Ahhhh, yes. There is Heaven on Earth and it’s in the form of five little sea-side towns on the northwestern coastline of the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre is a destination for hike enthusiasts, foodies, romantics, families and backpackers. The greatest thing about Cinque Terre is that not everyone is in one place at the same time. The most difficult thing about visiting is getting from one town to the next. Once you have that figured out, you’ll have nothing to worry about except where to find those paper cones piled high with seafood that everyone seems to be walking around eating.
Where to Stay When Visiting Cinque Terre?
We needed a place to stay, so naturally, Devin looked to AirBNB first. He found a studio in a small, but adorable town snuggled in the mountains, Lavaggiorosso. It was perfect for us. Quiet and genuine, true Italy. We smelled mouth-watering scents of pomodoro in the windy streets, hung our laundry right next to locals and woke up to the sounds of a confused rooster at 4 am. Another plus was the location. The views outside of our windows were incredible. Miles of hills, gardens, villas, and the ocean in the distance. Truly, tears were in our eyes to have to leave. We pictured ourselves retiring in a place similar, minus the steps. Lavaggiorosso was about a 10 minute drive to Levanto. There, we could buy groceries, eat dinner and wander around the tree-lined streets. We ate dinner at the top-rated Trip Advisor restaurant, La Picea. Delizioso!
In the morning, we drove the rental to the train station in Levanto, parked and took a train into Cinque Terre. This was wayyyy cheaper than staying in any of the Cinque Terre towns, and after visiting the towns, we felt that where we stayed was much better than the any of the hotels we would’ve stayed at in CT- much too touristy for our liking!
What is Cinque Terre?
The five towns that make up Cinque Terre are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The only ways to see Cinque Terre are by train, by boat or by feet. A lot of people do hike the whole route- it takes about 5 hours and it’s not too strenuous (so we hear). You can mix it up too, that’s what we did.
We wanted our time visiting Cinque Terre to be relaxing and spent wandering the streets. Not like lost, scared children… more like those annoying tourists you see sneaking behind garden gates to get a rare photograph (ahem, Devin). All we wanted were some pictures of the beautiful colorful houses, stroll by the sea and put some delicious authentic Italian food in our bellies. We figured a day trip would be enough- and we were right.
We’d like to pride ourselves in how brilliant we are in following directions and finding easier and smarter ways to do things while traveling. Well, today was not that day. But, truth be told, we wouldn’t have changed a thing! No sir! We saw all we wanted to see and felt like we got exactly what we wanted out of Cinque Terre. We ate delicious pesto pasta, drank Italian limone beer, climbed hundreds of steps and explored the ins and outs of the windy streets.
So, sure, we skipped one of the towns… but after hiking in the hot sun and walking around as much as we did, we were perfectly okay with it. We were ready to go back to our untouched Italian seaside village after seeing Cinque Terre, or should we say, Quattro Terre.
- Train from Levanto to first Cinque Terre town, Monterosso.
- Hiking Trail #2: Monterosso to Vernazza (do it!).
- Accidentally took the train from Vernazza to Riomaggiore.
- Took train back to Manarola from Riomaggiore (It was hot!).
- Skipped Corniglia entirely, decided to take train back from Manarola to Levanto.
Now that the embarrassing part is over, now for the nitty gritty. As aforementioned, we took a train from Levanto into CT. First up was Monterosso. We exited the train and walked up the stairs to get the first glimpse of the day. Our take on Monterosso was that it was very pretty but very much catered to the tourists. So unfortunate! There were vendors selling souvenirs such as the typical aprons, magnets and dishtowels that were sold everywhere in Italy (Okay, so we bought a dish towel…). We had imagined seeing old Italian women gossiping out their windows, old men fishing by the sea, children kicking a soccer ball around. Instead, we saw foreigners selling souvenirs and other non-Italian goods such as fake NY hats, selfie sticks and belts. We walked past the hordes of people, further away from the bay. We decided we needed an espresso and an Americano to start our day. We perched ourselves at a café and people-watched for a little. We had read before that Monterosso was the most “resort-like” town, nothing really worth seeing but the boardwalk. Rather than get back on the train, we decided to take Trip Advisor’s top suggestion, walking the #2 trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.
