cinque Terre info point at the station.
Purchase the Cinque Terre card with Train access to easily jet between the villages if you aren’t keen on hiking the length of the Sentiero Azzurro. The card covers unlimited trains and makes it super easy for you to get to and from the villages and between the villages when you’re out there. Having this card makes life much easier than buying individual tickets and don’t try to skate on the five minute train ride between villages without a ticket. If you’re caught without a ticket it’ll cost you a steep 50 euros/person! If you don’t heed our advice though and find yourself running for the train without a ticket, find a worker AS SOON AS YOU BOARD and let them know. You’ll likely only pay the fee for the ticket and not the hefty fine.
The most well known of all the Cinque Terre trails, the Sentiero Azzurro or “Blue path” is 12 km long and spans all five villages. As this trail is part of the national park and often requires upkeep, you’ll have to pay a fee to access these trails. If you purchase the Cinque Terre card, you’ll be covered. Currently a small part of the trail (Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia) is closed due to landslides and the need for reconstruction. It is scheduled to reopen in 2021.
The second village from La Spezia is Manarola. This is my favorite of the five and is home to Nessun Dorma, the perfect place to stop for a cocktail. Better yet, stay a while and eat a delicious lunch of fruit, cheese, salami and bruschetta. Located on a cliffside and only about ten feet wide, this restaurant is probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. With completely outdoor seating, no matter where you sit, you have an amazing view of the village of Manarola and the bay below. It’s definitely one of the best ways you can spend a few hours. If you time it right, you might even get to see the sunset over the Mediterranean from your table.
I hope you fueled up on cheese and bread because the next village gets your heart pumping!
Corniglia is the smallest village in Cinque Terre and isn’t directly on the coast like the other four villages. Instead, to access this quaint, tiny village with a population of only 150, you’ll have to climb 382 steps or 33 flights of stairs. It’s quite a feat to climb all the steps but the reward is worth it. Maybe it’s the lack of multiple stores and restaurants or perhaps it’s the climb, but the village is nice and quiet. While you will, of course, find other tourists up there, it will be nothing like the throngs of people you’ll find lying on the beaches of Monterosso or lining the streets of Riomaggiore. Grab a gelato as a reward for your hike up the steps and stroll the narrow, mostly car-less streets to get a real feel of Ligurian life.
I wish I could tell you more about the other two villages but we didn’t spend much time there. It was hot, we were tired and just determined to make it to each village. I can tell you that Monterosso, the last of the five is the largest village and is the one with the largest beach and the most night life. It’s also likely the most crowded. But worth the journey anyway.
After a day strolling through the villages you’ll likely want to spend a relaxing day at the beach. Don’t head to and of the Cinque Terre beaches though if you want to relax.
Due to it’s intense popularity, you’ll likely have to fight for space on the small rocky beaches in Monterosso and your towel might even touch your neighbor’s. This is a definitely no go for this So Cal girl who grew up with unlimited beaches. We took advice from Carlotta and took a ferry south to Porto Venere. Then we took another small ferry out to Palmaria island where we spent a quiet day on the beach basically by ourselves. We had maybe four other people near us at one point and every once in a while people walked by on the trail above us. The turquoise blue water was cool but not cold and the blue sky was endless above us. While the beaches aren’t really sandy, the rocks are large enough that you can spread out a towel and lizard yourself in the sun after a nice refreshing dip. Make sure you stop by the Carrefour in La Spezia for snacks before you head to the ferry though because while Palmaria island has one restaurant, it’s expensive and not worth the money (according to our sources).
I think it’s really the life like a summer local lying on these rocks and soaking up the mediterranean sun that made me fall in absolute love with the Ligurian coast. I want to come back here every chance I get to swim in the water, drink aperol spritz under a starry sky and eat my weight in cheese pasta and gelato. Italy is the most amazing country I’ve been to, this place included. Do yourself a favor and ensure you carve out at least a few days for a voyage out to this beautiful coast. You’ll thank me. I promise.