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Cinque Terre – A little colorful corner of heaven

Cinque Terre (five lands) are actually five villages on the Ligurian coast of Italy, i.e. further south of Genoa and further north of La Spezia, one more picturesque than the other. The five villages hang on the rocky shore of the sea, the houses rise as if on top of each other, the color and the landscape are dreamy.

The five villages are (in order from north to south): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Although they are very close, the villages do not look like each other, each has its own specificity.

The villages (with the exception of Monterosso al Mare, which is larger) cannot be visited by car, the traffic between them being done only by train, which runs mostly through tunnels dug into the rock. In some cases, you even get off the train in the tunnel. Trains run at intervals of about 30 minutes and between 2 villages you do not need more than 5 minutes.

Being accessible only by train, you will not find here the hordes of tourists who come with organized groups and coaches, which suffocate you in many tourist places. Tourists are generally Scandinavian, English, French, and American, self-employed, and highly civilized. You don’t even say you’re in Italy, maybe just serving restaurants reminds you of that.

What I do not recommend in any way, is to visit the five villages in a single day (accommodation for example in Genoa and a day trip to Terre – by no means), going by train from one to another to check them all quickly. So not like that. Cinque Terre, more than any other place I’ve visited, enjoys sitting there for a few days, walking the paths between villages, eating at local restaurants, sunbathing in the area, etc. In a word, to feel the atmosphere of the place, which is a magical, extraordinary one.

It is said that the Italians invented the notion of dolce far niente. At the Cinque Terre I discovered the most eloquent transposition of this expression into everyday life. In the mornings, on the way to the train station, I walk to a coffee shop with 2-3 tables in front. At a table were two old men with a coffee in front of them. In the evening when we returned exhausted from our daily excursions, on the same terrace, the same two old men with a coffee in front of us. At this rate, how can you not live 100 years without capital repairs?

So, let’s get into the details:

Where to stay? Accommodation in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Accomodation

They must be booked well in advance (from November to December next summer). Also, don’t forget that if you come by car, you won’t be able to enter the villages with it (except as I said Monterosso al Mare).

That’s why I recommend staying in Levanto. Levanto is a small town (bigger than the Cinque Terre villages) 5 minutes by train from the northernmost village. There are not many accommodation and parking spaces in Levanto either, but you have more chances anyway.

Don’t even think about going to the area without prior reservation, as you won’t find anything on the spot.

The paths between the villages (sentierre).

Cinque Terre paths

One of the things why Cinque Terre is famous for are the footpaths between the villages, suspended somewhere high on the mountain, where it takes your breath away, on the one hand, due to the beauty of the landscape, on the other hand, when you look down and see that you are on a path 40 centimeters wide, on the right you have the rock and on the left a precipice of all beauty, and below (about 200 meters below) the sea of an incredible blue. 

And what do you do when you meet tourists coming from the opposite direction? Simple, one sticks his back to the rock, and the other hugs him and walks with the utmost care beyond him. So along the way you practically hug a bunch of people.

The paths are of 2 types: some on which access is paid (Monterosso al Mare – Vernazza, and Vernazza – Corniglia, these 2 are the so-called blue path) and some free (Corniglia – Manarola, and Manarola – Riomaggiore). The trail fee is per day/person and is the same, regardless of whether you travel only one or both paid trails.

The toll trails are somewhat more arranged, in the sense that they have railings where the precipice is very threatening, they have nets placed on the rocks so that boulders do not fall on your head. 

Go to the tax-free ones as they say at your own risk. Initially, there were toll trails between Corniglia – Manarola and Manarola – Riomaggiore. But there have been landslides that have destroyed these trails and local authorities have not yet been able to rebuild them. Therefore, between the last 3 villages, the unpaid paths are used, which are higher on the rock.

There is also a toll-free path from Levanto to Monterosso al Mare. From this route, on clear days, it is said that you can see Corsica. We didn’t get to go through it. On the trails, you must take water. Enough! It can be very hot, you can sweat a lot and there are not many places to get water. And trekking shoes or hiking boots, so no sneakers and no sandals.

Cinque Terre – The transport

Train-Travel-Italy -Cinque-Terre

By train as I said above. The Cinque Terre Card can be used. It exists in 2 variants: paths or trails + train. The path card provides access on toll roads, the one with paths + train provides access on toll roads + free on the train on the distance between Levanto and Riomaggiore. 

It can be taken for 1,2 or 3 days. For information on prices, you can access the website https://card.parconazionale5terre.it/. It has also an English version. It’s quite expensive, so be careful how you make your schedule.

We took it for one day, on which we did both paid trails. They can be purchased from tourist offices or train stations. If you take a card with paths + train, it must be validated at the station before boarding the train (there are some special vending machines, as if they were green). From that moment on, the 24/48 hours of validity start to run.

The Food at Cinque Terre

Cinque-Terre-restaurant-view

Although not very cheap, I recommend trying the food at local restaurants. 

Pasta with pesto or seafood, lasagna (I ate lasagna with amazing fish). Note that the portions are small. That is, the Italians expect you to eat like them: antipasto, pasta, and dessert.

The prices are not exorbitant, but neither are they low for our poor pockets :D.

About the beaches at Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Beach Italy

The beaches in the sense we understand, with sand, are found only in Levanto or Monterosso al Mare. There are private beaches, for which access is paid, but there are also public beaches that are wide enough and spacious.

Be careful when entering the water: because the mountain enters the sea, the shore is very steep, and in 3 steps you wake up with water up to your neck. The currents are also quite strong. So pay close attention, especially to children.

