The best way to experience Cinque Terre is to hike, swim, and eat.
Or if you’d like a more specific itinerary…
Hike, eat, explore, swim, eat, and sleep.
It’s a treat for all your senses, and a soothing balm for the tired soul.
Cinque Terre was the first stop in our roadtrip holiday from Basel to Tuscany, and we chose to spend three nights in Riomaggiore, a smaller and quieter option compared to the popular (and larger) Monterosso.
The five villages that comprise Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – are nestled in the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera, and are part of the Cinque Terre National Park. You have a few options to get from one village to another: hike, or take a train, bus, or ferry. Taking a train is the quickest option, but it’s also very crowded, and it goes through tunnels, so you won’t get the best view of the landscape. The ferry is a good option, as you get a lovely view of all the villages, but it only stops at four of the five villages. Corniglia is built high up on the top of a steep cliff, and is impossible to reach by ferry. The best way, then, is to hike along the terraced vineyards and olive trees, as you not only get to enjoy stunning views of the Riviera, but also build up an appetite for a delicious meal of fresh seafood and pasta.
Day 1: From Riomaggiore to Corneglia
On our first full day in Cinque Terre, we took the 10:33 bus from Riomaggiore to Volastra, a small town just above Manarola, and from there we walked to Corniglia. (The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the next village, was closed.) The trail was an easy one, flat all the way and then downhill as you reach the village.
We arrived at Corniglia in time for lunch, and plonked our sweaty selves in a random cafe. The weather was hot and balmy, and I was only too glad to sit indoors with an ice cold drink and a pizza. After lunch we explored the village, wandering along its cafe-lined, cobbled streets, and treated ourselves to some gelato (how could we not?).
We spent a few hours in Corniglia before heading back to Riomaggiore, this time by train. Back at Riomaggiore, it was time for a quick swim before dinner. I chose to relax with a book instead of going into the water, allowing The Mister to check it out first. Rookie mistake; I hardly opened my book, as all I did was stare longingly at the sparkling deep blue water.
Day 2: From Vernazza to Monterrosso al Mare
The hike on our second day was a bit more strenuous. We took the train from Riomaggiore to Vernazza, wandered around the village, and then took the trail from there to Monterrosso al Mare. The initial part of the hike was a steep uphill climb from Vernazza, and the weather was hotter and balmier than the previous day. The view, however, was gorgeous. Towards the end of the trail, we met a bearded old man who had set up a makeshift juice stand, selling freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice for EUR 1.50 a cup. We’d brought water with us, but the sight of fresh oranges on a sweltering hot day was like finding an oasis in a desert. I gladly surrendered my money in exchange for a small plastic cup of sweet vitamin goodness. The old man diluted the juice with chilled mineral water, but it was still refreshing.
A little further down, we met another man selling fresh lemonade, made on the spot with lemons from his farm. The Mister thought that I’d forego this one, having just had my fill of juice a few minutes earlier. He thought wrong. Again, I was more than happy to say arrivederci to my money, and buongiorno to another cup of refreshing citrusy goodness. It was extremely hot, you see.
After almost two and a half hours of hiking, we were greeted with a beautiful view of Monterosso al Mare: a huge beach filled with rows of blue and yellow beach umbrellas, and the sapphire blue ocean that went on for as far as the eye could see. Looking down from where we were walking, I saw young boys standing on a rock, taking turns to dive into the aquamarine water. We didn’t bring our swimming gear with us, unfortunately, so again, I just stared longingly at the sea, like a cat staring out the window. We had lunch somewhere in town, and wandered about after. Monterosso was not as hilly as the other villages; for the most part it was quite flat. Besides being the largest village, it was perhaps the most convenient, as the train station was located right at the beachfront, which probably helped explain its popularity among visitors and tourists.
Having had enough of Monterosso, we took a ferry back to Riomaggiore. The ferry was a good option to take, as you get wonderful view of all the villages on the cliffs, facing out to the sea. Back at Riomaggiore, we changed into our swimming gear and headed to the beach. No books for me this time. It was a bit tricky getting into the water, as the beach and the seabed was all smooth (and slippery) rocks, no sand. The water, though, was perfect.
Hike, eat, explore, swim, eat, sleep.
When in Cinque Terre, that’s all you really need to do.
…was nothing short of delicious. Pasta and fresh seafood, cooked with basic and minimal ingredients. And the anchovies from Monterosso were the best I’ve had so far.