How to make the most of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, the five towns, is a string of five old fishing villages perched high on the Italian Riviera in the region Liguria, which until recently were linked only by mule tracks and accessible only by rail or water. Hiking along this scenic coastline is the best way to explore the five villages:  Monterosso,  Vernazza,  Corniglia,  Manarola  and Riomaggiore.

Cinque Terre is noted for its beauty. Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces to cultivate grapes and olives on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea.

The breathtaking views of harbors far below the wild but hospitable coastline along with the medieval fortresses and plentiful vines and vibrant colors does make a memorable holiday. And ever since the boom of social media, people started posting pictures of the villages of Cinque Terre so the massive amount of tourist flocked to Cinque Terre all year round especially in the summer. Many stay in La Spezia and do day trip to the villages because the accommodation in Cinque Terre does get expensive. Simply because the villages are small and there are not many accommodation available.

If you are eyeing to stay in one of the villages like us, you need to book ahead especially in the summer. Cinque Terre consist of 5 Villlages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

After browsing thru many pictures of the five villages I penciled in Manarola as the most picturesque village where we should stayed at. Manarola is also the smallest village and has the most obstacles when traveling with large suitcases because the village has many stairs everywhere.

The hiking track which connected the 5 villages were still closed to the landslides when we were there. Only Vernazza – Monterosso track was open and took around 2 hours to complete.

You can also swim in the four villages during summer (Corniglia exception) even though only Monterosso has the proper long stretch of beach. The others (Riomaggiore and Vernazza) made do with the little beach they had and created swimming area separating the boats with ropes. While Manarola, had a swimming hole in between rocks.

Manarola

We arrived in Manarola in the evening by train from La Spezia. The struggle with stairs started when the train arrived in Manarola station as the platform only has stairs. We have been prepared for this and this was the reason we packed light with only 2 medium suitcases and light stroller.

We had to deal with more stairs as we walked to our apartment which was located in the upper area as I picked an apartment with sea view. I started to regret my choice of apartment as we struggled with our suitcases and when we got to the apartment we found that our room was on the second level which means more floor 😰

Having said that I was satisfied with the apartment “Le Storie Di Manarola” which we booked from Booking.com The owner was very responsive and he gave detailed instruction on how to reach the apartment and how to retrieve the key. He also provide free cold drinks and all kind of snacks for us. The apartment was small but it has all the necessary amenities, even the drying clips which I found very thoughtful. The shower was also good.

One of the best thing about summer trip was the long daylight. So after resting and freshen up we still had time to stroll to Nessun Dorma and take pictures just before sun went down.

Sunset from our apartment
The view of Manarola which captured my heart

We dined in Marina Piccola near the port after it got dark and had a really nice seafood dinner to fill up the calories lost from walking up and down the stairs. Everybody were happy ❤️

Manarola has turned quiet as we made our way back to our apartment with all the day trippers left.

In the morning we walked to Manarola swimming hole for a swim. The water felt refreshing and surprisingly not too cold in end of Jun. there was a stair installed in the swimming area to make it easier for people to swim. Hubby and kids did not want to join me because the water was deep and they were not comfortable floating. In the afternoon you could see people jumping from the rock for adrenaline and pictures.

Swimming hole

After swimming we set to explore the 3 villages in one day which to be honest is a stretch and I wished we had stay for a day longer. The villages are linked by Cinque Terre express train and sometimes regional train. So there is always a train every 15 – 30 minutes and then every hour after 7pm in summer. There is daily ticket for the train cost €16 which is a good option if you want to explore the villages in one day so you don’t have to buy ticket from the machine everytime. Each ticket within 5 villages between La Spezia and Levanto cost €4 each way.

Ticket is bought at the self service ticket machine, available in the train station. There is almost always a queue during the day and there was a time where the machine broke down in Monterosso but we found another machine in the platform. If you want to hike you need to buy Cinque Terre card. More about it here.

Both cards can be bought in the tourist info center in the train station in 5 villages and La Spezia.

There is also a boat service with daily ticket €30 but they stop operating after 7pm. Timetable here

Riomaggiore

Is the biggest of the five and offer more accommodation. Airbnbs are only available in this village. It even had a luggage service (there was a car which go back and forth transporting people suitcases) and I saw a shuttle which carries people to the top of the villages and see the church.

We stopped to enjoy seafood on the cone first as we reached Riomaggiore.

We found a playground and left Achita and Fabio so we could go to the photos pot to capture the best view of Riomaggiore.

See the amount of stairs we have to climb coming back to the playground lol. There was an easier way to reach the photo spot. Just turned right after coming out from the tunnel after the train station.

After our adventures going up and down the stairs in Riomaggiore we decided to have some Gelato before we moved to the next village.

I also come across this announcement below but sadly majority of the tourist seemed to ignore this and walk around the villages in their swimsuit.

Now we are ready to move to Monterosso as Achita said she wanted to swim in the beach

Monterosso

Monterosso is probably the most touristy and the only village with a flat area. If you don’t want to deal with elevated road and stairs, stay here. It is also the most family friendly Village and has more accommodations and restaurants.

Lunch before swimming

Hubby and kids went swimming on Monterosso beach. I felt such an idiot for being too lazy to bring my wet swimming suit and thought I was content as I already had a morning swim. I also want to swim in the beach #sobbing. Achita had a blast seeing they have a slide in the water.

Monterosso even has its own beach club. Stella Marina Beach Club was opened at the beginning of the 80s and was born out of a collaboration between two authentic sons of Monterosso, Bruno and Adriano, and their wives, Wilma and Catharina – both Dutch.

You have to pay to sit under the umbrella and sun loungers at the beach bar. They can get fully booked in summer so good idea to reserve first by calling them. There is also a changing room and cold shower for after swimming. And for a fee you can also have a hot shower. It turned out to be more convenient than I thought.

We spent way too long in Monterosso, so we had to hurry to Vernazza as Hubby wanted to take photos of Vernazza while there are still lights

Vernazza

I think Vernazza is the second most beautiful after Manarola. I was very subjective here because I found that staying in Vernazza would actually be more convenient for family because (1) they have left luggage service (2) baggage service aka porter and (3) they have elevator in their train station OMG.

Vernazza has more flat area Vs Manarola and is actually more family friendly

We initially wanted to have dinner in Vernazza but we’re afraid we might miss the last train so we decided to go back to Manarola after taking more pictures.

So long Vernazza. One full day to explore the four villages apparently not long enough.

sunset at the train station

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