At Vernazza, I saw people sunbathing in the harbor on the pier. There is no beach in Corniglia. In Riomaggiore, there is only a small rocky beach near the harbor.

And now I’m going to tell you how we approached visiting the Cinque Terre:

We had accommodation at Levanto. On the first day, we bought from the Levanto Cinque Terre Card station in the path + train option. I took the train to Corniglia. 

Why did I choose that? Corniglia is the highest of the 5 villages, so going from Corniglia to Vernazza goes further down the valley, so it’s easier. The station in Corniglia is down at sea level and the village is up on the rock

To get to the top there are 2 options: 1. There are some stairs that go from the station to the village and 2. There is a minibus that commutes between the station and the village. We chose the minibus option because we wanted to keep our strengths for the trails. 

With the Cinque Terre card, I also had free access to the minibus. Otherwise, you buy a ticket from the driver.

We visited the village with its narrow streets and colorful houses and entered the path to Vernazza. At the entrance to the trail, our Cinque Terre cards were scanned. The path was not very difficult, I descended slightly to near Vernazza when a steeper descent began on some stairs. 

Before reaching Vernazza we stopped at a tavern strategically placed high on the hill with an incredible view of Vernazza. We had beer, but the pizza was also served. I was amazed to find that the pizzas were being brought down from the village by the waiters.

We went down to Vernazza, visited the village a bit, and climbed the tower.

Vernazza-Liguria-Cinque-Terre

An interesting thing about Vernazza is that this village was almost completely destroyed by a storm and a landslide in the fall of 2011. Photos were displayed, it was awful. The village was completely rebuilt, exactly the same, including the paintwork on the walls, which is part of the local charm. 

Then I took the path to Monterosso al Mare. 

Monterosso, Cinque Terre

And we started climbing. And I went up, and I went up again, it seemed like the stairs never ended. It was already quite hot, and the heat in the area was humid and quite unbearable. And the beer we drank made it difficult for us to climb. Then followed a fairly flat section and then the descent to Monterosso al Mare.

Towards Monterosso, an unusual appearance: an uncle with a large box covered with reeds, in which he had placed a barrel of water and a pile of ice cubes (from which we used to put cold beer). Next to a pile of lemons. Uncle sold lemonade and boasted that the lemons were organic and came from his orchard. 

I also asked for a sugar-free lemonade. He protested: “Ma’am, this is not possible. Sugar-free stomach hurts. ” When I was thirsty, I didn’t stop to explain to the man that “il mio estomaco” had been consuming plain water with lemon and without sugar for about 30 years and he didn’t seem to be bothered in any way. The price, like a trail, is 2 euros for a glass of about 150 milliliters. From Monterosso, I took the train back to Levanto. This way I did both paid trails in one day.

The next day we bought a train ticket from Levanto to Riomaggiore. From Riomaggiore we decided to take the boat to Manarola, to see the land and the sea. There are ferries from Monterosso to Portovenere (a resort further south) or to La Spezia. They anchor in every village except Corniglia, which, being high on the rock, has no harbor.

The toll road between Riomaggiore and Manarola is called Via dell Amore. 

Via del Amore, Riomaggiore

When we were there, it was closed due to landslides. I understand they haven’t done it yet. Too bad, because it was very beautiful, very accessible, like an asphalt cliff by the sea.

We wandered through Riomaggiore, through its narrow streets, and had fun getting lost in the gangways. I would still bring my head to the light on a terrace, admire the sea, then on the streets again. At one point we were about to lose the boat, losing ourselves in the streets. Good luck with an old man, who, seeing that we were going through the right of the bench where he was sitting for the third time, asked us: “Marina? ”(Meaning the port) and showed us where to go. 

The truth is, without him, we would not have chosen that path ever, because it seemed to us that we were entering private property. We found the port, we took our tickets to Manarola (2 euros/person, in the meantime it may have become more expensive), we admired the rocky beach, but with incredibly clear water and we waited for the boat.

From the boat, I admired the bay and the Cinque Terre seen from the water. Manarola seemed to me the smallest of the 5 villages. 

Manarola, Cinque Terre

The toll road between Manarola and Corniglia was also closed due to landslides. For this reason, in order to reach Corniglia, we chose the free path, located higher up the hill through the village of Volastra. The climb from Manarola to Volastra is quite steep and demanding.

Just as we were elbowing our tongues, panting more like a locomotive, with our T-shirts and hats, we met a group of French people in their 60s, fresh, with some impeccable black T-shirts on them, where didn’t see a trace of perspiration, who encouraged us: “C’est merveilleux la-haut.” We found out what sedentarism means, blamed it, thanked them for their encouragement, and continued to climb “la-Haut.”

We passed through Volastra, a small village where there was absolute peace and quiet. A small church with a small square in front shaded by old chestnut trees, a stream of cold water, where we replenish our water supplies, a bench on which we rested. From Volastra to the descent to Corniglia you go right on the edge of the precipice. Incredible views. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of this piece because we were afraid to hold the camera in front so as not to unbalance ourselves.

We then went down to Corniglia (the descent is easy through the woods, we also found a small spring to restore the water supply) and took the train back to Levanto. It seemed funny to me that in the station at Corniglia, waiting for the train, everyone (and there was enough) was sitting on the floor, directly on the asphalt on the platform. Everyone was so exhausted … but so happy and excited …

On the last day, I booked it to visit Monterosso al Mare. We came and returned by train. So no paths, because we were already broken. I admired the villas by the sea, I drank a beer on a terrace with chestnuts in the center, and I ate on a terrace by the sea. Beautiful and relaxing.

Comment below and let us know your thoughts about our adventure at Cinque Terre.

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Written by Alex C.

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