Cinqua Terre: 5 little towns on the cliffs

The Cinque Terre Trail, or the Five Lands in Northern Italy

Manarola on the Cinqua Terre Trail

The Cinque Terre Five Lands Trail is located in northern Italy in the Liguria region. The Cinqua Terre Park is nestled along the sea and includes five charming little towns along the cliffs down to the sea.

That’s where we decided to welcome the new year 2018.

How to get to Cinque Terre?

The easiest way to get to the Five Lands Trail, or as it is sometimes called the Blue Trail, is from the town of La Spezia, which is only a 10-minute train ride from the first town of Riomaggiore Riomaggiore.

The sea and beach in Monterosso, Cinqua Terre

La Spezia is easily accessible by trenitalia trains from many major cities. Tickets can be bought online very easily.

The closest relatively large city with an international airport is Pisa, a little further is Genoa, Milan, and if you’re not afraid of 7-8 hours by train, then Rome with Naples and Venice.

Although don’t be lazy to check airline tickets – they may be cheaper than the train.

The beaches of Monterosso al Mare, Cinqua Terre

On the Cinque Terre trail itself, it’s best to travel with a Cinque Terre Card.

Where to stay in Cinque Terre?

Of course you can stay in one of the small towns on the route – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso.

View from the Cinqua Terre Trail to the town of Monterosso

But it is worth noting that the choice there is very limited, and prices are quite high. So we chose another option and we advise you to stay in La Spezia. It is a big city by local standards. There are many hotels, cafes, restaurants and museums. You can easily find a place to stay on airbnb.

And when you’re in La Spezia, the Cinqua Terre Card is in effect. And the trains run from early morning to midnight or even later. So you can easily get to the Cinque Terre trail within 15 minutes.

Monterosso al Mare, Cinqua Terre

When is the best time to visit Cinque Terre?

The most tourist season is in the summer months. There is less rain, the sun is hotter, and you can swim in the sea.

Citrus orchards on the slopes along the Cinqua Terre Trail, Italy

But if you want to see the trail and the towns, and not push in the crowds of tourists, you can come in the winter. Although the likelihood of rain rises a lot.

Even good late spring and early fall, most of the tourists have already run out, but the days are sunny and warm. But it’s not so hot and you won’t languish under the scorching sun climbing the trail.

Cinqua Terre, Corniglia, Italy

Trails and the Cinque Terre Card

The Cinque Terre Card gives you access to all the hiking routes as you can check tickets at the entrance (no one ever checked in winter), plus free wi-fi at the stations and free toilets there, and there is also a card option with unlimited regional train passes on the La Spezia – Levante section.

Vernazza on the Cinqua Terre Trail, Italy

There are plenty of hiking trails ranging from easy 30-minute walks along the sea to steep climbs in the surrounding hills with possible 5-8 hour routes.

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For an up-to-date map of open trails, visit the Cinque Terre Trail’s official website.

Since the summer of 2017, the most popular short route between Riomaggiore and Manarola has been closed due to a landslide.

The streets of the towns along the Cinqua Terre Trail

Cinque Terre winter hike

We set out on the Cinque Terre Trail on New Year’s Eve 2018. All the forecasts promised rain for both days we were in La Spezia, but we were lucky and it almost didn’t rain.

View from the trail to Vernazza, Cinqua Terre

In the winter, trains along the trail run every hour, sometimes more frequently. When we purchased the Cinque Terre card, we were given a map of the Cinque Terre park, the train schedule, and of course the Cinque Terre card itself, which has the login and password for wi-fi.

The cost of the card with the included train for one day is 13 €, for two days 23 €. But this is in winter and more expensive in summer.

Vernazza houses, Cinqua Terre

Only 25 minutes and we get off at the farthest town of Monterosso al Mare. The station is right on the shore along which it is easy to walk to the town, which is nestled among the coastal cliffs. Narrow streets, Christmas decorations, tourists walking the streets.

From the promenade, signs led us to the trail leading to Vernazza. The trail is marked in red and white.

View from the Cinqua Terre Trail to Vernazza

The first meters of the trail goes steeply uphill with high steps. Then it goes slightly up and then slightly down until the last steep descent into Vernazza.

The trail takes about 3.5 km and takes about 1.5 hours to walk at a relaxed pace. And along the trail there are beautiful views of the coast, the sea and at the very end one of the best views of Vernazza.

Cornilla, Cinqua Terre

Vernazza was greeted with cozy streets, delicious pizza and traditional Farinata bean flatbread.

From Vernazza we continued on foot to Cornilla.

It’s 4 kilometers to Cornilla, but not counting the starting ascent and the finishing descent, the trail is on the same level most of the time. Somewhere in the middle of the trail you will meet a village of a couple of houses that have a cafe and rent out lodging.

Overnight in Riomajorra, Cinqua Terre

Cornilla is on a hill and there will be no views of the colorful houses going down to the sea, but there will be gorgeous views of the coast and a bit of Manarola in the distance.

From Cornilla we took the train to Manarola – the trail along the sea is closed because of rockslides, the detours are very far and the winter day is short. Manarola is one of the most beautiful towns on the route and it is here and also in Vernazza that you can see postcard views with colored houses descending on the rocks to the sea.

