"Paradise on earth," was the term Lord Byron, one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era, used to describe the five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre. Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore Are, as it were, glued to the steep, rocky shore in the north of the bay La Spezia, creating dramatic scenery along with the turquoise waters. The landscape of the Cinque Terre, which once climbs up the rocks leading to colorful towns and once abruptly descends towards tiny coves, is breathtaking. Since Byron's time, this charming corner has lost none of its stunning beauty.
Cinque Terre is located in Liguria, the northwestern region Italy in the province of La Spezia. The remarkable area, which combines natural attractions and architectural pearls, is protected as a Cinque Terre National Park. An area of nearly 10 kilometers of coastline hides dozens of scenic paths, centuries-old churches and picturesque beaches. So if we like trekking, rewarding the trek with some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, or want to drink a glass of Italian wine in restaurants with spectacular views, Cinque Terre is a dream destination just for us! Enjoy reading our guide to Cinque Terre!
History of Cinque Terre
The towns collectively known as Cinque Terre boast centuries of history. And just as they are visited by tourists today, pirates once enjoyed visiting this picturesque corner.
The first settlers begin to arrive in the area of today's "Five Lands" from the hinterland, seeking suitable conditions for growing olives and vines. In time, the agricultural population also begins to engage in fishing. During the medieval period, developing towns put up churches and the first fortifications.
This is a turbulent period of Turkish pirate attacks and the development of a system of defense towers and fortifications to protect the population from sea robbers.
The 17th century is a period of decline for towns devastated by constant attacks from the sea.
A railroad is brought to Cinque Terre. From this moment begins the revival of the ruined settlements and, in time, the tourist fascination of the place, which continues to this day.
In 1997. Cinque Terre accesses the honor of being included in the UNESCO list (along with Porto Venere and several offshore islands). In 1999, in order to protect the natural values and the effects of centuries of human settlement, a decision is made to The establishment of the Cinque Terre National Park.
Trekking - routes
Cinque Terre is a true paradise for hikers. Breathtaking views can be enjoyed by choosing one of three basic trekking options: undemanding Azure Path 12 km in length, The Way of the Saints or the most demanding High Path With a length of 40 km. In fact, there are many more trekking opportunities. The routes shown here are the most important routes for hiking.
Azure Path, is the closest route to the sea, the easiest and therefore the most popular. It is made up of four sections, connecting all the "terre". Note, currently a section of the Manarola - Riomaggiore section, the so-called Via dell Amore is partially closed, following a rock slide. There is a fee to enter the path. The price, depending on the availability of the sections, varies between €5 and €7.
High Path constitutes a more extensive route, running through the hilltops of the Cinque Terre National Park, connecting Portovenere with Levanto. Its total length is about 40 km and can be divided into 5 stages: Fort Muzzerone, Telegrafo Hills - Cigoletta, Cigoletta - Termine, Termine - Mesco Headland, Mesco Headland - Levanto.
The Way of the Saints
The third of the paths mentioned, called The Way of the Saints has a total length of 8 km and is an ideal route for a bicycle or stroller. This interesting route connects the churches of Riomaggiore "Montenero" and Manaroli "Salute", providing the opportunity to do a "loop". Like the High Path, the "Way of the Saints" does not require an entrance fee.
Cinque Terre Card
Speaking of entrance tickets, it's impossible to ignore the possibility of purchasing a Cinque Terre Card. The tourist card currently costs €7.50 in a version that includes use of electric buses between the attractions of the "Five Lands," entrance to the Azure Path, admission to some museums and access to wi-fi. The Cinque Terre Card in the variant extended to include unlimited train rides between La Spezia and Levanto costs €18.20 (February 2022). Children, families and seniors can expect discounts on purchase. The right place to purchase the card is the regional railroad stations, tourist information centers, toll stations for sections of the Azure Path.
How to get to Cinque Terre?
The towns can be reached by your own car or by taking the Italian railroad. A cruise ferry option is also available, arriving at the Cinque Terre marina.
