Cinque Terre is one of those Instagram famous places that you are terrified of visiting exactly because of that reason. This year, I left Panama in August during the Covid pandemic. After traveling through the south of France, I crossed over to Genova to meet with some friends. When I saw how close it was, I asked my friend Marc to join me for a day trip.
How to get to and around Cinque Terre?
I usually would not recommend going to Cinque Terre during the summer since the towns are quite small and they get overcrowded. However, because of the pandemic it was quite pleasant. We took the train from Genova and the plan was to get off at Riomaggiore, the town farthest away. Because of all the tunnels and our lack of attention we ended up at La Spezia. There we had to wait 20 minutes to board the Cinque Terre Express train.
There is a train that connects Levanto, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and La Spezia. This railway line was done in the 19th century. Traveling between each town takes between 4 to 6 minutes. From March 15 to November 1, the train runs every 20 minutes. Each one-way ticket costs 4 euros, however there is a Cinque Terre Card that you can buy at every train station. This card costs 16 euros (2020 price) and lets you use the train all day. Cars are banned from all the towns.
You can also go by ferry for 7 euros per route or 30 euros for a full day pass. Taking a ferry ride gives you incredible views when arriving in each town. Please note that there is no stop in Corniglia since this village does not have water access. The ferry takes about 15 to 30 minutes between each town, so it is a lot slower than the train.
From Genova it’s about an hour and a half by train and from Pisa it is two hours. Those would also be the two nearest airports. There are also tours from Milan to Cinque Terre and from Florence to Cinque Terre. Each city is three hours away, so it is best to take a full day tour.
The Cinque Terre Card also gives you access to all the hiking trails in the national park. These paths go along cliff sides used by locals (with their mules) all the way back to the early medieval period.
If you choose to hike the complete trail, then I would recommend starting with Monterosso. The trail starts from the town square. It takes between an hour and a half to two hours to reach Vernazza. If you choose to continue the trail between Vernaza and Corniglia it will take you about an hour and a half more. You will be going through vineyards, olive trees and forests, so expect more shade.
The benefit of going in this direction is reaching Corniglia from the top of the hill. Then you can go down the stairs to get to the train station. Before it was possible to hike the whole trail, continuing to Monterosso and Riomaggiore. However, there were some mudslides caused by torrential rains in October 2011 killing nine people and damaging the villages. So they closed both of those trails. Supposedly they will open again in 2023.
What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre means Five Lands. It is made of five medieval fishing villages that were constructed on cliffs that crash into the water. They are located in the Liguria region of Italy. Monterosso and Vernazza were the first villages settled back in the 11th century. They were part of the Republic of Genoa. In the past the settlers lived from fishing, grapes and olives, but since the 1970s tourism has been the main source of income.
Here are some food tours you can take:
All five villages, the coastline and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
Many people prefer to stay the night in a hotel in Cinque Terre to be able to explore the area calmly or to include a visit to Portovenere. There are hotels in La Spezia and Levanto which are the towns before and after.
There is a public beach in Riomaggiore, but it is not a nice beach since it has lots of rocks. To get to it you must follow the tunnel from the railway station that has a sign leading to the marina.
That marina area is one of the Insta famous spots with all the super colorful buildings.
Riomaggiore has a castle (originally a fort) that offers great views. Other buildings to visit are the Church of San Giovanni Battista from the 14th century and Sanctuary of our Lady of Montenero from the 8th century.
Many people bathe in Manarola, but there is no beach, only a harbor that is used for sunbathing.
This is the most famous of all the towns since it is a lot bigger. So many colorful and tall houses are perched on top of cliffs that look into the water. It is a great place to see the sunset.
This is the hardest town to access since there is no boat or road, you can only get there by train or hiking trail. We arrived at this town at mid day, without having done our research – I thought my friend knew! – and realized we would have to climb up a mountain of stairs in a scorching hot summer day. We looked at each other and decided in a second not to go up to this town.
Corniglia has a “beach” called Guvano which is not really a beach, it is more pebbles and rocks by the water. This is a public beach that is usually the most quiet and has nudists.
Without a doubt, Vernazza was my favorite of all the towns in Cinque Terre. It also has a Castello with great views and the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia. This is where we had lunch and then went to the beach by the harbor. It is very calm and has an amazing view of the town and the church.
There is another beach behind a cliff. To get there you must walk past a rope with a sign that says dangerous and go through a cave. I am glad we did not bathe in this beach since it is quite rocky and has waves. While we were waiting in the train station we saw many tourists with cuts in their legs.
Monterosso al Mare
This town has the longest beach of all the towns. Fegina is near the new part of the village, right in front of the train station. It has the traditional colorful umbrellas and chairs over the sand. There is another beach in the old town near the start of the trail to Vernazza. It is a 10 minute walk to the left of the train station.
Monterosso al Mare has a Mediterranean feel. The old town has a small square with a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, restaurants, shops and beaches where locals and tourists spend the time. While the new town is where the hotels and high end restaurants are located. This town is quite flat compared to the other ones in Cinque Terre.
Make sure to search for the Giant Structure of Neptune, which is the symbol of Monterosso. Also worth seeing are the Covento di Monterosso al Mare, San Francesco Church and the Church of San Giovanni Battista.