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The UNESCO World Heritage site Cinque Terre spreads over the Ligurian coast like a string of pearl. Now a national park which can be easily accessed through a local train. Cinque Terrre consists of five villages located on a cliff facing the sea. Typically, you will begin your journey from Riomaggiore, the closest village to La Spezia (train interchange.)
Cinque Terre Trail
The five villages of the Cinque Terre are also connected by a trail which is one of the best way to explore the region. The entire trail takes about 6 hours to complete. The access pass, Cinque tere card, can be bought from the toll booth at the entrance of trail, by paying a fee of €7.5 for a day.
Also, known as blue path, the 12 km trail is perched on the cliff and runs along the coast. Difficulty varies from low to medium. The half a mile trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola, known as The Way of Love, is the easiest and also wheelchair friendly.
Vernazza is the most picturesque of the five, so much so that even the legendary Rick Steves also concur. And, if you are pressed for time you can skip Monterosso, which is just another touristy beach town. I’d suggest spend more time in Vernazza instead.
How to reach Cinque Terre
Train: From Florence multiple direct trains run daily to La Spezia, the gateway to Cinque Terre. Or you can take the one which goes to Pisa, make a quick photo tour to the leaning Pisa and continue your journey to La Spezia (in another train). From La Spezia get onto a local train which goes through all the villages.
All the five villages of cinque terre are very expensive both in terms of accommodation and dining out. Transportation using the local train is inexpensive but alternatively you can hike the trails which goes through the five villages. But of-course you need to pay a hiking fee as well.
It’s cheaper if you are traveling in a pair, as you can easily split the hotel and dining costs.
Cinque Terre Accommodation
Be ready to lighten your pocket if you decide to stay in one of the five villages. There only a couple of hostels available which too are quite expensive (considering I stayed in Rome for 9 euros a night). The one bed in a dorm will cost you a minimum of $35, and you are strongly advised to book well in advance (upto 2-3 months in summer) to avoid any last minute headaches.
If you are not traveling solo I’d recommend you to book a private room either in a hostel or in a hotel. A private room is actually cheaper than 2 beds in dorm.
If you are traveling solo your best bet for staying in budget is the hostel in Manarolo. The hostel is located near the manarola railway station and the trekking trail.
Single bed in the shared dorm (with Breakfast) – U.S. $36
Ostello Tramonti is located in Biassa (and 10 minutes from La Spezia) close to Cinque Terre.
Single bed in the shared dorm (with Breakfast) – U.S. $26
Check in: after 2 pm
Ostello Tramonti to Riomaggiore: The hostel runs a regular shuttle service which costs a whopping 1€. If you are staying for 3+ days the shuttle service is provided for free. Alternatively you can take a public bus which has a stop near the hostel.
How to get to Ostello Tramonti: Take Bus 19 from Piazza Brin in La Spezia. The bus stops very near to the hostel.
Caution #1: The hostel advises you not to come before 2 p.m. as check-in as well as bag drops are not permitted. Strange rule? Tell me about it. Through my travel in Italy I have seen (specially in Florence) the hostels shutdown from late morning till late afternoon for cleaning.
So, if you are planning to come early better you notify them before hand. Or head straight to Riomaggiore in the La Spezia train. There you can roam around and come back via the hostel shuttle.
Caution #2: if you have an early train from La Spezia, you will be stuck as the public bus doesn’t run that early and taxis too are unavailable.
The map of Cinque Terre
The five villages of Cinque Terre
Village #1 Riomaggiore
Walk around the village: The pretty little village of Riomaggiore is the southernmost among the five making it a perfect destination to start your Cinque Terre trip. In Riomaggiore, take a walk on Via Colombo, the main street of the town, which is littered with café, bars and restaurants. Pass by those pastel colored houses that make for perfect postcard pictures, and take the steps down to the beautiful bay. From there take the path which goes along the sea for half a kilometer, when you are a distance look back and you will agree that the town looks exactly what you saw in those pretty pictures before booking your trip. Water is clear turquoise making it perfect for cliff jumping.
