The 5 Towns of the Cinque Terre
The 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each has its own unique character and beauty. They are all connected by short train journies. A ferry boat service serves Monterosso, Vernazza and Riomaggiore, as well as Levanto, Portovenere and La Spezia. There are also beautiful hikes between the villages – see my post on hiking the Cinque Terre trails.
Towns of the Cinque Terre – Monterosso
This is where I made my base as it’s covered by all train and boat services, has beautiful beaches and is the start for hiking trails in both directions.
It is the largest of the villages and is split into 2 sections. One side has lovely beaches and the only sand beach in Cinque Terre as well as the railway station, whilst the other side contains the harbour and the old town as well as the church.
The Statue of Benedetto d’Assisi
Both sides can be viewed from a panoramic spot watched over by a statue of Benedetto d’Assisi. Most of the beaches are private and charge a fee but there are also a couple of free beaches. The water is so clear and snorkeling can be done from the shore. Even without a mask you will see the shoals of small fish you are swimming with as well as the rocks and sea bed.
Il Timone Bed & Breakfast
I stayed at a local bed and breakfast called Il Timone Lerta, a small place with 3 guest rooms. It was in a perfect spot in the old town affording great views and peace and quiet.
The roof top terrace was the perfect breakfast spot. The breakfast was fantastic with cereal, fresh fruit, fresh pastries, bread, jams and eggs or omlettes filled with cheese and ham. Accompanied by fruit choose and cappuccino.
The old town is full of restaurants and shops.
One of the advantages of staying with a local is that they can recommend the best places to eat:
For pizza try Ristorante Pizzeria da Ely.
For fresh fish and seafood it has to be Ristorante Belvedere on the seafront. where I had the most beautiful sea bass.
For fresh pasta the recommendation is Trattatoria da Oscar.
There is also a lovely little bar Enoteca da Eliseo with a fabulous selection of wines, cocktails, beers and aperitifs. Some of the wine is made by the owner’s family and is delicious. The owners are so friendly.
Towns of the Cinque Terre – Vernazza
This is a very picturesque village, often given the title of one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The colours are so vibrant, like an artist’s palette. The pastel coloured houses surrounded by the vivid greens of forests and olive groves with splashes of colour from the many flowers. The olive groves above produce one of the best olive oils in Italy.
There are beautiful views from above on the trails leading to Monterosso one way and Corniglia the other. Even if you don’t want to hike the whole trail it may be worth climbing up the many steps to see the spectacular views. Each of the trails takes around one and a half hours and is a few minutes return by train or boat. See my post on Hiking the Cinque Terre for more information.
The town is also dominated by the Santi Margherita Church with it’s magnificent bell tower and the Doria Castle, built to defend the area from pirates.
There are 2 small beaches, one accessed through a small cave. There are also lovely views when arriving by boat. The local ferry stops at Vernazza and a train service connects it to all the other villages as well as Levanto and La Spezia.
Towns of the Cinque Terre – Corniglia
This is the quieter, middle village. It is the smallest of the 5 villages and the only one not located on the sea. It is perched on top of a cliff and 377 stairs bring you down to the train station and a few more down to the sea. If the journey back up from the railway is too much, a shuttle bus will take you to the main square.
It is a lovely, charming little village with narrow streets full of shops, bars and restaurants. It also has a local specialty that must be sampled. Homemade basil ice-cream made with basil from the owner’s garden. It is delicious! The coastal trail to Vernazza is a beautiful walk and takes around one a half hours. The ferry service does not serve Corniglia but it’s only a few minutes by train to the other villages.
Towns of the Cinque Terre – Manarola
Manarola is a charming village with a very pictureque main street. It is split into 2 by steps on either side of a ramp. This is lined by a wonderful display of black and white photos from past times in Manarola and Cinque Terre.
Down towards the harbour is a little place that makes the most amazing pesto focaccia, it was wonderful, especially with a cold beer beer – I was drooling.
There is no beach but still a lovely swimming and sunbathing spot. The coastal path to Corniglia is closed but it is still possible to take the high road through vineyards and forest. It takes about two and a half hours. It is even possible to stop for a glass of wine in the middle of the vineyard. See the hiking the Cinque Terre post for more information.
Towns of the Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore
This is the largest village with a beautiful vista best viewed from the rocks at the bottom of the harbour or from the sea. The backdrop is very dramatic and this is probably the most photographed of the villages.
Climbing the steps in the castle brings you out onto a large battlement with views in all directions. Also worth a visit is the Gothic Church of San Giovanni Battista.
At present the Via dell’Amore or way of love, the shortest trail of Cinque Terre is closed due to a landslide until April 2022. There is a circular walk through beautiful forest and vineyards up to Telgrafo. Very peaceful, lots of wild flowers and butterflies. It takes 2 hours to reach Telegrafo and an hour to come down. It is also possible to hike just part of the way to the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero.
Access to the village from the train station is through a tunnel. The main street is full of shops bars and restaurants and the harbour is a lovely place for a cold beer, especially after a long walk. There is a small beach reached by a narrow path by the side of the marina.
Other Places to Visit
This is a larger port town. It is a interesting mix of old and new, with historic sights and designer shops. The best viewpoint is gained by walking over the Ponte Thaon bridge to the marina and waterfront.
On the hill sits St. George’s Cathedral which houses an archaeological museum. Across the road from the bridge are the public gardens, with a statue of Garibaldi.
In the marina was a cruise ship. Many of the crew have been stuck on board for months, not allowed to leave the ship. They belong to nationalities that Italy won’t admit due to sanctions in place due the Covid-19 outbreak, sailings are stopped and their governments won’t repatriate them.
I was shown around by a friendly local. One of the local specialities are dough balls around when you wrap parma ham and Salami. I was taken to a viewpoint on tip of the hill for a panoramic view of the city.
Some people make La Spezia their base for a visit to Cinque Terre. Here accommodation and food costs are much cheaper. It is connected to all the villages by a short train journey and to Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monterosso, Portovenere and Levanto by ferry. For me there was too much traffic.
Levanto is a few minutes by train or boat from Monterosso. It has a good sandy beach and is surrounded by a forest of olive and pine trees. There are many restaurants and there is a small market twice a week.
It is a cheaper, quieter option to use as a base to explore the Cinque Terre villages. There is also a beautiful hike from here to Monterosso, through the forest and by the coast with many wild flowers, accompanied by a cacophony of cicadas. It takes about two and a half hours or you could have a shorter hike in the forest.
Final Thoughts on Visiting the Towns of the Cinque Terre
This is truly one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Every village has its own unique charm and character. The views are breathtaking, images that I will never forget. It is a delight for all the senses and a photographer’s dream. The hiking is magical with hikes for all levels with coastal views, beautiful forests and pastel coloured villages. Cinque Terre should be on everyone’s wish list.