So you have booked a trip and you’re wondering exactly how to ‘do’ the Cinque Terre? I wondered the exact same thing. This post here will help you with any practical tips and tricks for visiting. Like which town to stay in and how to get around etc. But if you’re in need of a little itinerary inspiration – read on! We had three days in the Cinque Terre in late October 2017. Going at that time of year (shoulder season) made all the difference to our trip. We were lucky with the weather (October’s weather can be a gamble!) and lucky to have very few tourists around. It was pure magic!
We chose to stay in Riomaggiore – simply because it was the nicest place we could find for the cheapest price possible. It was important for us to stay in on of the Cinque Terre towns as opposed to staying down the coast at either La Spezia or Levanto (which many people do and it can be way cheaper). Mostly because I wanted to experience everything from sunrise to sunset. In saying this, staying down the coast is definitely doable.
We arrived into Riomaggiore (having flown London-Genoa) in the evening. After finding our bearings and settling into our accommodation we chose to get take away fresh pasta from Primi Piatto Riomaggiore and wander the streets. The pasta was quite small but really fresh and perfect for a late dinner before heading to bed. Lots of exploring to do in the next few days!
We awoke to a perfect Autumnal day – endless blue skies and crisp morning air. Enjoying a coffee and determined to take on the Italian ‘slow’ way of life, we listened to the sounds of a new day – shutters unlatching, doors flinging open, and the friendly shouts of shop owners setting up. Another day in this sun-drenched, seaside town. We spent the early hours of the morning meandering the main street of Riomaggiore collecting various picnic items from a small deli and panifacio (bakery). Warm focaccia, local pesto, fresh cheese and juicy peaches.
We wanted to hike from Riomaggiore to Corniglia but our accommodation host told us that both hiking trails – the Red and Blue – from Riomaggiore were closed. A bit bummed, we did a little further research online (we do not give up that easily!)… and found that the Blue trail had been closed for years (half of the track has slipped into the sea). So there was no way of doing that one. But there seemed to be a bit of grey area around whether the Red track was actually closed…
After umming and ahhing about whether to try the Red track we thought we’d walk to the start to at least have a look. After all, we had come to the Cinque Terre especially to hike!! On arrival we were disheartened to see that tape and faded signposts declared that yes, it was indeed closed. As we stood awkwardly discussing whether the red tape was enough to deter us, an old Italian man approached us. It was pure fate and incredible timing! With leathery, sun-scorched skin and grubby overalls he enthusiastically began to gesticulate with his arms (could he get any more Italian right now!?). In his very best English he cried “It’s not closed! The track is not closed. In italy, everything is closed, closed closed. Closed means open. No problem! Go go!”
Hike Riomaggiore to Corniglia (9am- 12.30pm)
Well my friends, this was just the encouragement we needed! Under the tape we scrambled and on our merry way we wandered. Disclosure: I am by no means recommending or condemning this kind of behaviour… I am normally one to follow the rules! But as keen hikers and with hopes of unspoilt views and ancient vineyards to wander…plus a little bit of local encouragement…well… There wasn’t anything wrong with the track as far as we could see..!
The first section is an endless climb up ancient stone steps. Passing little stone huts, terraced vegetable gardens and row upon row of grape vines. As you get higher the views are utterly amazing. An endless ocean in front of you, autumnal grape leaves surrounding you, and below – a perfect cluster of pastel houses. We found a shady, grassy spot (it was already getting pretty hot!) to tuck into our deli goods for a late breakfast… that focaccia, pesto and cheese (stracchino) combo though – oh my goodness! Pesto and Focaccia (despite being found all over Italy these days), both originate from the Ligurian region (where the Cinque Terre is) – so it’s an absolute must try when there!
The remainder of our hike to Corniglia was just as breathtaking and wonderful. In some areas the path peters out and has rather a sheer drop to one side – but nothing too outrageous as long as you’re somewhat fit, don’t mind some height or the heat. Enroute we found ourselves walking through a mountain top town name Volastra. Like the villages of the Cinque Terre, it also is painted in wonderful shades of pastel. It made a perfect stop for a cappuccino on the cafe steps. In case you’re wondering, the hike we followed were path numbers #531, #506, #586 and #587, if you use the map given by the local tourism offices.