Getting there by train
The most convenient means of transportation to reach Cinque Terre is by train. Five towns are located on the Genoa - La Spezia train route. It is best to start the journey in Genoa or Pisa. There is a direct train from Genoa to Cinque Terre, access from Pisa requires a change in La Spezia. It is worth mentioning that trains run on average every half hour, and in high season (late March - early November) thanks to additional trains "Cinque Terre Express" (La Spezia-Levanto) even more frequently. Current schedule can be found at this address. Currently, the cost of a single ride is an expense of EUR 4.00.
The regional railroad is a good option not only for getting to Cinque Terre, but also for moving between towns. We can use a mixed form of sightseeing and cover some sections by rail, and use trekking routes on others.
Access by car
Those who favor access by car may be a bit disappointed, as cars are prohibited in the towns. Designated parking lots are located outside the towns, they are expensive and in high season very crowded. For this reason, if we do not need to take a car, it is better to choose a train that takes tourists to each of the charming settlements.
Ferry to Cinque Terre
Another alternative to land transportation is the ferry, which runs between La Spezia and Levanto. Ferry stops are located in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso. The ferry does not arrive in Corniglia. The sea service is available from the end of March to the end of October and is an interesting way to see the Cinque Terre from a different perspective.
Sightseeing in the towns of Cinque Terre
The Ligurian coast is shaped like a boomerang, with five ancient fishing settlements scattered along it, "five lands", each of which is amazing and unique, so when planning a visit it is not worth giving up on any of them. The settlements are connected by footpaths, railroads and partially by ferry. So what does each town have to offer? And which of them will impress us the most?
Monterosso al Mare
The full name of the first of the Cinque Terre towns is Monterosso al Mare. In addition to being the largest, it stands out from the others in that it has several sandy beaches. The town, surrounded by hills covered with vines, olive and lemon groves, is the quintessential Mediterranean landscape. Lemons, for the rest, have an important function in the town - it is said that the tradition of making the famous limoncello liquor originated in this area. What's more, the sour fruit has even lived to see its own holiday. Sagra dei limoni is held every third Saturday in May. Culinarily, Monterosso is also famous for its delicious anchovies, cooked in wine, which we can enjoy in one of the atmospheric local restaurants.
In addition to beach relaxation and culinary delights, Monterosso has some intervening architectural sights to offer, such as the Church of St. John the Baptist dating back to 1200, with a bell tower that was once one of 13 watchtowers, the mysterious Mortis et Orationis Chapel and the Olrzym Tower, representing the sea god Neptune. It is also worth climbing the hill of San Cristoforo, on which stands the Church of St. Francis. At the church you will find a statue of the saint with a wolf - this is the place with the most magnificent panorama of the bay.
Vernazza is another town of the national park, located on a rocky promontory flanked on three sides by the sea. Its spectacular location is as remarkable as the historically valuable monuments that make up its structure. Certainly noteworthy is the oldest building in the city - the Romanesque Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, the slightly later Church of St. Francis or the so-called "palace with galleries", where autochthons like to gather on various occasions. The attention of tourists will also not escape the attention of the castle of A. Dori with the famous Belforte tower, which is the hallmark of the settlement.
It is interesting to note that the famous Disney/Pixar children's film studio was inspired by the picturesque Vernazza to create the 2021 animation "Luca."
Corniglia is the only "terre" that does not have a ferry landing, and to get to the town from the train stop requires tourists to take some trouble (climbing steep stairs, or changing to an electric bus). These two factors translate into the number of tourists in the town and the most peaceful atmosphere. On top of that, in Corniglia you can observe the daily life of the local population, more absorbed in tending the vines and olive trees than in the presence of tourists.
Situated at an altitude of 100 meters above sea level, the settlement will therefore appeal to those who appreciate fewer travelers encountered during their visit. Here, too, we have the best chance for authentic interaction with the townspeople. If, of course, we are not completely absorbed by the sweeping panorama of a sizable part of Cinque Terra, taking photos and visiting the sacred monuments native to the Middle Ages - St. Peter's Church or St. Catherine's Flagellant Chapel.
Manarola spreads out over two steep slopes, jutting out just above the waters of the Ligurian Sea. While here, the 14th-century Church of St. Lawrence, with its famous rosette on the facade, made of white Carrara marble, is worth a look. Other architectural peculiarities of the town include the ruins of a 13th-century fortress, a historic mill with a wheel, and the San Rocco Hospital. A descent down towards the bay, meanwhile, will end with the discovery of a small but extremely charming harbor.
