What can I say that hasn’t been said before about this beautiful part of the world? The Cinque Terre has always been high on my bucket list and I’ve finally managed to experience it.
Cinque Terre means “Five Lands” and is on the north west coast of Italy and part of the Italian Riviera. Five villages are linked together by ancient walking trails, some of which were the old mule tracks used by the farming families who settled and farmed their grapes and olives, building terraces on the steep hillsides and building houses on the rocky cliffs.
The area is small and fragile and now a National Park and Protected Marine Area. Thankfully this beautiful natural environment has been recognised as a special place and attempts are being made to protect it. If you’ve never been, do try to go there!
The five villages are, from north to south, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
How to Travel Between Villages at Cinque Terre
Access to the villages is by train, ferry, walking the trails (when they’re not closed due to weather conditions or landslides), or even swimming the special swimming trail (between Monterosso and Vernazza ). You won’t need a car and if you do drive there you’ll have to leave your vehicle in one of the few dedicated car parks quite a distance from the centre of the villages. I caught the train from Genoa, changing at Levante.
Travel by Train
Travelling to and from the 5 villages by train is easy, the trains running every 24 minutes. I purchased a full day train ticket for 12 euros, which enabled me to get on and off wherever I wanted, and when. The ticket also gave me access to the walking trails.
Travel by Ferry
A full day ferry ticket (17 euros), enables you to travel return from your village to each of the others (except Corniglia which isn’t accessible by ferry), stopping off at villages on the way. For less, you can buy tickets for specific trips between villages. The sight of each village from the sea is picture-postcard-perfect; exactly as the travel brochures show them to be.
Whatever age, the Cinque Terre will work it’s magic on everyone, although it does help to be reasonably fit. Several people were hobbling around with parts of their legs strapped up due to injuries; probably strained tendons, or worse. Four of the villages are built on steep hillsides, the exception being Monterosso, which is flatter, is more developed, and the one village more suited to those preferring to lounge on a beach bed than walk up steep streets. This village has a sandy beach.
I stayed at Riomaggiore, which to my mind, is the prettiest of them all. But really it wouldn’t matter which village you choose; they’re all beautiful and access to each one from another is very easy. Riomaggiore is probably one of the quieter, more peaceful villages.
The sea around the Cinque Terre is clear, clean, and fresh. Absolutely perfect. No sand, but pebbly beaches and seabed. Great for swimming, diving, snorkelling, and kayaking.
I could rave for pages over this magic place. I’ll definitely be back there, hopefully as soon as next year, but pictures speak louder than words, and I was a happy snapper, hardly ever without my camera. I’ll give you a brief outline of each village and let the pictures speak for themselves.
The northernern-most village of the 5, Monterosso was fortified with a powerful defensive system against violent pirate invasions of years gone by.
Today it is the most touristy of them all with most of the beach “owned” by restaurants or hotels. Accessibility to all but 2 small areas of beach is at a cost of 20 Euros a day, which gives you a sun lounger. If you want to hire a locker/changing room, you pay more. Not my favourite village, although it does have an interesting “old town”area.
Approaching from the mountain trail from Monterosso, Vernazza is a breathtaking sight with a natural pier shaped like an amphitheatre.
This was my favourite place to swim, lay on the warm pebbles and bask in the sun.
Corniglia is the only village with no access from the sea. It’s perched about 100 metres above sea level and can be reached either by train (and then walk up 382 steps to the village), or by hiking across the steep hills from Vernazza. Because more effort needs to be made to access Corniglia, there are less visitors, hence Corniglia is the most original of the five villages.
This was another of my favourites. How many favourites can I have?
I had the most delicious pizza here, and jumped into the natural rock pools to cool off.
This village, as are the others, is surounded by vineyards and olive trees. So picturesque!
Two steep terraced hills descend to the sea in steep cliffs, and the village of Riomaggiore is tucked between them, the houses cascading down the hillsides to the tiny natural harbour at the bottom. The water is so clear, just like everywhere else on the Cinque Terre, and lovely to swim in.
Sciacchetra is a strong sweet wine made locally. It’s probably most suited in small doses, and sipped with cheese or deserts, or before dinner as an aperitif. I admit I did none of these, but polished off a whole bottle by myself while nibbling on a slice of walnut bread and writing an article for my blog, sitting outside under the moonlight. I can’t say it was a hard night at the office!
Everything’s done by hand in these little wineries on the hill. It’s too steep for any machinery of any kind. All they have are pulleys to move their pickings up or down their terraces. The grapes are sorted the old fashioned way; by hand.
Two of the walking tracks were closed during my stay at Cinque Terre, due to maintenance and landslides. The smallest one, from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the shortest, flattest, easiest and most popular. It’s called “Lovers’ Walk”, and is apparently very beautiful. It was closed.
I walked the longest, steepest and most difficult, between Montorosso and Vernazza. I admit to being a little apprehensive beforehand, especially after being warned by a very fit couple of Kiwi people I’d met who had done it the day before, how “hard” it was! By the time I reached Montorosso and was ready to set off, it was 11 am and the sun was high in the sky. Add to that the number of hard core hikers with hiking boots and poles. I thought those things were made for the ski slopes! And here was I in sandals!
There are over 800 steps to climb up the side of the mountain, some steps being about 2 feet high as the path dog-legged up and up. I needed to almost haul myself up some of them. I’d taken a towel with me in anticipation of the swim I planned to have when I got back down the other side but the towel was wet with my sweat by the time I finished. The track narrowed to only about 2 feet wide or less in places, and much of the track had no barriers. It was necessary to hug the side of the mountain, especially if hikers were coming the other way. But I exaggerate. It wasn’t that bad. The anticipated time for the track is 3 hours. I was in the sea on the other side at Vernazza by 12.30. I’d made good time! (I brag).
The views up there are magnificent, as you might imagine. The track wound through and beside little farms growing grapes, and on one bend in the track an old man with a big bushy beard had a basket of his produce he was selling; his own home-grown olive oil.
First Views of Vernazza on the other side
So worthwhile, and then there’s that beautiful water to cool down in!
I took a zillion photos of this perfect piece of Italy. How could I not? If you’re planning a trip there and want to know more, just shoot me an email. I’d be happy to tell you what I know 🙂