Chillin’ in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is hands-down the most picturesque stop for us in Northern Italy. This little group of villages has it all – beautiful beaches, amazing cliffs, strenuous hikes, and incredibly colorful houses. While it’s possible to do Cinque Terre as a day trip, we highly recommend that you spend two or more days here to fully appreciate this place. We stayed just south of Cinque Terre, in a city called La Spezia which is a common launching pad to get to the “five lands” (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore). Fortunately, we enjoyed La Spezia itself so we highly recommend staying there instead of one of the 5 villages. We think you’ll find newer and more spacious accommodations and you won’t be so limited in your culinary options.
Traveling between the villages
- Via boat: The ferry is pricey, infrequent, and not fast, but it is a wonderful way to see these towns from the best vantage point, the sea! The only place it does not stop is Corniglia (which is only accessible by train and a lot of walking). We opted for a one-day unlimited pass so we could see all the towns by water and made sure we were lined up to get on the boat accordingly. On the last ride of the night, it will get very full the further south you get, so queue up early or leave from a town that is not Riomaggiore.
- Via train: Fast, cheap, and easy. Be sure to validate your ticket before getting on. Trenitalia sells a one day unlimited pass, but do the math to see if its worth it. Avoid the top level of the train when full as it will get really hot and muggy.
- Via foot: The hikes are spectacular, you get to see vineyards and the wonderful expanse of the Mediterranean. You pay for the privilege of hiking along the blue trail though. Unfortunately a number of trails between the towns are closed due to mudslides, so look up beforehand which ones you can access. It doesn’t matter what direction you hike in, but if you’re trying to make it easier, you can probably look up which direction requires less exertion before you go.
We did a combination of all three: on the first day we boated and hiked. On the second day, we took the train to two stops.
What to do
- Beaches: Monterosso is the northern-most and biggest village of Cinque Terre. It’s also got the best beaches. Come here and spend a day lazying around by the water. You can rent a sunbrella and two lounge chairs for €20. This is also a good starting point for doing the Cinque Terre hike.
- Hike: We did the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza and it took about 2.5 hours with water breaks and photo-snapping stops. I’d be lying if I said it was an easy hike but the views are worth it, promise! You get a great view of Vernazza during this hike.
- Wander: Walk through the villages, pop in and out of shops, and just enjoy the beauty all around you.
What to Eat
- Gelateria La Dolce Vita: became one of our favorite gelato places in Italy. Incredibly well priced, very generous portions, and most importantly, delicious!
- Fratelli di Teglia Focacceria: Right next to the gelato shop is this delightful bakery. You’ve had focaccia until you’ve had good focaccia from Italy. L fell in love with the little olive oil pockets in the plain focaccia and kept hunting for them the rest of our trip in Italy (seriously, why is olive oil is SO much better in Europe than it is in the states?).
- La Pia Centenaria: Great pizza and farinata, a specialty from this region. Farinata is a yellow flat bread made from chickpea flour and colored with burned bits. You’ll see it at lots of bakeries or deli shops.
- Dai Pescatori: A fresh seafood joint right next to the boats that take you to Cinque Terre, this is the perfect place for dinner after a long day of hiking and visiting. It’s exactly the type of restaurant that we love: no frills and all about the food. We recommend getting the mixed fried seafood plate and a beer to wash it down.
- Nessun Dorma: This is a must visit if you’re going to be in Cinque Terre only. We celebrated L’s birthday here. After a lazy day on the beach, we stopped in Manarola and trekked a tiny bit up to this bar. You know that marketing photo of Cinque Terre that convinced you to come here? (e.g., Lonely Planet’s Italy 2018 guidebook cover), you’ll get your photo from the viewpoint here. The line is long but moves along at a good pace. They don’t serve hot food, but we were definitely full after getting this enormous platter. Cost for food, refreshing cocktails, and an unbeatable view? €60. Now that’s what we call value! We sat down when it was still fairly light out and watched the houses change colors during the golden hour until the lights twinkled on.
- San Martino Gastronomia: We are always trying to avoid touristy restaurants, and this was a nice find at affordable prices. Most of the food is precooked already, but the pasta is obviously made to order. We like that you can actually see what your stomach desires before your choose. We had the linguini with anchovies and the orichiette with asparagus and shrimp. L was happy to finally have some vegetables in her life!