A couple of years back, I’d chanced upon some hiking pictures of Cinque Terre. It was one of the most memorable images, I’d ever seen of Italy. Back then, Instagram hadn’t yet exploded and based on my touristy travels to Italy (post-graduation from university), I wasn’t quite blown away by Italy (also mostly because it was brief visits made to all the tourist attractions in Italy). So last September, I finally made it back to Italy. This time, Cinque Terre was on top of my “to visit” list.
If you don’t already know, “Cinque” means Five and “Terre” means Lands. Cinque Terre is a national park and has also been named a UNESCO Heritage Site and consists of five fishing villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. They remained isolated in the early 1960s and still remains to be a challenge to reach due to its unique cliff side location. Here, you’ll find colourful homes situated by the cliffside surrounded by terraced agricultural land facing the glistening Mediterranean sea. Each town is unique and although at first glance they may look similar, each offer a different experience and breathtaking views!
I spent time in all the towns with the exception of Corgnilia, (as I simply didn’t have enough time) and found it almost impossible to pick one town to be my favourite! Since each town was charming in its own right, I’m sharing with you all the bits that I’ve enjoyed from each town so that hopefully when you do visit, you are able to make the most of your stay and soak in everything each town has to offer!
- Queue up for a seat at Nessun Dorma : Boasting one of the best views of Manarola, stop by this cliffside bar for a cheese and cold cuts platter but more importantly, do not miss out on their cocktails! They are well known for their killer cocktails!
- Marina Piccola restaurant : There are plenty of restaurants to visit in Manarola but if you are like me and you want to have a birds eye view of the sea while dining, then your only option would be Marina Piccola. They serve up decent pasta dishes and tiramisu was the bomb! However, do take note that if you decide to come here it’s mainly for the views, hence, expect poor service; servers are unwelcoming and hostile.
- Views to “die” for : Continue past the playground near Nessun Dorma and up a flight of stairs that leads you up on a hill top and you will find the Manarola cemetery (to your left). There you will be greeted with postcard views of Manarola.
- Hiking the Manarola to Corgnilia trail : You will be greeted with agriculture fields, vineyards and panoramic coastal views along this path!
- Gelateria Centrale Di Germani E Giaccio : This shop sits directly in front of the port in Riomaggiore. Enjoy your gelato outside the shop while taking in the pleasing views of colorful fishing boats and the harbor. I tried hazelnut and pistachio flavour and despite not being a pistachio fan, I was blown away with both the creamy texture and taste! So good, I returned for the same gelato flavours again on my next visit.
- Bar Conchiglia : Visit this bar with two floors perched on top of the cliffside for views of Riomaggiore town from the top. It gets pretty crowded in the late afternoon as most people tend to flock here for sunset drinks or aperitivo. The drinks aren’t fantastic but since it’s located on a high point, most tourists and locals flock here for a casual drink and snack for apperitivo.
- Watch the sunset in Riomaggiore : The most beautiful place to watch sunsets is in Riomaggiore. The sun sets behind the cliffs, past the colourful houses so you’re guaranteed to have full view of the sunsets. One of my favourite spot to watch the sunset is past Bar Conchiglia – take the staircases that leads down to your right, you will find a spot to sit and watch the sunset while being close to port. The other is located on the other side of the port where the iconic Riomaggiore red house is located. Follow a flight of staircases that lead you up to a small square (with 2 benches), then continue along the next flight of stairs and follow on past an alley way, you will find another square where you can either choose to sit on the benches to watch the sunset or find a ledge to sit on for a better view. My favourite moment for sunsets was in Riomaggiore; to complete this experience, grab a take away pizza and a bottle of wine and find a seat by the rocks to watch the sky turn a variety of colours before darkness sets in.
- A Pie’ de Ma Bar : An altenative if you are looking for an outdoor bar with the view of the Ligurian sea. It is located on an elevated plain that is just close to the train station. I came here for a quick glass of wine while the train was delayed for 30mins. Hidden spot that not many knew about!
- La Grotta Bar & Trattoria : This restaurant sits in the heart of the town and is particularly busy on most days. It specialises in seafood and I ordered the grilled seabass which was not just fresh but grilled to perfection. My husband ordered the seafood spaghetti which was delicious, my only gripe was that it was a tad too salty.
