Whether you’re an outdoor adventurer, self-proclaimed beach bum, or hardcore foodie, Cinque Terre is definitely for you. Meaning “Five Lands,” Cinque Terre is a rugged, colorful string of seaside villages that runs along the Italian Riviera. The five villages, coast, and hills comprise the Cinque Terre National Park, which is a recognized UNESCO site. Surrounded by vineyards, caressed by turquoise waters, and brimming with pastel-colored homes, Cinque Terre is sure to take your breath away.
Train to Monterosso
Accessing Cinque Terre via car is almost impossible and is certainly the least ideal way to travel among the villages. Flying into Genoa would bring you closest to your final destination; an hour later on a local train and you’ll find yourself in Monterosso. However, it’s generally more affordable to fly into Milan than Genoa, so arriving there and grabbing a scenic three-hour train to Monterosso might actually be much less expensive. Regardless of how you get there, a train will most definitely be involved, though watching the Italian countryside pass by out the window is certain to make the time fly.
Lunch in Monterosso
Monterosso is the northernmost village of the five lands that make up Cinque Terre. An old fishermen’s village, Monterosso is the only one of the five villages that isn’t made up of rainbow-colored houses, though don’t let that discourage you; the charm is still abundant. Lose yourself among the tiny streets and shop for local products, particularly nautical-themed decor and handcrafted bars of soap. Pizza for lunch is a must, and although there are plenty of fancier looking places, Pizzeria La Smorfia is the best. Unassuming and simple, this tiny joint sits under a bright yellow awning, with a couple of wooden benches for sidewalk seating. Enjoy a pesto pizza, a traditional Ligurian specialty, for some flavorful fuel before your hike.
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Hike to Vernazza
Pack lightly. Sneakers are a must for outdoor adventurers in Cinque Terre. The five villages are connected both by train and hiking path, though the walkways connecting the last three villages are under construction due to flood damage a few years back. Take advantage of the coastal hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. It’ll take you between 45 minutes and an hour and is more challenging than expected, though the payoff of that first sight of the rainbow houses of Vernazza makes it all worth it. On arriving at Vernazza, grab a glass of Vermentino, a local white varietal, at one of the many seaside bars — you’ve earned it! We recommend Taverna del Capitano, which offers lots of outdoor seating, perfect for watching the boats coast by along the sea. Wander up Via Roma, the main street in the village center, up to Castello Doria and climb the spiral staircase for a breathtaking view of the sea — that is, if your post-hike thighs are up for the challenge.
If your legs can handle a second hike to Corniglia, then a second hike is not to be missed. However, the local train station in Vernazza sits at the end of the main strip and will get you there in under 10 minutes. Corniglia’s stony side streets are perfect for wandering aimlessly, dotted with souvenir shops selling magnets, tiles, and ceramic boats in an array of bright colors. Grab a gelato at Alberto Gelateria to enjoy along your side-street stroll; we recommend nocciola or the traditional honey flavor, made from local Corniglia honey. For adventurous gelato eaters, basil (yes, basil-flavored gelato) is not to be missed.
By this point, your legs are sure to be on fire. Hop on the train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages. Riomaggiore is one of the more residential of the five villages, featuring slightly bigger houses in more neutral tones. Climb your way to the top of the village for a stunning view of the Italian rooftops against the sea. Shop for local specialties, such as pesto and limoncello, perfect for gifts to your friends and family. Head back down along the rocky coastline just in time for sunset — the pink and purple sky against the dark blue waters of the Ligurian Sea crashing against the rocks is a visual moment you’ll never forget.
Dinner and Lodging in Monterosso
Head back to Monterosso on the train and spontaneously choose a hotel that suits your liking; we recommend choosing one with free WiFi and included breakfast to get the biggest bang for your buck. Drop your backpack and head out for a local Ligurian dinner. Ristorante Via Venti has an incredible selection, including pasta with shellfish, pesto gnocchi, and tagliatelle with mushrooms. For seafood lovers, this place is a must. Bonus points — the local house white is delicious. Grab a carafe and enjoy sipping while people-watching, all while dining al fresco.
Morning in Monterosso
Start your day off with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. If you chose a hotel with breakfast included, indulge yourself in meats, cheeses, and breads topped in Nutella galore. For those without an all-inclusive breakfast, head down to the boardwalk to Bar Lo Sputino. Savor flaky croissants stuffed with Nutella or pistachio cream, washed down with strong, savory espresso against the backdrop of the light waves. After breakfast, head down to the rocky shores of the Ligurian Sea and savor the Mediterranean sun for a couple of hours. Beach chairs are recommended, as lying on the rocky terrain can become uncomfortable quickly. Even if it’s too cold for a full-fledged swim, don’t miss out on bathing your feet in the crystal-clear water — you’ll be amazed at how transparent it is.
Lunch in Vernazza
Legs not too exhausted? Hike or take the train back to Vernazza for one last glimpse of the classic rainbow homes of Cinque Terre. Replenish those calories at Batti Batti Friggitoria for all of your fried-food needs. The simple walk-up style of the joint doesn’t offer any seating, so grab your fried squids and anchovies (served in a paper cone, of course) and plant yourself on the sidewalk. Wash it down just a few doors away at Gelateria Vernazza, a staple in the village for over 30 years. The gorgeously handcrafted, non-traditional flavors will have your mind spinning at which to choose; we recommend the Cinque Terre or ricotta and figs. Savor your gelati on your walk back down to the water and catch the ferry back to Monterosso. It may only be a few minutes long, but what would a trip to Cinque Terre be without a boat ride?
Final Drink in Monterosso
Before boarding the train back to your original starting point, savor one last glass of wine in Monterosso. Head to Enoteca da Eliseo. If hospitality were a competition, Eliseo and his wife Maria would surely claim the title. Bustling with locals and tourists, this hidden gem is perfect for purchasing bottles to bring back and cellar at home. Maria and Eliseo generously provide their knowledge, offering tastes and backstories to lead you to your perfect bottle. Aside from nuts and olives to accompany your wine, no food is served at this quaint little spot, so be sure not to arrive on an empty stomach. A glass of Brunello di Montalcino will run you a mere seven euros, so grab a glass and savor the dream streets of Monterosso one last time before your return to reality.
Where to Stay :
For affordable accommodations, check out Albergo al Carugio for a centrally located bargain. For added amenities, including WiFi, roof terrace access, and breakfast included, look to L’Antica Terrazza. For a one-night splurge, including WiFi, private parking, satellite TV, and laundry service, Bellambra is your answer. All accommodations recommended are found in Monterosso for proximity to the train.