Church of San Giovanni Battista: This 14th century church has a rather plain façade but is beautifully decorated from inside. The church is quite small as compared to the grand churches elsewhere in Italy. On display is an old organ dating back to 1850. There is a wide open square in the front with benches, take a break if you are tired by the climb. To get to the church you need to take a challenging hike.
Continue the climb to get to the castle ruins for the best panoramic views of the city and the sea. The castle is quite old and crumbling and doesn’t have anything to offer by itself. There are benches facing the sea, perfect spot for the sunset.
Village #2 Manarola
Manarola is a comparatively smaller and far less crowded than Riomaggiore and makes for a quick stop on the hiking trail. If you are into wines, look out for Sciacchetrà, a dessert wine specialty of Cinque Terre. The bottle however is bit expensive and will cost around 40-45 Euros. You can easily buy one from a local supermarket.
Cinque Terre winery, a cooperative, is located here. It is a centralized place where the local grape vineyard owners bring their produce to be manufactured into wine. The slope of the hills of Cinque Terre has endless vineyards and Olive farms.
Relax and soak in some Sun in the small open terrace opening on the sea. Get to a 13th century church by an easy hike up. The church is an interesting mix of Gothic and Baroque style. Notice the beautiful rosary window on the façade right above the entry door. And finally, go behind the bell tower for a great view of the town and the sea.
Village #3 Corniglia
Corniglia is perched on a hilltop, and if you are coming from the railway station you need to climb 365 steps (!) to get to the town. The other alternative is to board the bus which starts from Cinque Terre National park.
Walk around town admiring the view of the tall houses which appear to be stacked up on the hill. The bay is Lined up with Colorful boats which are used by locals for fishing. There are boat tours available, you can walk down to the stone beach.
Village #4 Vernazza
Everybody’s favorite cinque terre village, Vernazza casts a magical spell as soon as you take your first step in. On the downside it can get too crowded in summer.
Check out the two ancient clock towers in the town; take a walk to Belforte Tower, the symbol of Vernazza, which stands tall overlooking the bay. The cliff above the harbor is perhaps the best vantage point.
The bustling town has a small beach where you can swim and Vernazza even has a nightlife to boast about. As usual the harbor is lined up with colorful fishing boats floating on the turquoise sea water.
Tourist Attraction: Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church
Built in 13th century in the Romanesque style, with a classic bell tower nearby. The church is small and the interiors are dark but the views of the town from church are excellent.
The church is located close to harbor and you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding it. Entrance to the church is free.
Castello Doria presents you with magnificent view of the coastline and even some of the other cinque terre towns, all that just for an entrance price of 1.5 euro. Though, to get to the top you have to climb quite a lot of stairs; you will be there in approximately 45 minutes.
Village #5 Monterosso
The only cinque Terre town blessed with a long, sandy beach dotted with umbrellas of all shapes and colors. This northernmost town, with its abundance of lemon trees, is quite modern in comparison and fails to offer the same old world charm as the others.
The giant: The giant is an enormous statue of Neptune by the coastline of Monterosso. The statue was partially damaged during the world war II but still is in good enough shape to warrant a visit. Located towards the end of Fegina beach, the statue of the Giant reaches a height of 14 meters. The statue was built by Arigo Minerbi in 1910, the same artist who worked on Duomo in Florence as well. One of the arm of the statue is damaged; the statue appears to blend smoothly with the rocks in the hill.
Tourist Attraction: Church of San Francesco – Capuchin Friars Monastery
Built by the Capuchin monks in the 17th century Church of San Francesco is worth a visit for the popular Crucifixion by Belgian painter van Dyck. There is a quaint cemetery nearby with colourful flowers growing all over. The graves date as far back to 19th century, and many of them are that of priests.
On the hike up to the church don’t miss out the statue of St. Francis with a wolf.
Happy Traveling! Hope you have great fun!