Meander and swim in Corniglia (12.30pm – 3.30pm)
After a 3.5hour, rather hot hike, there was only two things on our minds: gelato and a swim. But alas! Corniglia sits atop a high rocky cliff and is the only village that does not have its own harbour. Too determined and too hot not to have a dip we decided to investigate. Follow your nose into the cobbled streets of Corniglia – and be curious! We took what looked like a dead-end and found ourselves on a long, steep set of stairs down to the SEA. Nailed it! Cute fishing boats, concrete slabs for bathing on and glorious blue ocean. Check, check and check. Were we in heaven? Si!
Once we had thoroughly explored Corniglia (it is only small), we trundled down 300-or-so steps to the train station to head to the neighbouring village Manarola. A mere three minutes on the train and we were there. Voila!
Sunset and Dinner in Manorola (3.30pm – late)
By far the best thing you can do whilst visiting any of the towns in the Cinque Terre is to give yourself the time to just wander. Let your curiosity lead you and just enjoy what you find along the way. We quite quickly found ourselves scooting up a stone staircase away from the town and into layers of terraced farmland. Looking back on the village we had a magnificent view of the higgledy piggledy pastel houses. This small trail is ‘Trail 6P’ if you want to find it on google maps.
A great spot for a drink or sunset is the infamous Nessun Dorma which is nestled on the hill opposite the main part of Manarola village – and thus offers perfect views of the town. Alternatively, just below this is a path and a small gate that leads to tonnes of big rocks. You’ll know this spot as soon as you see it – there are always a couple of photographers setting up on the rocks for their evening shot. We took cold beers and olives and found our own rock to nestle against slightly further down. A perfect sunset spot.
Later, we had dinner at Trattoria del Billy, a restaurant we had pre-booked (which I suggest doing as it is popular). I can’t recommend it enough! It’s away from the hustle and bustle of the harbourside restaurants and is tucked between houses on the hillside. It’s a bit of hike up stairs to get there, but the view is lovely, the people are friendly (we were served Billy’s nephew) and the food is delicious. Hugo’s parents recommend we eat here and we’re so glad they did. Plate after plate of delicious seafood and pasta, complete with a local bottle of wine.
When we eventually agreed that there was no way we could fit yet another mouthful in, we bundled ourselves into a train back to Riomaggiore. Day one – complete! You know that feeling when you feel like you’ve been in a place for weeks on end when in fact it has only been one day? Yes we had that, best feeling in the world.
Explore Monterosso (9am-12.30pm)
Day two of our three days in the Cinque Terre began with a train trip from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (about 15-20mins). In all honesty I felt that Monterosso didn’t have quite as much charm as the other villages. However there was still plenty to explore for a morning. The old town has a lovely tangle of streets with some cute shops and plenty of gelato stops. My favourite shops were the tiny shops selling handmade ceramic sardines – so cute!
One thing you may notice while in the Cinque Terre is how popular fried seafood in a paper cone is. We chose Emy’s Way (Pizzareia and Friggitoria) to try this local speciality. Deep fried anchovies, mussels and squid, all wrapped up in greasy yellow paper with a good squeeze of fresh lemon. Eaten just a stone throw away from the sea. Deeelicious. Whilst in Monterosso take a short climb to the Torrre Aurora, it’s a 16th Century tower that once protected the town from pirates. Just up from there you can climb a little further up to a 17th-century San Francesco Church and monastery on the hill top. The beach in Monterosso is also the ‘beachiest’ beach in Cinque Terre. Meaning it’s sandy and dotted with colourful umbrellas to rent. A perfect summer resort sight.
Hike Monterosso – Vernazza (12.30-1.30pm)
In the heat of the day we hiked the Blue path from Monterosso to Vernazza – it was hot! And it was October! To hike the Blue path you need to buy a Cinque Terre Card for €7.50 (or its free if you already have the Cinque Terre Train Card). This path is straightforward and easy and we did it pretty fast (without sounding braggish) – less than an hour. I did see some people battling, but for the most part it was because they wore ridiculous footwear or were a little elderly. The route was popular even in October and we passed many people along the way. Imagine how packed it gets in the summer! The track hugs the coast most of the way, weaving in and out of olive trees and giving way to beautiful ocean views. The final view coming in to Vernazza is wonderful.
