Last May I was traveling in Italy. I have written about my first destination in two previous posts, one about Ragusa Ibla and Ortigia, the other about Valle dei Templi and Scala dei Turchi. My next destination was almost at the opposite side of the country, my first visit to the famous Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera, is a well known tourist destination for their dramatic landscapes, the colorful houses and good food. Everything is at walking distance, and all villages are connected by train, which completely exonerates the visitors from the burden of a car and the related traffic. It’s almost a step back in time, which can provide a nice escape from stressful realities that we often find ourselves in.
The Cinque Terre National Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several travel publications have contributed to a surge in visitors over the past decade, so today it is not unadulterated Italy anymore. Restaurants, souvenir shops and Airbnb locations are now occupying homes and botteghe of the past. Streets, squares, restaurants and trails, are packed with tourists most of the time. So are the train stations, where trains run regularly and on schedule, moving people from one town to the other.
The main attraction is the area itself: the joint beauty of the five villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – each with their own terraced hills, the colorful houses, their little harbors, the sinuous narrow paths, and the steep climbs. This LonelyPlanet article, and this other one, give you a good overview and tips if you are planning to visit.
If photography is your thing, you will easily find great spots where to take pictures of the various villages. Vernazza and Manarola are the most photogenic villages, followed by Riomaggiore, Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare. The best spots are on the coastal trail – Sentiero Azzurro – although you don’t necessarily have to walk it all the way to get those shots. For example, the hot spot for Vernazza is not far from its train station: just on the Sentiero Azzurro towards Monterosso al Mare. Knowing this comes in handy if you want to take night shots, as I would not recommend the trails in the dark.
Speaking of hiking, the main coastal trail is, as I said above, the Sentiero Azzurro, which connects all five villages. To enter it, you will need to pay a permit – the Cinque Terre Trekking Card – which you can purchase on-trail (bring cash). Don’t waste time searching for a location where to buy the permit: just hit the trail and soon enough you will see the booth where to make the purchase. You also have the option to purchase the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card instead, which includes the train rides.
If you think to walk all the way from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, think again. The section from Riomaggiore to Manarola – known as Via dell’Amore – is closed due to a landslide. Same between Corniglia and Manarola. So effectively you can only hike on the Blue Trail between Monterosso and Corniglia. Then you will need the train anyway. If you really want to hike, there are other trails, but you will have to climb a bit over the hills.
Food and wine lovers can enjoy fish-based dishes, and the unique Sciacchetrà, a raisin wine specific of this region. There are several opportunities to taste and purchase the wine at various locations while there. Wine tasting can be one thing to do if you have (or make) the time, or if the weather forces you indoors. This in fact is how I spent a rainy afternoon, guest of Buranco winery, where – as part of the tasting – I had the best pesto ever. Ever.
Monterosso al Mare was the base during my stay. Very convenient, seems to offer a little more breadth than the other towns. It has a usable sandy beach, a good selection of restaurants, and groceries. And a Giant.
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Full gallery below.