Hiking Trail: Monterosso to Vernazza
Devin was prepared with the hike, he had on his trusty TEVA sandals. Ryann? Well, she had her ol’ faithful flip-flops. She did get the occasional double-takes while on the trail, but everyone needed to just calm down. It was fine! When starting out from Monterosso to Vernazza (or any town to another town), you will see a ticket booth (more like a shed), selling tickets and passes in order to hike on the trail. Sadly, there is no way around it. In order to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, it cost 7,50 Euro a person. A little pricey, but it was worth every cent. At first, it’s a little steep with quite a few rugged steps. You will sweat. But taking a delightful whiff of the lemon trees and sea salt will encourage you to hike on! After the steps, the rest is fairly easy on the body. It can be a teeny bit dangerous for those proven clumsy- and can be somewhat tight at times when facing oncoming hikers. Just stop, let them pass and take your time. You’ll survive. The trail provides a perfect mix of sunshine and shade, an insider’s look of vineyards and gardens and of course the spectacular views of both Monterosso and Vernazza. No wonder this hike was rated #2 on TripAdvisor!
Wiping the sweat from our brows and making our way downhill from Monterosso, we were awarded with a stunning view of the majority favorite, Vernazza. Vernazza was rated #1 on TripAdvisor, which is understandable. When you think of Cinque Terre, you might picture this exact view. The hike from Monterosso delivers this- so don’t miss out!
Once we made our way closer, we passed a couple of accordion players, smiling brightly hoping for a tip or two. Further on, we passed fisherman casting lines, gazed up at the Doria Castle, and watched boats dock in the harbor. It was much more picturesque than the first, much more of what we expected. But, with that, come the crowds. Prepare for a lot more people jam-packed. Hungry after our hike, we decided to venture a little further away from the main traffic and eat at a restaurant advertising pizza and pasta. Perfecto. Dev got chef-recommended pasta carbonara and Ry got local pesto penne. Clinking bottles of limone beers, we thanked the chefs and welcomed the carb load on our plates.
Next, we were supposed to be visiting Corniglia, but, due to our ignorance of the train schedule, we managed to skip to Riomaggiore.
Once we realized we made an ut-oh, we made the best of it. Maybe it was because everyone else was actually paying attention to their schedule, but it definitely seemed lacking tourists and visitors at the time we were there. We loved it! We had no idea where we were going and it was just what we wanted. Want to go left? Climb these stairs? It’s exactly what visiting Cinque Terre is intended for. Annoying for the locals, but hey, choose to live in a beautiful timeless place and people will flock. We witnessed old men sitting in their chairs, just watching the day pass before them. Others, a little more active, repainting or puttering around the house. We soon became seduced by the slow-pace way of life in this town. Just the place to come for an escape from the city or daily stresses that we all find ourselves caught up in. This was Ryann’s favorite.
After a thorough explore of Riomaggiore, our plan was to walk the Via Dell’Amore to Manarola, but, sticking to the theme of the day, we threw the plans out the window. Lover’s Lane, smover’s lane- whatever. Maybe it sounds pathetic, but it was hooooooooot. *Cue annoying child whine.* We felt that our experience walking the first trail was enough for us. The sun and heat was getting to us and we were getting tired and anxious. Visiting five towns is a bigger feat than you might think.
We took the train from Riomaggiore to our last stop, Manarola. Devin had a picture of Manarola in his bedroom growing up and after staring at it for years, he finally had a chance to see it in person! Our first impressions was that it was a place we could have spent more time, if we packed our swimsuits! Sun worshippers positioned themselves on the rocks and swimmers splashed in the bay. We strolled around for a bit, avoiding desire to eat gelato or jump fully-clothed into the water. We were growing restless and wanted to get back to our accommodations.
Beautiful. Captivating. Picturesque. The one picture you’d filter the hell out of, print and frame on your wall. And yet…
According to the Los Angeles Times, not many Americans know about “the Hidden Gems on the Italian Riviera.” Whether that’s true or not, we don’t know. But after visiting, we’re hoping they don’t know. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t even post this? Our point is that Cinque Terre, at one time, was truly heavenly to visit. But now, because of tourism, the area has seemed to have lost some of its magic. The houses are still painted bright, but the charm has certainly faded. A beautiful place, where everyone deserves to visit and see it themselves, but we wish the towns wouldn’t cater to it, jack up the prices and crowd the already narrow streets with souvenirs. It would really be nice if one day the local flavor, culture and heritage be restored.