A small castle ruin, a little domed church, a curved harbour with bobbing boats and of course the signature soft-hued houses. Quite a special sight! Despite it being October, we found this town to be the busiest – perhaps it was because we were there in the middle of the day. Still, the streets are definitely worth a wander. For a nice swim take the path to the right (when standing on the beachfront) and head past the domed yellow church and rocks. Beyond are some great rocks for sunbathing on and swimming off. Plus a great angle of the town!
Castello Doria is the stone tower that you see on the spit of Vernazza’s harbour. For only €1.50 you can enter the 12th Century tower for more great views of the town. It is fairly obvious as to what/where the main street is and you’ll find plenty to eat/drink/shop along it. Towards the upper end (away from the water), there is a stone staircase which takes you to the Blue path toward Corniglia. Just before the path starts is the infamous look out spot where many photos of Vernazza are taken. A picturesque spot!
Hike Vernazza to Corniglia (4.30pm-5.30pm)
After a good few hours in Vernazza we decided to hike on to Corniglia, again via the Blue Path. This section was perfect as it was neither too long nor too hard – especially in the heat of the day. A great alternative when you don’t have the energy to hike the Red track and feel like getting the train is a bit of a cop out. It also wasn’t overly busy. Having already explored Corniglia we jumped on the train to head back to Riomaggiore for the evening.
Sunset and Dinner in Riomaggiore (5.30pm-late)
As we were nearing the end of our three days in the Cinque Terre, we wanted a relaxing, chill last night. We opted to have our own beers on the big white rocks in front of Riomaggiore. A GREAT place for sunset and to watch the towns tiny lights flicker to life as the inky evening sets in. We then got take away pizza from K&Pris Pizzeria and sat on our accommodation rooftop. Eating pizza and watching little Italian scenes from a balmy rooftop is now one of my favourite past times. I can 100% recommend the pizza. It may be in a funny location (quite a way off the main street) but it was absolutely delicious.
Our last morning in the Cinque Terre was spent strolling round and soaking up Riomaggiore – the town in which we’d stayed but hadn’t given a whole lot of attention to. It was quite a blustery, cold morning and we’d hoped to catch the ferry or a boat later that day to Portovenere, our next stop. But upon visiting the harbour, we found that no boats were sailing due to the wild weather. A walk to and around the harbour is a must anyway – tonnes of picturesque boats and a jumble of colourful fishing gear. There are also a couple of great rocks for cliff jumping and sunbathing if the weather is right! The main street has some sweet little shops lined with local wine, jars of pesto and hand-carved olive wood bowls and chopping boards. Plenty of great ‘I went to Italy’ gifts!
In the early afternoon we checked out and boarded a train to La Spezia, to then go on to Portovenere. Portovenere is another wonderful town on the Liguiran coast. Colourful like the Cinque Terre, but perhaps a little more authentic (Instagram has not yet got its hands on this spot!). More on that town here.
So, is three days in the Cinque Terre enough?
Three days in the Cinque Terre is just enough. I felt it was enough time to see/do a lot of the things, and to get a good feel for the place. I certainly wouldn’t want any less time. And if you had more time, even better! I’d love to have hiked a few more Red trails or rented a boat for the day. With more time you could always spend longer relaxing – depends on the type of holiday you’re after!
Finally, if I can be so forward as to give three pieces of advice for visiting the Cinque Terre , they would be:
- go in the shoulder season if possible (more bearable temperatures and way less people – what’s not to love!?)
- hike at least one of the Red routes (incredible views, peace and quiet and you’re away from the beaten tourist track)
- take your time (no, you cannot ‘do’ the Cinque Terre in a day, sorry)
And that, my friends was the Cinque Terre. As always, this is only my opinion and experience. If you have any questions, please comment below and ask away! Always happy to help.
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