Every year from December 8 to the end of January in Monaroli you can see the world's largest Christmas Crib, which consists of 300 life-size figures and countless colorful lights. While in town, it's worth stopping by for a drink or a snack at the Nessun Dorma bar. It probably never happened to us to sit in a pub with such a view, which, in addition, offers fair (for Cinue Terre) prices.
The insanely scenic and accessible Via dell Amore path takes its start in Manarola. The pedestrian path used to connect Manarola with Riomaggiore. Currently, it is being repaired after a landslide in 2012. Local authorities declare their intention to reopen it as early as 2023. Please note that due to the ongoing works, it is currently not possible to trek between Manarola and Riomaggiore!
Riomaggiore is slightly different from the others. Perhaps because it was founded by Greeks fleeing the gallows, and not, like the other "lands", by local Romans? There have been houses in this settlement for centuries, with additional exits on the top floor, at the back of the buildings, by which the residents evacuated during an attack from the sea. In the fisherman's quarter you can find local men having endless Italian discussions in the shade of green shutters.
Architecture lovers will probably be interested in the Church of St. John the Baptist, which has a marble rosette similar to the one in the Church of St. Lawrence in Manarola, and take a look at the cultural center, which has served a wide variety of functions, from a defensive castle to a Napoleonic cemetery. Let's not give up on a walk to the tiny pebbly beach, either!
The biggest attraction of the area is, of course, the towns that make up the "Five Lands." Architectural monuments in the form of historic churches, monuments and colorful antique houses look very attractive against the backdrop of Mediterranean nature and azure waters of the bays. Breathtaking views of multicolored buildings perched on small rock walls against which the sea waves crash make you wonder whether something so beautiful is a real panorama or a painting on canvas. It's worth taking an unhurried stroll through the charming streets, climbing the hills exposing spectacular views, finding paths leading to pretty little beaches and then sitting down at a restaurant table (necessarily outdoors and with a beautiful view) to enjoy the delicacies of Italian cuisine, excellent wine and romantic landscapes. On hot days, don't forget that Italy is also famous for the most delicious ice cream in the world!
For those who will be short on adrenaline, a ferry ride, trekking along more challenging routes between towns and even scuba diving, allowing you to see the coral reef, can be recommended. When arriving with your other half, take a romantic stroll along the active section of the Via dell Amore to tie a padlock here, according to Italian tradition, meant to symbolize the indissolubility of the relationship. If we have some time left, we can take a look at the equally picturesque Portovenere when visiting these parts.
The beaches of Cinque Terre are mostly rocky, which does not prevent tourists from relaxing on them. Instead, the water is crystal clear, which encourages sea bathing. If you have not arrived in the "Five Lands" area by ferry, going down to the beaches is mandatory due to the different perspective from which you will see the settlements. And it must be admitted that seen from sea level they are really impressive! In addition, there are recommendable diving centers in Monterosso and Riomaggiore, which encourage you to look into the depths of the Ligurian Sea.
Those setting their sights on the beach should choose Monterosso. The town boasts the largest beaches in the entire Cinque Terre, which have adequate infrastructure for those willing to sunbathe. In addition, sunbeds and umbrellas are available for a fee. Besides, there is no charge for just entering each beach.
Accommodation - where to sleep in Cinque Terre?
The largest and most exclusive accommodations are offered in Monterosso. Accommodations in each of the "five lands" are expensive, much higher than elsewhere in already not-so-expensive Italy. Undoubtedly, staying in the towns provides a one-of-a-kind experience, but given that trains arrive from early morning practically until midnight, even staying overnight outside the Cinque Terre you can see the local sunrises and sunsets and feel the atmosphere of the lively evening pubs.
And this variant of accommodation outside the Cinque Terre is definitely worth recommending, as it allows you to save a considerable sum. Deciding on a hotel outside the "Terre", for example, in Levanto or La Spezia will leave us in our wallet even about 30,00 EUR for each night, and when we decide to stay in a campground, we can save even more.