This was by far the highlight of our Italy trip. It’s easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed in my entire life. Cinque Terre (meaning 5-lands) is a scenic coastal region of the Italian Riviera than comprises of five small villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. If you enjoy hiking, swimming, and fresh seafood, then I highly recommend visiting. We stayed 2-nights in Cinque Terre. To save money, you can also stay in nearby La Spezia and take the train into the region. However, in order to partake in the mellow evening atmosphere (after the day-trippers have left) you’ll need to stay for at least one night. Our recommendation would be to stay 2 nights in Riomaggiore.
Our game plan was to hike, using the expansive network of trails, across Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. The most popular route between the towns is the blue path (no. 2). Due to weather damage, the sections from Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore are currently closed for repairs. Neither are expected to reopen until 2018 at the earliest. This website is a valuable resource for checking current trail conditions. There’s also a train that connects all the villages if you don’t feel like hiking the entire route.
Our planned hiking route:
- Monterosso – Vernazza (no. 2) 1.5 hrs
- Vernazza – Corniglia (no. 2) 1.5 hrs
- Corniglia – Manarola (no. 7a, no. 6d, no. 6) 2 hr
- Manarola – Riomaggiore (no. 531) 1 hr
We awoke at 5 AM as jet lag zombies and made our way to the Genoa train station for a 6 AM train to Monterosso. Getting to Monterosso early was a pivotal decision. We beat the crowds and knocked out the two most difficult stretches of the hike in the cool morning breeze.
The first section is steep as you leave Monterosso and head up into the cliff-side vineyards. There’s plenty of shade and the trail is well marked. You’ll likely encounter groups of tourists as you exit the labyrinth of vineyards approach the beautiful village of Vernazza. This is one of the most popular photo destinations in the region, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
After taking an overwhelming number of photos, we stopped in Vernazza for a quick cup of coffee to fight off the persistent jet-lag. Heading towards Corniglia the trail ascends even further into the dense forests and vineyards. In this section you’ll access some panoramic views of Cinque Terre and the hilltop town of Corniglia. Because of the steep terrain, vineyard workers primarily access the grapes using rail-rack cars. This unique network of single rail tracks is a sight to see.
Getting from Cornigilia to Manarola is the most difficult section of the hike because the direct path is currently under construction until 2018 due to a rock slide. As a result, you must take no. 7a to no. 6d to no. 6. This route will take you up beyond the vineyards into a forested area. There’s a lot of knee rattling ups and downs during this section. Make sure to stock up on water before leaving Corniglia because there’s not much shade along this route.
Upon our arrival in Manarola we stopped for another well deserved gelato. Manarola has quite a few restaurants and shops if you have time to explore. Our original plan was to grind out the last section (about 1 mile) from Manarola to Riomaggiore, but since we were hot, tired, and starving we chose to take the train instead. We stayed 2 nights in Riomaggiore. I highly recommend booking with Riomaggiore Reservations. The owners, Amy and Francesco know the area very well and offered us some excellent advice on where to eat/drink/hike. They have several small units scattered throughout town for very reasonable rates. Our apartment was in the middle of town and had a nice view of the harbor.
After getting settled in our apartment, we grabbed fresh homemade pasta from Primo Piatto near the center of town. We ended up going back twice during our short stay in Riomaggiore because the pasta and pesto were so delicious. They give you the pasta in take-away boxes like Chinese food so you can enjoy it Al Fresco! We grabbed a bottle of wine and ate down by the harbor with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean sunset. After 4 pm all of the tourists are gone so it’s like we had the entire town to ourselves.
Our second day in Riomaggiore we got up early and went swimming in the calm waters of the harbor. It was chilly at first, but still refreshing. Everything was so tranquil before the day trippers arrived. Most of the “beaches” in Cinque Terre are rocky and small. The best options for sandy beaches are either Monterosso or Guvano beach. Since Monterosso is quite crowded during the day, we chose to go on an adventure to Guvano beach. We’d seen it described in some guide books as “clothing optional,” but that wasn’t enough to deter us from checking it out.
Guvano beach can be accessed from Corniglia. After you exit the Corniglia train station, turn left and follow the path towards Manarola for about 500 feet. There will be a long stairway in front of you that heads up to Corniglia. Go down the other flight of stairs and around the corner of the small house below. You’ll immediately see an old, dark tunnel with some paintings above it.
The tunnel is about 1 km long and there are no lights. So basically you’ll be walking for 15 minutes IN THE DARK. We used our phone flash lights but they didn’t work very well. Once the tunnel rounds the first corner it becomes pitch black inside. This was a level of darkness I’d never experienced before. It felt like I was deep in outer space. Senses became heightened and my imagination started to turn every noise into a scary monster. The new train track runs directly adjacent so every time a train passes by it feels like you’re about to be pancaked by 5,000 tons of steel. After what felt like an eternity, we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. It opens up to an oasis of trees and a rocky path that winds down to the beach. There was also a group of homeless men sitting at a table near the exit to the tunnel. At first we thought we might harassed for an access “fee” but they were friendly and we continued onward. The final descent down to the beach meanders across some jagged rocks, so I’d recommend wearing athletic shoes or some hiking sandals like Tevas.
The beach has pockets of sand nestled between rocks. We managed to find a small area that wasn’t too rocky to put down our towels and relax. We brought some wine and cheese for our own beach happy hour. The water is incredibly clear and there are quite a few fish swimming around. There were some individuals sun bathing nude, but we chose to keep our suits on. We swam and explored the unique beach for a couple hours before heading back to the Corniglia train station.
We hopped back on the train and got off at Manarola. I’d been wanting to do some cliff diving and heard that Manarola had some awesome spots. In the harbor there are these enormous rock formations that shoot straight up like shark fins. If you don’t like heights there are also some areas to just swim and sun bathe. I highly recommend jumping off at least once though, it’s a fun adrenaline rush!
After climbing the rocks and completing a couple 40 ft. cliff dives, we packed up our towels and took the train back to home base in Riomaggiore. To celebrate our final night in Cinque Terre, we had dinner in the Riomaggiore harbor at Dau Cila. This restaurant can get crowded, so we stopped by earlier in the day to make a reservation for the evening. We were lucky enough to get a table outside next to the water surrounded by the enchanting stonework of the harbor. The buzzy atmostphere and elbow to elbow seating makes for a memorable Italian evening. Everything was super fresh and delicious. I had the braided sea bass and a glass of wine.
Our train to Florence didn’t leave until 2 pm. so we had another half day to enjoy Cinque Terre. We wanted to get another perspective of the coast line, so we rented a double ocean kayak from Diving 5Terre. You can rent one for about $20/hr. The staff was friendly and they got us out on the water quickly. The view of the Cinque Terre coast from the water is truly jaw dropping. Battling the wind and waves can be exhausting, so make sure to pace yourself. We paddled for about 30 minutes out of the harbor and towards Manarola where we found a secluded beach to pull into. Be careful when pulling the kayak to shore. The rocks are slippery and I managed to tear off most of my big toenail on accident. Injuries aside, we had a blast out on the water.
Sore and sun burnt, we returned our kayak and headed back into town. The owners of Riomaggiore Reservations, Amy and Francesco, were kind enough to let us leave our bags in their small shop after checking out in the morning. We grabbed our bags and a few souvenirs and boarded our train to Florence.