Europe Travels

Big dreams start in small places

Cinque Terre meaning ‘Five Lands’ are five little towns of the Italian Riviera, that maintain the charm and character of Italian villages of the past.

Cinque Terre National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 1997.

Historically, the villages were walled to protect against attacks from the sea, because this area of the coast was often attacked by pirates.

This constructed fishing villages can bolster the most jaded of spirits.

Sinuous paths traverse seemingly impregnable cliffsides, while a 19th-century railway line cut through a series of coastal tunnels ferries the footsore from village to village.

The tiny harbors features boat ramps, picturesque buildings tripping down the ravine and the town’s swimming hole. Although there is mostly no real beach here, it has some of the best deep-water swimming around and you can climb up the rocks and dive in if you love a little adventuresome swimming.

The Cinque Terre is a destination with timeless appeal, and it’s impossible to do it justice in a day trip. It really is the kind of place that rewards taking it slow, I suggest to spend about 3-7 days to get lost in those pictures towns.

With last minute plans to visit, I had no time to research the best hotels to stay in. So I decided to book an apartment on Airbnb and was totally worth it: waking up every single morning with the dawn which makes the colored houses even more colorful. If you decided to go there during the high season (summer) and you could not find where to stay because it’s fully booked everywhere, don’t panic, you can always search something in  La Spezia, that is not so far from there (15 minutes by train).

About the villages

Monterosso al mare, is the most popular town, the first one you can reach from Genova, it has the best beaches of the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza, is my favorite town. Its a natural pier with an amphitheatre shape making it perhaps the most picturesque village (and harbour) of the Cinque Terre. Even if always crowded the village’s trademark caruggi (narrow lanes) are full of life during every part of the day.

Corniglia, is the only one of the five not right next to the water. Instead, it’s pearched high up on the cliffs, and you have to make 365 steps to reach the center of the town. Once you have got there you can enjoy an amazing view from above all the other towns. It’s quieter and smaller than the other villages, far from the crowds of tourists.

Manarola, is surrounded by vines and is situated along a stream. This town is a near-vertical cluster of tall houses piggyback up the hillside. Because it has no harbor, just a landing, its main drag becomes a parking lot of boats that are hauled up each day after the morning fishing’s done.

Riomaggiore, is the most eastern and the nearest village to La Spezia. This village, the biggest one, acts as the Cinque Terre’s unofficial capital and presents typical features reflecting its history and traditions. The town stretches along a vertical axe where steep staircases are the only means to move around the town.

What to eat:

The Cinque Terre aren’t just beautiful, it has some great food, too! Because Liguria, is on the coast, seafood and fish are a big part of the diet here, and many of the region’s famous foods and recipes were first invented, or eaten, on ships or by fishermen.

You must try pesto pasta, a typical dish of the Italian Riviera. It’s D.O.P. protected, meaning it can only be made in a very precise way, with specific ingredients, to be considered the “real thing.” The ingredients themselves are simple: basil, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, salt, and olive oil, and when it’s done properly, it’s absolutely delicious over pasta!

This part of Italy is also famous for ‘Focaccia’. A flattened bread (like a pizza without tomato sauce), it’s meant to be eaten straight from the oven. And it’s a street food, so don’t feel as if you have to be sitting down at a restaurant to enjoy it. Fritto misto, fried fish served in paper cones fitted to eat on the seaside rocks

And obviously, you are in Italy so don’t miss to eat some ice-cream.

Where to eat:

Nessun Dorma Cinque Terre, to enjoy the most beautiful view of the most romantic village among the five, delicious drinks and yummy appetizers, you can’t go wrong.

Ristorante Belforte, in the Village of Vernazza, built inside a historic fortress overlooking the ocean. The food and the view is heaven.

Da Eraldo, to taste antipasto platter and pesto pasta with some local wine. A tiny little restaurant with authentic, fresh Italian food. Lovely Italian music created a romantic and fun atmosphere.

Gelateria Vernazza o Gelateria il Porticciolo for some ice-cream.

What to see and do:

To explore further south to Portovenere, you will need to take a boat. Portovenere is not a part of the Cinque Terre, and it is impossible to reach to it by train. But it is as beautiful as any borough of the National Park.

For centuries walking trails were the only way to travel between the villages of the Cinque Terre and often provided the only link to the outside world. The walking trails remain the main attraction of the Cinque Terre.

Famous destination for young lovers from around the world, The Way of Love (Via dell’Amore) is part of the complete path, called the Blue trail that links all the five villages. The best time to walk through this footpath is in the early morning or around sunset, not only to avoid overcrowding of visitors, but also to enjoy much better light and weather conditions.

If you take the trail between Vernazza and Manarola, the perfect reward after the most difficult part of your hike is absolutely the view over the village of Vernazza. This view is stunning, you couldn’t forget it and makes your trip to Cinque Terre worth it.

Some trails are not always accessible during winter and autumn, as it rains a lot during this period. You should keep in mind that during July and August the weather usually gets pretty hot, and it is not so easy to walk around in mountains.

Don’t forget to see the towns by boat and watching sunset every evening, especially from the rocks in Riomaggiore where you can see the sun disappearing below the sea.

If Cinque Terre is not on your bucket list, add it now.

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