Visiting Cinque Terre was one of my travel highlights of 2015 and I absolutely recommend adding it to your Italian itinerary. Crystal blue waters, gelato and pizza on every corner and colourful buildings perched up on cliffs… Cinque Terre is a little slice of heaven!
La Spezia is located at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia and is the capital city of the province of La Spezia, where Cinque Terre is located . When visiting Cinque Terre I based myself in this town because it was significantly cheaper then staying in one of the villages (I was visiting in peak summer season). Cinque Terre is incredibly easy to access from La Spezia and is a short 8 minute train ride away. I stayed in a hotel that was located right next to the train station which made it even more convenient.
On arrival to the hotel I was given a train timetable which I have inserted below that you can download (you may need to zoom in to read the times!).
On the first day in La Spezia I arrived in the late afternoon so I decided to spend a few hours in Porto Venere instead of heading into Cinque Terre because I didn’t want to be in a rush exploring the villages. I mention this because if you are in Cinque Terre and have some free time, Porto Venere is a great way to kill a few hours. There is the gorgeous Byron’s Grotto where you can go for a swim and Castello Doria which is a fort looking over the grotto and town. Down by the town there are ample restaurants and cafes to choose from, and of course the distinctive colourful buildings. For those of you visiting during the week, there is a market held every Monday morning in the center of the town.
The following morning I set off to explore the five villages of Cinque Terre along the Costa Ligure of Levante. Riomaggiore is the first of the Cinque Terre villages you will come across when travelling north from La Spezia via train. To really appreciate the stunning colours and arrangement of buildings perched up on the cliffs I suggest walking down the hill as far as possible then looking to the left for the stairs that will take you up onto the cliff. From there you can climb down to the rocks and appreciate the beauty of this village. Tourist attractions in the region include a famous walking trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola (the next village) called Via dell’Amore, “Love’s Trail” and hiking trails in the hills and vineyards above the town. Via dell’Amore was unfortunately closed during my visit to Cinque Terre as it was under construction but in 2016 it has been partially opened.
Monterosso al Mare
On my way to the next village (Manarola) I accidentally hopped on an express train to the end of the line, Monterosse al Mare. Monterosse al Mare is the furthest north of the five villages and is the most resort-oriented of the Cinque Terre villages. Day beds and umbrellas are available for rent on the beach which are popular with both tourists and locals, especially midsummer. If you a beach with sand this is the village for you, I however spent the least amount of time in this village because I was more interested in wandering the uniquely colourful and built up streets of the villages that were perched on the cliffs.
After accidently going to the final stop (Monterosse al Mare) I decided to just visit the villages in reverse order. The fourth furthest village from La Spezia is Vernazza. This was my favourite place to swim because the bay looked directly back up at the village. Vernazza has no car traffic and remains one of the truest “fishing villages” on the Italian Riviera. I decided to have lunch in this village and found an amazing little pizzeria just off the main road that had great pizza and cheap beers. I recommend taking your lunch down to the bay for a meal with a view!
The third village north of La Spezia is Corniglia. Unlike the other villages, Corniglia is not directly adjacent to the sea. Instead, it is on the top of a cliff about 100 metres high, surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces. At the end of the village the cliff descends steeply to the sea. To reach Corniglia from the train station it is necessary to climb the Lardarina, a long brick flight of steps composed of 33 flights with 382 steps. Alternatively there is a bus from the train station you can wait for (being short on time I decided to climb the stairs).
To get the best shots of the village I recommend walking a street or two outside of the town in the opposite direction to the train station, closer to where the vineyards begin to descend. After wandering Corniglia I made the trek back to the train station. As a side note, this train station has the most amazing view of the ocean and because the sun had started to set the lighting was magical.
The final (and my favourite) village to visit was Manarola. Manarola is the second village north of La Spezia and is the most iconic of all the villages. It is also the oldest of the towns in the Cinque Terre, with the cornerstone of the church, San Lorenzo, dating back to 1338. Like Vernazza there was a bay where people were swimming, and there were even people jumping off from the cliffs to the right of the buildings!
If I were to choose one village to stay in when visiting Cinque Terre again I would choose Manarola because it seemed to have the greatest range of authentic restaurants, cafes and accomodation (in comparison to for example, the resort-village Monterosse al Mare).
Venice, Rome, Florence… Italian cities are hard to beat but for some reason when someone asks me my favourite place in Italy, Cinque Terre always pops to mind. My visit to these charming villages made it into my top 20 best travel experiences so if you are in the area I would definitely recommend adding it to your itinerary.
Feel free to comment below any questions or queries 🙂
Suitcase And I was not commissioned to write this article and as always, the opinions in this review are my own.