The five fishing villages along the Ligurian coast, are picturesque, straight off a postcard in fact, some are right on the cliff top, and some lie in a coastal inlet. If you’re heading North to South, then you’ll visit Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
You can fly into either Genoa or Pisa, and then get the train up or down to either Monterosso or Riomaggiore, you need to remember to validate your train ticket or there could be a fine or at least a telling off in Italian coming your way. Trains in Italy are quite large, often double decker, so generally quite comfortable, and it’s quite a leisurely way to arrive in the Cinque Terre once you’ve landed in Italy.
The Ligurian region’s famous dish is pesto particularly over trofie pasta (which is quite small twisted pieces), so you’ll be able to enjoy pesto genovese dishes all the way along this coast, and also lots of delicious seafood as well, with access directly to the fisherman, it would be rude not to. Focaccia originates from the Ligurian region too, so you can enjoy this bread with a caprese salad at lunchtime, or just on its own if it’s cooked with rosemary or other herbs with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Food here, is generally simple but absolutely delicious. There are loads of lovely restaurants in all the villages, although less in Corniglia, which sits on the cliff top (so a trek up from the train station if you’re popping there for dinner one evening). I’d just wander round and see what takes your fancy. And there’s quite a few little bars serving scrummy Italian wine and Limoncello.
We’ve stayed in hotels and apartments in Monterosso and Manarola, and there are plenty of options all along this coastline. The first time we visited, we stayed in Hotel Pasquale in Monterosso, and it was perfect for what we needed and the last time, we booked an apartment on Airbnb with a lovely lady again back in Monterosso.
Our first time to Cinque Terre, I don’t think we really realised how magnificent the coastline would be, and the challenge that it is to walk between the 5 villages. The other thing that was quite a surprise was the amount of Americans that were staying, we think it was Spring Break, and although not many British people I spoke to at home had heard of Cinque Terre, it was obviously well promoted in the US.
The walks between the 5 villages are not always open, as they have to do maintenance work along the walks now as there has been so much traffic in recent years. They are also considering whether they should restrict tourist numbers in the same way Venice are, as they need to protect this beautiful area. They do charge now to get a daily ticket to walk across the coastal path, which is great, as this contributes to the maintenance.
Some people choose to go the whole hog and get walking boots and sticks, most do it in trainers (or sneakers for the Americans), and some attempt it in flip flops, which I wouldn’t advise. You need to be reasonably fit, as there are some super steep bits, but you can go at your own pace, and take as much time as you need. The last time we went in 2016, it took us about 2.5-3 hours to do the first 3 villages, and the first time when the whole walk was open, it took about 5-6 hours to do all of the 5 villages.
I’d definitely advise an early start if you’re there anytime from May onwards as it can get very warm during the middle of the day, also take plenty of water, and make sure you stop to take a million photos of the incredible scenery. There are normally little bakeries open early so you can stock up on croissants and water before you head off. And then you can hop on the train to come back to where you started if you don’t fancy the walk back.
The beach at Monterosso is compact, but perfect for hiring a parasol and sun bed for some afternoon relaxation after the activities of the morning or you can hire a boat with minimal instructions and head out along the coast, and get some more pictures from a different angle. Just make sure you know how to start the boat once you’ve stopped it or you might be waiting to be rescued!! It really is bliss though to anchor the boat, and dive straight into the sea, and then recline with a beer and some focaccia back on the boat.
I’ve lost count of the many times we’ve been back, it never seems to get boring doing the trek across the cliff tops, as you feel like you’re really earning your dinner, and you always spot something that you haven’t seen before like secret little vineyards, wildflowers along the walk, or wonderfully fragrant citrus groves.
So I would say, get yourself booked up to visit the Cinque Terre before they start restricting the numbers or even worse, the cliff top walk becomes impassable forever.