Cinque Terre (map) can be translated as ‘the five lands’. This translation sounds a bit like a term or a title from ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ and in a way it sounds like a huge region or even a combination of large communities. But in fact, Cinque Terre just stands for five small villages close to the ocean in northern Italy. These villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Cinque Terre was our last stop on our 2 weeks travel through Italy. We originally planned to stay in one of the villages of Cinque Terre, but were just shocked by the prices per night. And there is a reason for that; Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s main tourist attractions and the small villages only offer a limited amount of beds. Therefore we decided to stay in La Spezia which is close by and has a direct train connection to Cinque Terre.
La Spezia itself isn’t really comparable to Cinque terre. This city has 95000 inhabitants and is mainly used as the starting point for excursions to Cinque Terre. It’s not really a beautiful city, but there are several characterful bars and restaurants and we had our best fish pasta ever in La Spezia. The Restaurant ‘Antica Osteria Dell’uva’ has this Pasta dish (with monkfish) on their menu. We even ordered it twice, because we enjoyed it so much. Just in front of this Restaurant, you will find several smaller bars with music and a friendly and open-minded crowd. We experienced this neighbourhood to be the liveliest part of La Spezia with the best restaurants and bars in town.
From La Spezia you can easily get to the five villages of Cinque Terre. The main station of La Spezia has a small shop that sells the train tickets and the tickets for the natural parc Cinque Terre. As it can be quite crowded, we recommend being there very early. There are only two or three persons selling those tickets in a tiny shop and basically everyone has some questions before buying a ticket – so it often takes a while. We bought a ticket for the whole day (including all transportation and the entrance fee) for about 12€ per person. With this ticket you can hop on and off the train, which connects the five cities, as often as you want to.
We planned to go from La Spezia to the first city of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, by train and afterwards hike from one city to the next. But unfortunately the hiking path between Riomaggiore and Manarola and the one between Manarola and Corniglia were closed due to construction works. So we decided to go to Corniglia and then hike to Vernazza and afterwards to Monterosso al Mare. This hike took about 3 hours. Combined with the 2 first hikes, that were closed when we were there, the whole hike takes about 4,5 hours. On our way back towards La Spezia we planned to stop at Riomaggiore. So we saw 4 out of 5 villages of Cinque Terre.
The train first stopped at Riomaggiore and Manarola and provided us a first insight into beautiful Cinque Terre. The train stations are close to the cliffs and you can see the ocean. The whole train ride itself is just amazing. The rails were built into the rough cliffs and are most of the time just metres away from the ocean. After Riomaggiore and Manarola the next stop was Corniglia – this was ours. So we got off the train, followed a small street and entered our first village of Cinque Terre. Corniglia is plainly beautiful and colourful. This little village has some kind of a hippie flair with small shops, juice bars and little restaurants. The atmosphere is laid back and even though we know that there are a lot of tourists, didn’t feel overcrowded. We simply loved this place and in the end became our favourite village of Cinque Terre.
From Corniglia we hiked towards Vernazza. It is a newly constructed or renewed little path that connects all 5 villages and always goes alongside the ocean. At all times you have a great view on the ocean or on one of the colourful villages. As it often goes up and down and can be exhausting, if you are not trained, a lot of tourists rather choose the train. We even experienced a group of English-speaking tourists that complained about ‘this hard workout’, turned around and headed back towards the train station. For us this was just perfect. It gives you the chance to enjoy this magnificent scenery and nature nearly on your own. As we were there during spring there were flowers and little lizards everywhere.
After a hike of about 1 hour we first saw Vernazza. From upon the cliffs you have such a great view on Vernazza and you can shoot postcard-like pictures. After taking a lot of those pictures, we climbed down towards the village. But we have to say that we experienced Vernazza as the total opposite of Corniglia. It was full of tourists and we saw a lot of touristic and expensive restaurants and shops. After our lonely hike we felt cramped. Vernazza is definitely a stunning village, but it seems to be very touristic and we were just unlucky that it was that crowded. For us it was no comparison to Corniglia.
So we went back on our hiking path and for another hour and a half we enjoyed the fascinating landscape. When we entered Monterosso al Mare we realised that this last village of Cinque Terre is different to the other ones. It isn’t that tiny but more wide spread and has a large beach. It is still a nice little village with a great and quite cheap restaurant right on the beach. It is located at the end of the hiking path.
From Monterosso al Mare we headed back towards La Spezia and stopped by at Riomaggiore – our last stop. Riomaggiore consists of colourful houses and narrow streets. But the highlight of this village is plainly the harbour. On the right hand side you can climb some stairs and walk along side a narrow cliff towards an old flag, there you will have a great view on the ocean and harbour and enjoy a sundowner in some privacy.
Cinque Terre in general is just amazing. It combines beautiful nature with colourful little villages. La Spezia turned out to be the perfect base for the exploration of Cinque Terre as it is close by and quite cheap. We have never seen a natural parc like this one and we can definitly understand why Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s top tourist destinations.