I have just returned from one of the most charming areas of Italy: 'Cinque Terre'. It is a set of villages on the Ligurian coast. Now that I have been there and can give my opinion, I have several recommendations and tips.
THE VILLAGES OF CINQUE TERRE
The "Five Lands" are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. But nowadays, together with the 'Cinque Terre Card' travel voucher, there are two extra places that also overlook the sea: Levanto and La Spezia.
I think it is one of the most beautiful tours I have ever done in my life. In my opinion, the village I liked the most was Riomaggiore, but maybe because it was the first one I visited and I had that first impression. The truth is that they are all beautiful, but my order according to which one I liked the most and which one I liked the least is the following: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
It is the village I liked the most, but I think it may be because it was the first town I saw. It is characterised by that house with the red façade and the little boats below.
I think if the first town to visit had been Manarola it would have been my favourite. To some people, those little houses huddled together in the background remind them of the town in the series (Dis)enchantment. Manarola stands out for the views you can enjoy from the Restaurant Nessun Dorma. I wasn't lucky enough to be able to do a tasting of Italian products there because it's an establishment that doesn't take reservations, but I had a very tasty gelato flavoured with Ligurian lemons at the 'Sorbetteria Gelateria 5 Terre'.
As always, before going on holiday I visited several blogs to prepare the trip as well as possible. In all of them, or almost all of them, I found that Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre that has no access to the sea. That's why I put this photo: because Corniglia does have access to the sea. To go up to the village avoiding the stairs, you can take a bus (which is free with the Cinque Terre Card) that runs every 15 minutes.
Some friends recommended me to try some Italian products (wines, cheeses, cold meats and breads) in a bar called 'Pan e Vin', and what a great idea! The best thing about this place is that in front of the bar there are stairs leading down... And those stairs lead to the sea! And that's where I went for a swim. The stairs also offer a great view.
I also liked Corniglia very much because it was possible to walk around quietly, without the hustle and bustle that other towns can have. To end the day, I discovered a bar called Caffè Matteo where they serve a lot of free tapas and there was a music festival on the balconies at the time! So, I think that of all the stops in Cinque Terre, the best place to eat or have a drink is Corniglia.
It is true that Vernazza is very beautiful and photographable, and the Church of Santa Margherita is very accessible if you don't want to leave Cinque Terre without having visited one, but it was my least favourite. Maybe it's because I bought a calamari cone and they were harder than I don't know (this was in Batti Batti Friggitoria).
By the way, look familiar? Vernazza is the Italian village that inspired the creators of the Disney Pixar film "Luca".
Monterosso al Mare
The beach at Monterosso al Mare is beautiful, but on the day I visited it the sea was rough. The town has its charm and I was lucky enough to find a restaurant where a real Italian 'nonna' was cooking. The restaurant is called 'San Martino Gastronomia'. They don't offer desserts, so I recommend the place where I tried tiramisu and panna cotta with mango: Ristorante Lapo's.
Extras: La Spezia y Levanto
As I said before, the Cinque Terre Card offers seven destinations on the same voucher. In addition to the well-known Cinque Terre, there is the option to stop in Levanto and La Spezia. Levanto is the closest stop from Genoa, and La Spezia the closest from Pisa or Florence.
Regarding Levanto beach it's very nice because it's not as crowded as Monterosso al Mare, for example: I didn't think La Spezia was very nice, but I had the chance to eat there at a place called 'Dai Pescatori'. A good plate of octopus in sauce with potatoes was under €8, as was a plate of fried calamari with prawns (I didn't like the latter because they mix the calamari with the prawns and you have to separate the prawns' whiskers from the squid).
ACCOMMODATION IN LIGURIA
In my case, I decided to stay in Genoa, as a base camp, and tour the villages in two days. After doing that, I think staying in Genoa isn't the best option if you want to spend time touring the villages.
If you are going to stay in Genoa, you have to take into account that The CinqueTerre Card only covers the seven stops mentioned above. Therefore, from Genoa you will always have to buy an additional ticket to get to Levanto, which is the first stop.
If you want to stay in one of the Cinque Terre, you have to bear in mind that the offer is scarce and therefore the price is also high. An alternative is to stay in La Spezia (which is what I would do if I were to do the tour again in the future) as the Cinque Terre Card does cover that stop, there is more accommodation available (therefore, more competitive prices) and it's not as crowded.
TRANSPORT IN CINQUE TERRE
There are four options for getting around Cinque Terre:
- Car: Not recommended. Discard this mode of transport because the roads are very bad and I doubt that parking is easy to find.
- Boat: The possibility exists but, from what I've heard, I think that they don't let you get off at Corniglia.
- On foot: There must be very interesting routes, the villages are not very far from each other. I'll leave this option for the next visit, because if you have enough days it can be done.
- By train: This is the option I took. As I said, I took a Trenitalia train from Genoa to Levanto and then I travelled around the Cinque Terre with the Cinque Terre Card.
CINQUE TERRE CARD - CINQUE TERRE TRAINS
The Cinque Terre Card (check the link for updated prices and train timetables) is the best transport option for touring Cinque Terre if you don't want to do it on foot. You have the option of buying it for one or two days. I recommend the two-day ticket, because as much as they say, it's the minimum to visit all seven stops (if you hurry, you might be able to see the five main towns in one day if you only have one day to explore Cinque Terre).
As of July 2022, one day of unlimited travel costs €18.20 and two days €33. There are trains practically every 10 minutes throughout the day. At the end of the day the frequency is reduced, with the service stopping around midnight and resuming around four in the morning.
With the transport card you can use the trains, the toilets and WiFi in all stations, at no extra cost. It also offers discounts at certain museums.
Sample travel itinerary for Cinque Terre
In my case, my itinerary was as follows:
Arrival in Riomaggiore from Genoa and purchase the 'Cinque Terre Card' there (you can buy it in any of the tourist offices or specialised stands in each of the five towns, even in La Spezia or Levanto). As I said, the best thing to do if you arrive from Genoa is to go to Levanto first, buy the transport card there and move around the Cinque Terre at no extra cost (things you learn once you are there).
Second stop, lunch in La Spezia, then ice cream in Manarola. Finish the day in Corniglia with a swim in a sort of cove (I explained above how to get there) after tasting Italian products.
Visit Vernazza, have lunch in Monterosso al Mare and swim in its beach or end the day watching the sunset on the beach of Levanto.
I hope this post has been useful and has cleared up any doubts you may have had. Don't hesitate to ask me if you have any more questions and leave a comment about your favourite towns after you've been there.