Cinque Terre, Italy, vol. 2, a closer look at the five little towns
I first visited Cinque Terre on an anniversary cruise through the Mediterranean with my husband. We only had one day to visit the five little towns which dot the northern Italian coast but it was enough time for both of us to fall in love … and for me to start plotting a way to get back to that fabulous coastline ASAP. My mission basically involved non-stop chatter about the wonders of Cinque Terre to my bestie, B, until she finally caved and said yes to spending a week hiking the towns with me! Woohoo! The two of us flew to Milan and took a series of trains to Genoa, Levanto … and finally to our town for the week – Riomaggiore.
After checking into our hotel in Riomaggiore (which we loved and I’m sharing the details in my top tips at the bottom of this post), we walked around the town, took in the fresh sea air and found a cafe for some cocktails and bruschetta:
We took the train from Riomaggiore to Manarola (which I think took about 3 minutes or less) to check out that town and find a cozy little place for dinner …
This plate of spaghetti was pretty amazing, too.
Here’s my friend, B, hanging out in Riomaggiore. Our B&B was just a few steps up those stairs in the background. More on lodging in the top tips at the bottom of this post. The next day, we took the train from Riomaggiore into Vernazza for a peek around:
Another day, we took the train to Monterosso al Mare to explore, have a leisurely lunch, do some shopping and then hop on the hiking trail to walk back to Vernazza (which is about a 2 hour hike).
Monterossa al Mare definitely has the best beach of the five villages for traditional laying out.
Neither of us thought this hike was going to be legit … I have no idea why but I had pictured a large paved road, silly me. I was wearing ballet flats and B was donning flip flops and then we saw this:
And let me tell you, it was much rougher terrain than these pictures let you believe. We definitely wore the wrong kind of shoes but we made it work! Views like these were our encouragement to ignore our aching, unprotected feet:
And just as we were starting to work up a thirst, we discovered a lemonade stand (in the heart of a lemon grove, no less) at the top of some steep, rocky stairs. The cute vendor was singing in Italian and was mixing vodka in for free – well, if you insist! 😉
This glorious view of Vernazza (above) made the hike worth every step!
… And spent the afternoon in Corniglia. We had stopped in Corniglia on a previous day for a spontaneous dinner but hadn’t seen any of the town since it was already dark. We were torn between spending our last day in our favorite village, Manarola, or taking a chance and exploring Corniglia, which is perched high on the mountain and does not have a port. We had heard many people skip this town but at the last minute, we decided to give it a chance … mostly because the restaurant we had enjoyed for dinner was fantabulous and we really wanted to revisit. I’m so glad we made that choice because Corniglia was such a cute town and if you look hard enough, you’ll find a steep mountain which leads down to the sea to an almost-deserted (when we were there) swimming hole – magic!
When it was time to leave Cinque Terre, we took the train back to Milan. Unfortunately, it was *pouring* the whole day so we took a taxi to see the Duomo and its rooftop before heading to the airport.
Atop the Duomo
The glass-roofed arcade across from the Duomo: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Top Tips for Cinque Terre:
– Our favorite village was Manarola – we thought it had the cutest port with an enchanting still lagoon for swimming. If I were to go back, I would probably stay in this village. However, our hotel in Riomaggiore, Dune Blu, was amazing and convenient to everything. Our room was completely renovated – clean, fresh, happy and inviting.
– How to get to Cinque Terre. We flew into Milan and then took the train to Genoa, Levanto and down the coast into Cinque Terre. I’ve heard it’s also a pretty easy train ride from Florence. B&I had thought about renting a car and driving from Milan but I am so glad we didn’t do that … the roads in Cinque Terre are very narrow and very steep and parking can be tricky. It’s doable if you really want to drive but I personally liked the ease and convenience of the trains.
– Beaches and sea glass hunting. The best beach for laying out is definitely Monterosso al Mare, in my opinion. However, there is a little secluded beach in Vernazza. They had to blow out a tunnel through the rock so people could walk to this beach (when J&I first visited, we saw the construction crews working on that) … Just walk up the main road from the Vernazza port and you’ll see the man-made tunnel on your right-hand side. It leads to a sandy little strip of beach and FYI – there is tons of sea glass and beautifully wave-worn Italian tiles.
– Favorite spots to eat. We loved Ristorante Al Carusio in Monterosso al Mare. Order the pesto pasta and you’ll be in heaven. Also, if you make it to Corniglia, there’s a restaurant along the road leading into town … it’s one of the first restaurants you’ll see, called La Posada … and oh my goodness, it may just be the best Italian meal I’ve ever had – we went twice. It’s a family restaurant and has a beautiful view of the sea – we could even see the village of Manarola from our table. Everything we ordered was sublime – the bruschetta, pesto pasta, lasagna, the wine … go. Just go. And our waiter, Christian, was super sweet.
– A note on the trains. I’ve already said I’d avoid having a car in Cinque Terre which leaves two options: hiking between the villages or taking the local trains. Both are great options but be careful with the trains as it gets late… Here’s our story: We spontaneously decided to stop in Corniglia for dinner on our way home one night. We met some people at dinner, started talking and totally lost track of time. When we arrived at the train station around midnight, we all realized that we had just missed our ride home and the next train wouldn’t be coming for another hour or so … it was super dark at the station and aside from a few other tourists who had made the same mistake, there were just a few construction workers who spoke no English. I quickly texted our b&b owner to see if she had any suggestions and luckily, she was awake and looked up the train schedule for us, telling us to hop on the next train to Vernazza and from there, we could take an earlier ride home to Riomaggiore. Needless to say, it taught us to check the train schedules in advance.
Photography by Sarah Darcy of Classic Bride blog.