Trail from Manarola to Cornilla, Cinqua Terre

You can admire Manarola from the promenade, or you can go up to the upper trail and look at everything from above in solitude.

Another short train ride and we are in Riomaggiore the last of the five Cinque Terre lands for us that day.

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Riomaggiore is located in such a way that beautiful photos of the city “from the side” can only be taken from the sea. Surely in the summer all or almost all offer walks by the sea, but in winter all the boats were on the shore.

Manarola on the Cinqua Terre Trail

In each of the towns on the trail you can spend 1.5-2 hours wandering through the ancient streets, basking in the sun and listening to the surf. Of course you can walk/drive the entire trail in 1 day, but then you may not have enough time to fully enjoy the scenery.

We hiked and traversed the trail in 1 day, but returned the next day to some of our favorite spots. If you will be in northern Italy, this place is definitely worth devoting 1-3 days to.

Cinque Terre – the most romantic corner of Liguria

Surely you’ve seen postcards from Italy depicting brightly colored houses on the rocks. These houses are located in 5 towns along the west coast of Italy, in the region of Liguria. This beautiful area is called “Cinque Terre” or in Russian “5 lands”. Today we will take an interesting walk along Cinque Terre and visit all 5 colorful towns.

We thought about visiting the fabulous place Cinque Terre a long time ago, but the colorful houses in the rocks never fit into the itinerary of our Italian trips. On every trip to Italy we try to cover the most noteworthy spots in a particular region. There are 20 regions in Italy. That means, as you understand, you can go here an unlimited number of times and still see far from all the beauties.

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During our autumn trip to Pisa for a few days, in addition to seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we allocated a day to explore Cinque Terre. It went like this. Early in the morning we took the regional train from Pisa to La Spezia. Upon arrival in La Spezia, we bought a 1-day ticket for a ride through the Cinque Terre National Park. An electric train from La Spezia runs to Levanto, stopping at all five towns in Cinque Terre. The price for a 1-day train ticket is €16. The price includes visits to toilets and hiking trails in the national park, as well as unlimited travel on the local train for 24 hours, which is very convenient.

In fact, the train is the only way to see this national park, as the only access by car is to the town of Monterosso. The rest of the 5 lands are exclusively pedestrian. There is also the option of visiting these towns by boat.

Train from La Spezia to Cinqua Terre

The map below shows the route of the boat with all the towns in the 5 lands: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, and Corniglia.

Map of 5 cities in Cinqua Terre

The first stop on our way was the rocky town of Riomaggiore. It was about 10 a.m. and the sun was shining. It was hard to believe, but it was already the middle of October. I remember Riomaggiore with its winding streets and steep climbs. Pay attention to the width of the street – not more than 1.5 meters.

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The Italian town of Riomaggiore in Liguria

The reward for the difficult climbs in the end was this postcard view. In the photo you see colorful houses surrounded by pine trees and palm trees and the endless sea of the Ligurian Sea. It’s worth telling here that the 5 lands of Cinque Terre were once ordinary fishing villages that originated in the 9th century.

The picturesque city of Riomaggiore

In the streets of Riomaggiore there were rare locals and Chinese tourists. In addition to the train station area, the town has an old part and a pier with access to a small rocky beach.

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It is in Riomaggiore, the southernmost point of the Five Lands, that the famous road of love (Via dell’Amore) begins, leading along the cliffs to the neighboring town of Manarola. We had planned to walk along it, but it had been closed due to the big waves and rockfalls of the previous days. I think we could have gotten a lot of good shots while walking along it. The picture with the rocks and the sea immediately brought back to mind our trip to Madeira last summer.

The Road of Love in Riomaggiore

For this reason we decided to get to Manarola by train. The town turned out to be more picturesque and lively than Riomaggiore. It’s the oldest of the five lands and has the ruins of an old bastion, temples, and a pretty walkway along the sea. Due to the fact that the town is hilly, you can take pretty shots of the old part of it from high up. In this photo we see the traditional Italian hanging laundry on balconies, an outdoor restaurant, and tarpaulin-covered boats of the locals.

The Italian town of Manarola

The best view of Manarola’s colorful houses is from the famous observation deck. In the heat it was not easy to be on it in direct sunlight. By the way, to be allowed on the trail, you must have closed shoes on your feet. This mandatory requirement arose after tourists in sandals and flip-flops have turned their feet on the slippery local trails. Sometimes the victims could be evacuated only by helicopter.

The road along the sea in Manarola Italy

The viewpoint at Manarola is one of the most picturesque in the area. Not surprisingly, these places have inspired artists and are now very popular as a place for photo shoots. The most famous artist who worked here is Telemaco Signorini, who made this place famous all over the world with his paintings. Up the slope above the houses are vineyards and olive trees.

Beautiful cottages in Cinque Terre

Near the exit to the viewing path in Manarola was an outdoor café. It served divine paninis with mozzarella, pesto and tomato and an aromatic cappuccino. We were lucky to find a free table.