- Take the hike from Manarola to Vernazza (vice versa) : If you only plan on one hike in all of Cinque Terre. This is my highly recommended hike. As you approach Vernazza, you will be greeted with jaw-dropping views of the port and the town. It is best to reach Vernazza midday onwards for the most picturesque photo as the sun rises from behind the cliffs.
- Stroll along the small alleyways : Hidden behind the town are small alleyways with quaint houses. Get lost along a hidden alley way and find you way out of it once you are done exploring.
- Soak in the sun by the port : The port has great views of the town. Find a seat by the port and look back into the town to have a full view of Vernazza.
Monterosso al Mare
- A day by the pebbled beach : This is the only town with a full fledge beach. You can easily spend a whole day just relaxing by the beach. After all, if you decide to rent a beach chair, you are entitled to a full day’s use (30 euros for an umbrella and 2 beach chairs). So you might as well make the most of it and laze around and enjoy the Italian sea. I have chosen a spot by Spiaggia di Fegina, where there are smaller granules of pebbles.
- Enjoy the BEST SEAFOOD CONE in all of Cinque Terre : If you did your research for Cinque Terre, you would be aware by now that seafood cone is a local specialty. I’ve tried every store available in all the towns I’ve visited and the best store that hands down can’t be beat is II Bocconcino! II Bocconcino is located just at the bottom of the stairs leading to the train platform. They serve up the freshest seafood cones! Unlike other vendors who pre-cook a batch of seafood prior to receiving orders, II Bocconcino only cooks them on every order. Yes, that means a snaking queue but they do not disappoint. They serve up quality seafood of good size and they don’t skimp on their servings! The owner and staff provides excellent service too! It was so good, I went back thrice in the same day! You can also order beers by the bottle or Prosecco to go with it. A perfect snack by the beach and I recommend going for the shrimp cone as well as the mixed seafood cone. Don’t forget to pair it with a a bottle of Prosecco! Trust me, you’ll come back for seconds!
- Explore the Old Town & New Town : On both sides of the beach lies the Old and New Town. I didn’t manage to spend much time in both as I wanted to spend all my time by the beach and only did a leisurely stroll to the towns. Here you can find a list of restaurants, souvenir shops and cafe to patronise.
Now, that you’ve seen it all; you may be keen to start planning for this trip. I’ve put together some useful tips to look out for prior to the trip!
Top tips BEFORE visiting Cinque Terre:
- If you do decide to visit Cinque Terre, I recommend a minimum stay of at least 3 nights. Although some blogs do advocate that all 5 towns can be visited within a day, I don’t recommend this. There’s no way that you would be able to get a feel for each town and its magic in such a short period of time, much less do any hiking. The most magical time of the day for me was after 5pm, when the hoards of tourists all leave in batches. Even when I stayed for 3 nights, I had to give Corgnilia a miss as I simply didn’t have enough time.
- Buy the Cinque Terre card. Private cars are discouraged in Cinque Terre as it is primarily pedestrian friendly, so if you are driving, park in La Spezia or Levanto and take the Cinque Terre Express train in to the park. The Cinque Terre card would give you access to unlimited train travel on the Levanto – Cinque Terre – La Spezia route, all trekking paths, and use of park buses. This works out to be a cheaper option if you plan to hop from one town to another in one day, even if you don’t intend to hike.
- To get the ultimate Cinque Terre experience, try to base your stay in one of the five towns. That is, provided you don’t have huge luggages to manage. I’d decided early on that it was impractical for me to stay in any of the towns as that would mean a stressful time of trying to shove both myself and my huge luggage into a packed train of tourists and hope for the best. Well, that would be the best case scenario. The worse, would be having to miss train after train, because it was simply impossible to jump aboard the sardine packed train. Anyhow, if you manage to base yourself off one of the 5 towns, you will be rewarded with the privilege of having the towns all to yourself as the day tourists (from tours and cruises) empty out around 5pm. You’ll see for yourself as the towns quieten down and become more charming against the backdrop if the sun setting behind cliffs as you take a leisurely stroll around the small streets in search of that romantic spot for dinner.
- Book your accommodations at least 6 months in advance! I’m a last minute holiday planner, hence, when I set off for Italy I had only 2 weeks before to plan my stays. All accommodations within Cinque Terre were fully booked out by the time I was looking for an accommodation and I ended up staying in La Spezia, the closest city from Cinque Terre.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! Until next time!