Cinque Terre, meaning “five cities,” is located on the northwestern coast of Italy, and is just as picturesque as it looks. I already mentioned in my preliminary Italy post that this was one of the highlights of our trip, and the pictures make it easy to see why. I’ve arranged our day in this area based on my favorite cities, from most to least, although they were all beautiful in their own way.
Manarola became my favorite city in Cinque Terre, mostly because of the time of day at which we explored it. We showed up here just in time to eat a scrumptious dinner, view a beautiful sunset, and best of all — by the time the sun had fallen into the sea, most of the tourists had left, and we strolled the city in peace.
Manarola also offered the best seacliff trails of any of the cities we visited, in terms of direct access from the city. Because of that, we were able to see iconic Cinque Terre views, featuring small, colorful houses, all stacked together and cascading into the sea.
Before dinner, I wanted some extra energy, so we made a stop at this cafe, Nessun Dorma, named for a famous aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.
I didn’t have a single bad espresso while in Italy, but this was certainly the most scenic one I had.
We dined at Trattoria La Scogliera – Cucina Tipica, a restaurant close to the edge of town. After tasting what my mom ate the night before in Milan, I was eager for my own seafood pasta. It was very fresh, perfectly cooked, and full of fish, including clams, shrimp, octopus, and calamari. I’m not sure if the proximity of the ocean gave the food an extra element of deliciousness, but it was a wonderful meal.
Just as we were wrapping up dinner, the sun started to set, turning already colorful scenery into images so vivid they didn’t look real. The fading sunlight underscores the vibrancy of these villages and transforms the Mediterranean into a brilliant turquoise. The pictures don’t do it full justice.
Just before leaving, we caught an aerial shot of Manarola. Props to my mom and her wandering ways for finding this spot well off the main road.
My second favorite city was Vernazza, which seemed to have more nooks and crannies and “secret” passageways than any of the other cities. One of my mom’s side trips uncovered the Castelo Doria, an excellent lookout for viewing the city from above.
After taking in the city from the fortress, we climbed down and walked along the seashore, something you can’t really do in Manarola as you’re up on the cliffs. The Cinque Terre coast is rocky, and on the day we were there, the waves were high and constantly crashing on the rocks, sending sea sprays everywhere. We found a small sea cave leading onto the shore close to the train station.
My one disappointment here was that Belforte, a restaurant right on the edge of the water, was closed for the day. I’d looked it up in advance of arriving in Cinque Terre and was really looking forward to trying it. But we found a pizzeria instead, Baia Saracena, and had a great lunch in spite of it. My anchovy pizza was perfect — not too salty and very fresh.
I think I saw more boats in Vernazza than any of the other five cities, something that can likely be attributed to their protected harbor.
And you won’t just find boats in the water in Cinque Terre, they’re often on the streets, too.
Though it’s very American of me, I admit I was surprised to see clothes hung out to dry everywhere we went, but it lended a rustic, charming feel to Italy.
Finally, we ate some of the best gelato I had the whole trip at Gelateria Vernazza just before leaving, and I know I’ll be craving that nutella caramel and pistachio gelato for some time to come.
Monterosso al Mare
If you’re looking to spend your afternoon beachside, this is the perfect place to be. Just steps from the train station, you can relax on the sandy shoreline.
Monterosso affords beautiful beach access, and reminded me a good bit of southern coastal cities in the U.S., such as Charleston, especially with its pastel-colored houses with grand staircase entrances and shuttered windows.
Riomaggiore was our first stop, and it was mostly abandoned. I imagine that if the entrance to the Lover’s Lane (Via delle’Amore) was open, it would have been more lively, and we would have spent more than just a few minutes here. Unfortunately, mudslides had closed the trail for the past few months, and we weren’t able to walk it.
This first view of Cinque Terre reminded me of the North Shore of Kauai, however, with its steep, verdant cliffs falling into an agitated blue sea against a cloudy, stormy backdrop. Never thought I’d say Italy could look like Hawaii, but in Cinque Terre, it’s possible.
We didn’t see Corniglia, mostly because of bad timing and being too tired to climb up to it. If you venture to this city, you should know that 300 steps await you. You can also take a bus, but it doesn’t seem to sync with the train schedules, so plan accordingly.
Cinque Terre, Overall
If you find yourself in the northwestern part of Italy, I highly recommend a trip to Cinque Terre. Some day I hope we’ll be able to go back and do more hiking in Cinque Terre National Park, an adventure that would have taken more time than we had on this trip. Next time!