Cinque Terre: 8 Days Exploring the Italian Riviera’s 5 Lands
Despite living in the UK for the last 5 and a half years, my husband and I had somehow neglected to re-visit Italy (after we travelled there 6 years ago from Australia). This summer we changed that and spent 8 blissful days exploring the Cinque Terre.
When I was researching the villages, I found it difficult to decide which town to stay in… so, we chose two – Riomaggiore for the first four nights, and then Vernazza for the last four nights. And I knew that while we would be based in those villages, we would make sure that we got to visit the other three while we were there.
Thankfully, the local trains are super easy, quick and never more than 13 minutes away. They can be expensive though – €4 each way no matter if it’s one stop or four. I’d recommend looking into a Cinque Terre Card if you think you’ll be using the trains a lot.
Not on purpose, we actually visited each of the villages in order and I think it was a perfect way to see them all.
Eight Days in the Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore
Probably my favourite of Cinque Terre’s five towns, Riomaggiore felt like a perfect combination of coastal, chilled fishing village and active tourist spot. We spent our days sunbathing on the rocky ‘beach’, snorkelling in the clear water and joining a kayak tour to the nearby village of Manarola as the sun set, turning the sky a brilliant shade of orange.
We adored the food; a mix of take away seafood cones that we enjoyed while sitting on the steps of narrow stairways that lead to more flats, A Pie De Ma, a small wine bar with stunning views, and local stores where we would buy cheese, wine and focaccia to share on the balcony of our apartment.
If there is one town I would like to spend more time in, it would be Manarola. We took the train here from Riomaggiore for our 10:30am pesto making class at Nessun Dorma. If I can give but one piece of advice for anyone travelling to the Cinque Terre, it is to book yourself in to this stunning restaurant and preferably for the pesto experience.
We paid €50 each which included:
- All fresh ingredients and utensils to make the perfect pesto
- A glass of wine each while we tasted our final product
- Lunch (which we smothered with our pesto)
- A jug of house wine to share between two with lunch
- A masterful teacher
- Views which are basically the pictorial depiction of perfection
Not to brag or anything, but hubby and I came away winners on the day when Simione (owner and pesto teacher) declared our pesto the besto (I don’t apologise for the shameless Friends quote). For that, we earned ourselves a bottle of wine to share which we later took back to our room along with some cheeses and focaccia for dinner.
The main swimming spot in Manarola is the harbour. Here, there is a giant rock which people (not me; promise, Mum!) would climb up and then jump off, plummeting into the clear blue waters below.
The day we moved changed accommodation from Riomaggiore to Vernazza was fairly overcast so we took the opportunity to try one of the Cinque Terre’s famous hikes. We trekked up countless stone steps and walked along the trail which hugged to the curve of the mountain. Each time the trees thinned, we would get a stunning view out to the ocean and see Corniglia getting closer and closer. It was about a 2 hour hike, mostly uphill from our direction.
Set high up on the cliff, Corniglia is the only town without direct access to the water. You need to climb down hundreds of stairs to reach the Mediterranean Sea which meant also needing to climb back up them to get back to town. We opted to stroll through the town, grab some well-deserved lunch and check out the church of San Pietro which was built in 1334!
Our second home of the Cinque Terre delivered upbeat vibes and an assortment of dining experiences. The entertainment ranged from a portside DJ with lightshow and pyrotechnics on Friday night, to a chilled acoustic band on Saturday night and a classical band with traditional dancing on Sunday night. Vernazza clearly knew how to put it on for the tourists.
We spent our days swimming and sunbaking on the rocks and even hired a small boat for 4 hours and drove around to some more secluded swimming spots.
I think we made it our unknowing mission to eat or drink at pretty much every establishment in Vernazza. On our way up to one of the restaurants, we noticed an underground wine bar, Cinque Sensi, and thought, “why not?” This somehow turned into a wine tasting and a great conversation and history lesson.
The sunsets of Cinque Terre easily rival Santorini’s and I’d argue that the best vantage point for it was from the balcony table at Ristorante Belforte. You’ll need to book in advance to secure an outdoor table (or to just get any seat – we had to book 3 nights in advance) and you will want to cross all of your fingers and toes that your waiter is the energetic, hat-wearing Andrea. Each time our new friend came out to us, his head was adorned with a new hat, crown or flashing pair of sunglasses. It was his thing, he told us.
Vernazza was also my top spot for shopping – good quality and fair prices. On the day we were leaving (it was a Tuesday), the main street was also lined with market stalls – Had I known I would have gotten down there earlier but we had a train to catch!
Separated by a hill which you can either walk through thanks to a tunnel or around, Monterosso is split into the new town and the old town. It is known as the “most-touristy” of the five villages. Set on flat land unlike the others, there isn’t much stair climbing here.
We spent our final day of our Italian summer holiday on the sun loungers under umbrellas, taking dips to cool off in the new town.
We wandered around to the old town in the afternoon and I couldn’t resist one last shop around before dinner.
Eight Days in the Cinque Terre: Getting There
We had been in Venice the week before so for us, we needed to cross from one side of the top of the boot-shaped land to the other. We considered hiring a car for the day but when the trains are so reliable in Italy, it made more sense to use those. I pre-booked them on Trainline.com and even decided to leave a 3 hour stopover in Bologna – the home of the Bolognese sauce.
The two bigger train stations outside of the five villages are Levanto in the north and La Spezia in the south. Because we started in Riomaggiore, we took the train to La Spezia and then changed to take another train just a couple of minutes to our first stop in the Cinque Terre.
When I was researching ahead of our trip, there were also great connections from Florence, Pisa and Genoa which all have airports.
Whichever way you choose to get there, just get yourself there! The scenery, the food, the people; Cinque Terre will leave you wanting more of it all!
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