The Cinque Terre, in case you haven’t heard, is a group of five beautiful villages on the Ligurian coast, perched above the sea, clinging to the rock. No cars are allowed, the views are breathtaking from every angle and they have some of the best hiking of the whole coast. I’ve wanted to visit for about as long as I can remember, but have always been put off by stories of hordes of tourists fighting for space in the streets, so in the spirit of every global disaster having a silver lining, we decided 2020 was our chance…
It takes about 3.5 hours to drive to the Cinque Terre from the Langhe. With the villages being car-free, parking is at something of a premium. There are small car parks on the edge of each village, where it costs about 25 Euros a day to leave your car. It is far from guaranteed there will be enough space though. Free parking might also be available on the roadside near to the entrance of the village, but check that you are definitely allowed to park there before abandoning your car for three days, or you might come back to a large pile of multe attached to your windscreen.
The other option is to park by the train station in La Spezia (paid and free spaces are available) and then jump on the train to your village of choice. This is undoubtedly quicker, and also takes away the will-we-won’t-we stress of trying to park at the village.
The Five Villages
Each of the villages has its own charm and they would all be lovely places to stay, but depending on what you are looking for, one may be more appropriate for you than another…
Riomaggiore is a decent-sized, quite lively village with a great view of the sunset and some good restaurants and bars. It also offers a great view of teh sunset from the rocks by the harbour.
Manarola is the smallest and quietest of the villages. It is beautiful, and in busier times may offer a nice respite from the crowds, but there is a rather limited choice of restaurants and bars.
Corniglia doesn’t have direct sea access from the centre of the village, as it’s a bit higher up than the others, but you can walk down to the sea fairly easily. The central street is really nice, if a little narrow, and there are loads of great little restaurants and bars to choose from.
Vernazza is a bit bigger than Corniglia and has loads of shops, restaurants and bars. It had a really nice buzz about it, much more so than Manarola. It also has a restaurant (La Torre) with one of the best views I’ve ever eaten in front of!
Monterosso looks and feels completely different to the others; It has a long beach, with the main drag of the town spread out along it. It’s lovely, but it doesn’t really feel like the Cinque Terre.
Moving between the villages by train couldn’t be any easier, and it’s pretty scenic too. Each village has a station and trains run every 20 minutes or so throughout the day. At night they are a little less regular but they keep running late enough to go for dinner in another village and still make it back. A single journey costs 4 euros, or you can buy a day pass for 8 euros which gets you unlimited journeys. There are small buses too, which are good if you want to get anywhere a bit higher up, but for most of your needs, the train should do the job.
One of the main reasons people flock to the Cinque Terre is the hiking. The Via dell’amore is a beautiful trail connecting all the villages, and there are plenty of tougher hikes going higher up into the hills too.
First things first, you need to buy a Cinque Terre Card to do any hiking, as the whole area is a National Park. It costs 8 euros a day and can be bought in tandem with the train pass. There are checkpoints at the start of every leg of the walk, so you won’t get far without it. You can buy your pass at the checkpoints or the train station.
When we visited (late summer 2020), the sections of the walk from Rionaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia were closed due to landslides. These are apparently the easiest sections. You can still walk from one village to the other, but you have to follow slightly tougher trails which go higher up into the hills.
The paths are not flat, paved walks. They are narrow, rocky and they climb up through the vineyards, across streams, with a lot of ups and downs. That said, they shouldn’t pose too many problems for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. A lot of stretches are too narrow for two people to pass, so be prepared to give way to people coming in the opposite direction.
Should I visit?
Yes, you absolutely should, so long as you enjoy hiking, breathtaking views and all things Italian. The villages themselves are beautiful, but the hiking paths offer the best views. You could quite easily hike between all five villages in a day, but what’s the rush… book a place to stay, do a bit of the hike each day, do some swimming and get stuck into some great Italian food. Then, come back to the Langhe and enjoy some even better food!!