Italian panini

Next door sat a fluffy white cat, lazily observing the neighborhood and tourists.

Lazy cat

After a quick bite, we took the train to the next town, Vernazza. If you look at the map of towns, you’ll see that we “skipped” the town of Corniglia. We did it on purpose, because we heard it was the least interesting point in the 5 lands, where less tourists go. We decided to visit it on our way back to La Spezia, if the time allows. The electric trains between towns pass through tunnels in the rocks. The distance from one point to another is covered in 5-7 minutes.

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A train between the towns of Cinque Terre

Vernazza is honored in tourist guides as the most colorful and romantic coastal town with the best infrastructure. There were the most tourists here, as well as places for lunch and souvenir shops. We couldn’t resist buying towels and aprons from an Italian grandmother and her cute kitty.

Italian souvenirs

And afterwards, we had pizza for lunch and treated ourselves to some incredible Italian gelato ice cream. We have been fond of jellato since our first trips to cafes in Rome, and it is simply delicious. That’s why on every new trip to Italy we try to try gelato in interesting flavors like kiwi, mandarin, champagne and even cheese. By the way, basil-flavored ice cream is very popular in Liguria. And we’ll give you a traditional Instagram photo: ice cream on the background of Italian houses.

Italian gelato

After wandering through the streets of Vernazza, we went up to the local observation deck, where we took a memorable photo with a postcard.

Pretty Italian town Vernazza

This is perhaps the most recognizable view of Cinque Terre, which you can admire for hours.

Panorama of the Ligurian town of Vernazza

In Vernazza we found a pebble beach under a rock with clear water. I must say that all the towns in the 5 lands have a beach with pebbles and only one with sand. However, I will tell you about it later.

Gravel beach in Vernazza

In this photo you can see a typical landscape of the old town Vernazza: the church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia, boats on the shore, vineyards on the slope and tourists strolling along the sea promenade.

Vernazza in Cinque Terre

Our next stop is Monterosso al Mare, the main beach resort of the coast with a large number of hotels and inns. The secret of its popularity is that it has a long sandy beach, Fedina, on which you just want to lie down. Holidaymakers on the beach a little, but it’s about +25 outside, and the water in October is still warm. If we had had swimsuits and towels we would have swum. When else will we be able to swim in such magnificent surroundings.

Sandy beach in Monterosso-al-Mare

Across the road from the beach are seafood restaurants, nice Italian villas surrounded by pine trees and neatly trimmed bushes. The area is very nice and well maintained.

Italian villa on the beach

A long walk along the waterfront in the heat was exhausting, so we decided to visit the last town of the 5 lands – Cornilla. Surprisingly, it was the place we liked more than the other towns. It has no tourist crowds for the reason that to get into town you have to overcome a very long climb up the hill on the stairs. I think that tourists, calculating their strength, just do not get here. This is what the railroad tracks look like from the highest point of Cornilla that we climbed.

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The town of Corniglia in Liguria

The beauty of Cornilla is in the quiet, shady streets dotted with souvenir shops of local craftsmen. It’s a real welcoming non-tourist Italy with the unhurried pace of life we love. There are plenty of wine cellars in Corniglia.

A street in the Italian town of Corniglia

Corniglia is the only town in Cinque Terre that has no port and can only be reached on foot or by train. A big plus of Corniglia is the opportunity to see from its observation deck the neighboring Manarola. But the panorama of Cornilla itself can only be seen from the water.

Panorama of the Ligurian Sea

Just look at these unforgettable views in the pre-sunset light on the green hills, dotted with vegetation, and the sea.

Panorama of Cinque Terre

I’ll tell you a little about the ferries that can be used to explore the coastline of the towns of the 5 Lands. A day pass to the ferries costs €35. They say that from the water Cinque Terre looks even more fabulous. However, this option is suitable for tourists who have time. If you are here for a day, the water transport will allow you to see only a few points of the Ligurian coast. There is an alternative to the overloaded ferries in the high season – rental of a private boat. The cost of rent for 1 hour: about €100-120. Especially rave reviews from tourists who went on a boat trip on the Cinque Terre at sunset.

Tourist boats in Cinque Terre

In Cornilla, our journey through the Cinque Terre National Park ended. In just 10 hours we visited 5 towns and walked a total of 23 km. I advise you to visit this place during your trip to northern Italy. You can also see the towns of the five lands on a fascinating one-day individual excursion from Genoa, “Cinque Terre National Park and Portovenere”.

The town of Corniglia in Liguria

If you travel through the Liguria region by car, I also recommend stopping by the atmospheric towns of Portovenere, Portfino and Santa Margherita Ligure, as well as the town of Telaro with its colorful houses. The best time to visit Cinque Terre is in spring and fall. We rent cars for travel at the best prices on the Rentalcars website. Even during the high season you can find the right rental car on this web site.

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Ksenia Alekseeva

I was born and studied in Omsk, since February 2012 I live in Prague. I love to learn languages, I work as a translator of English and German. I also know Spanish and Czech. In my free time, I like to visit new places, especially I like warm countries and islands, I dream to visit Bora-Bora. I like animals very much, my favorite are sea lions and seals.

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