It has been a long time dream of mine to visit Italy’s Cinque Terre and to finally gaze at the pastel coloured houses dotted on its characteristic rugged terrain really was a pastel dream come true. I know a lot of you have dreams of visiting this place, too but getting there takes some research. Do not fret, my friends, as my quick travel guide in Cinque Terre will help you get there in no time.
Cinque Terre (pronounced CHEEN|kweh TEHR|reh) is a collection of five fishing villages in Italy’s Ligurian Region also known as the Italian Riviera. Cinque means Five and Terre means land thus the name Cinque Terre or Five Lands. It is characterised by rugged terrain along the coastline. What makes the view so dreamy and sought after are the colourful houses that are perched on its cliffs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is composed of Riomaggiore Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia and Monterosso, each with its own characteristic.
Centuries ago, these Five villages were virtually unknown and isolated until the construction of the railway in the 1800’s. Today, Cinque Terre receives millions of tourists a year that plans to regulate the number of visitors with a ticket system is in the works. Which is why now is the best time to visit.
We flew into Pisa International Airport from the UK. You can also fly into Florence but you will pay more and Florence is only an hour train ride from Pisa so it makes sense to fly into Pisa rather than Florence. We based ourselves in Florence for the whole holiday and took day trips from there. I have to mention that Florence is a very good hub when exploring the Tuscan region of Italy.
The train ride to Cinque Terre from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Stazione Centrale took approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes though it depends on how many stops as it only took us just under 2 hours on the way back. If taken from Pisa, would only take an hour and a half.
Take a train to La Spezia (there are no direct trains to Cinque Terre) and from La Spezia, buy another ticket at the station which is the Cinque Terre Treno Card (more info here )and will include unlimited train rides between the villages and entry to the hiking trails. Access between villages is only via trains and hiking. Cars are banned thus retaining its rustic charm which makes these little villages more appealing. If you are driving there, you will have to park at La Spezia train station then take the train from there. The Cinque Terre card comes with a trail map for trekking and train schedule for each town which is approximately every 30 minutes. Travel times in between towns is less than 10 minutes.
Since we visited Cinque Terre as a day trip, I could not recommend any places to stay. There are only a few hotels within Cinque Terre and they get booked quite quickly. You need to book months in advance. I have looked online and there are a few that I myself would stay in. I’m quite picky when it comes to accommodation. La Mala in Vernazza has light and airy rooms with breathtaking sea views, Hotel Porto Roca in Monterosso has Italian flair with its decor with rooms that overlook the bay of Monterosso and lastly, which probably would be my personal choice, not only because it is located in my favourite Manarola, but also because it has nice, clean lines with its interior decor is Hotel Marina Piccola.
Il Pescato Cucinato (Riomaggiore)
I love my seafood and this place could not make me any happier. This hole in the wall sells fried seafood that was caught during the day. This means the menu changes daily as it depends on the catch of the day. They serve a variety of seafood (squid, octopus, clams, shrimps) all fried in light batter and served in a paper cone. When it comes to seafood, what could be better than that?
This Michelin rated restaurant overlooking the marina cannot be missed. It has the best seats in town. The seafood pasta was beautiful with a spicy kick to it. It tasted fresh and the pasta was perfectly al dente. Just beware though that they let you pay a cover charge per person which was 3.50 Euros each person on top of the 8 Euros service charge.
Now, this is when the fun actually begins, to see in awe the beauty of Cinque Terre. Since we only came for a day trip and despite our best intentions of getting there early, our tiredness got the better of us. We did not leave Florence until nine in the morning. It was lunch time by the time we got there so we only managed to see three out of five. It is possible to see all Five villages on a day trip if you set out early and stay late. We had our eight-year-old with us so we did not want to stay too late. Whether you have set your mind on seeing all or just a few, that is not a problem as it is very easy to get to one from the other via the train. I was dead set on seeing my top three choices and if there was enough time, seeing the other two villages would just be the icing on the cake.
The first town from La Spezia is Riomaggiore. As you hop off the train, follow the tunnel that takes you right into its main street. Riomaggiore has only one main street which cuts between the houses on the hills. It leads straight into a rocky marina. Once you get there, look back and that’s when you get your first glimpse of those colourful houses on the hills that have only been a fragment of your dreams until this very moment.
There were two pathways on each side that leads to an elevation. From there you come face to face with the group of colourful houses that seems to hang to each other for support. We lingered here, soaking in the beautiful view that was right before us. Then it was time to get lunch from one of the restaurants that were overlooking the marina. After our sumptuous lunch, it was time to head for the next town.
Riomaggiore was part of the dream but my heart was set on Manarola. After lunch, we hopped on the train again and less than ten minutes later, we were in Manarola. I could feel the excitement on my feet as I hurriedly walked past and under its colourful houses. We took the path on the right (as what was suggested by my countless research) which carries on to the side of the hill. I did not mind the scorching heat and steep climb as I know it will be worth it. Once we got to the perfect vantage point, I turned around and what I saw was beyond my dreams. The beautiful Manarola right before me with the colourful houses rising from the shimmering ocean beneath it. If you look intently at the photos and trail your eyes on the edges of the mountain and rooftops, it somehow looks like an irregularly shaped heart. My daughter pointed it out to me. What I can point out right now is that I definitely have heart eyes for Manarola.
Vernazza serves as the iconic photo of Cinque Terre alongside Manarola. When you type “Cinque Terre” on search engines, it is a photo of Vernazza that you will most likely be presented with. It is characterised with a castle on the right and a church to its left. Among the three Cinque Terre villages that we managed to visit, I believe Vernazza is the only one with a sandy coast. The other two had rocky coasts. Vernazza is also the most difficult to photograph. I had to hike up a dust trail very high up a hill to get a good panoramic photo, unlike Manarola and Riomaggiore which had cemented paths. Even after a far hike, I did not think I got to the best vantage point to get the same photos I see online.
The other two towns we did not manage to visit are Corniglia and Monterosso. This gives us all the more reason to go back. Another reason is the idea of seeing these beautiful coastal towns at night when the lights dot the views like fireflies.
After visiting Cinque Terre, I realized the dream actually never ends as I will continue to dream of visiting it over and over again.
To read about our Italian holiday last summer click here