It’s been over a decade since my family gathered together for a vacation. We were usually busy with work and other personal matters, but with my parents retired and my flexible schedule as a freelancer, coordinating a trip along with my siblings made it easier. Agreeing to a destination was relatively easy – we wanted to be in Italy but veer away from a city to enjoy local food, surround ourselves with natural landscape and seaside views, and go on short hiking trips. Cinque Terre had been on my parent’s bucket list and after spending three days early June of 2017, we learned it was quite a delight for hikers and foodies.
Cinque Terre, which translates to “Five Lands”, consists of 5 small coastal fishing villages/towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, located in the Italian region of Liguria. The five villages and the surrounding hillsides/coastlines are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its special cultural or physical significance. Getting to Cinque Terre from Milan by train is very easy via a TrenItalia InterCity train followed by a Regional train that runs through all 5 towns. The Regional train runs very frequent, especially during the summer and can be used by a paid per ride ticket or The Cinque Terre Train Card, which includes unlimited rain rides between La Spezia and Levanto.
Cinque Terre is also a national park linked by a series of trails. There are two paths: A. Sentiero del Crinale (Known as High Path No. 1) and B. Sentiero Azzzurro (Known as Blue Path No. 2. The most popular and easier trail between the two paths is Blue Path No. 2, but some paths along the way may be increasingly difficult the further north you travel. Either way, make sure you bring appropriate footwear, water, and purchase a hiking pass if you’re planning to hike the paths.
Cinque Terre’s most southern village, Riomaggiore, was our home base of choice. It’s the town we chose to stay due to it’s charm and proximity to La Spezia, the main city where we would ultimately need to take the train to our next destination. Riomaggiore has one main street where you can find most things – restaurants, cafes, ATM, groceries, pharmacy, and more. There is also a shuttle bus that runs between villages when the Regional train runs less frequently.
- Appartamento “Oltremare”
- Deciding which village to stay was a bit challenging because we were unfamiliar with Cinque Terre. While Monterosso and other nearby locations like La Spezia, Monterosso, and Levanto had more availability at affordable rates, I wanted something with a bit more charm. At the end, we decided to stay at an AirBnB apartment overlooking the sea in Riomaggiore. It was an excellent choice and such a pleasant waking up each morning to the sound of the sea.
- Website: https://www.airbnb.com
- La Grotta
- We stumbled upon La Grotta on our first night in Riomaggiore. Most of the popular restaurants were booked, so we decided to give La Grotta a try. I thought the food was good overall, but nothing spectacular.
- Address: Via Colombo, 123, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
- Mamma Mia! Take Away
- After eating out most days, we wanted something simple on the last night – pizza and fried calamari. Not only is the food inexpensive and not bad for the price, they also offer take away on those nights you just want to stay in.
- Address: Via Colombo, 208, 19017 Riomaggiore SP, Italy
- Bar Conchiglia
- The sunset view is fantastic from this bar, but I would recommend staying only for a drink or buying a beer and set somewhere else.
- Address: Via San Giacomo 149, 19017 Riomaggiore, Italy
The next town up is Manarola. The trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola (a.k.a The Lover’s Lane) was closed for construction, but it’s only a 5-minute train ride. We didn’t get to explore much as it was congested with tourists around late morning, but it’s just as beautiful as Riomaggiore. The Blue Path between Manarola and Corniglia was also closed, but an alternate route through the High Path was available. Although the views were magnificent, this path was far narrower and steeper, and may not be for the faint-hearted.
- Trattoria dal Billy
- We made a reservation for this restaurant due to popular reviews and they did not disappoint! Amazing homemade pasta and a variety of fresh seafood and daily catches. The restaurant is located on the hillside, so it may be difficult to find for first-timers. It’s highly recommended that a dinner reservation is made.
- Address: Via Aldo Rollandi, 122, 19017 Manarola, Riomaggiore SP, Italy
Unlike the other villages, Corniglia is not next to the sea, but instead located on a cliff. To reach Corniglia from the station, you can take a bus using your Cinque Terre Treno MS Card or walk the Lardarina, a long brick flight of stairs with 382 steps.
- A Cantina da Mananan
- Another great find due to popular reviews. We were fortunate to do a walk-in for lunch despite the small restaurant (a large group had just finished). A reservation is highly recommended.
- Address: Via Fieschi, 117, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy
- Alberto Gelateria
- Perhaps one of the best gelato I’ve had. We came here twice for their Mango flavored gelato.
- Address: Via Fieschi, 74, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy
Vernazza is a village by the northern side of Cinque Terre. On the first day, we hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza, which takes around 2 hours hike (includes many steps uphill). The views upon arriving to Vernazza from Monterosso is splendid and worth the hike on a such a hot day. Although very charming, Vernazza is extremely popular and draws many people.
- Pizzería Baia Saracena
- It was difficult securing a table around lunchtime in Vernazza so we decided to settle at Pizzeria Baia Saracena because we wanted an outdoor view. The menu is typical pizza/pasta but there is nothing special about the food. They also offer take away pizza.
- Address: Piazza Guglielmo Marconi 16, 19018 Vernazza, Italy
Monterosso is the northernmost town of Cinque Terre. Monterosso is larger and more modern compared to the other villages. It’s also the only place that has a beach that runs along most of the coastline. We didn’t spend much time here and wanted to try Ristorante Miky, but didn’t get around it.