Cinque Terre lies on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region of Italy. The ‘Five Lands’ are made up of 5 villages, Monterosso al Mare, Verazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. I can confidently say, it is my favourite place I’ve been to in Europe so far.We flew from London Gatwick to Pisa and caught a train from Pisa Central Station via La Spezia Central directly to Monterosso (train info here). The Pisa Mover takes you directly from Pisa airport to Pisa Central.
We stayed in Monterosso at Hotel Margherita which I would recommend highly to anyone visiting the area – perfect location and generous, modern rooms. Our balcony overlooked a lemon orchard where one morning I woke up to find a woman singing Italian Opera while laying out her washing. The 5 villages are so easy to get to from any of the towns so it doesn’t really matter where you stay, the only one I would avoid staying in is Corniglia which sits high on a hilltop with no water access and a rather unreliable shuttle – a visit is a must but it’s probably the least convenient stay of all five.One of the reasons, travellers go to Cinque Terre is for the scenic hiking and while this hiking is unparalleled to anything I’ve done before, Cinque Terre is so much more.
When I first saw a picture of Cinque Terre it seemed like a pipe dream, so to actually be there I felt like the luckiest person in the world and it didn’t disappoint for a second. We had 3 nights in Cinque Terre and if you are pushed for time this can be enough even though I could have stayed for weeks.
On our first day we decided to see what we were up against for hiking and explored the 5 lands by train (train timetable can be found here) starting on one end in Riommaggiore, with a coffee in the most perfect setting at A pie de ma bar & vini and then ending at Monterosso, our base. In Manarola we came across a beautiful spot called Nessun Dorma and in true Cinqo style, sat down to a lunch of fresh homemade pesto bruschetta overlooking sweeping vineyards, colourful houses synonymous with the Italian Riviera and the blue, inviting sea below. Manorola became our firm favourite, partly because we found the perfect swimming spot where we spent a few hours that first day taking it all in.
Day 2 was hiking day and we again started in Riomaggiore and made our way North. Unfortunately when we were there some of the ‘blue’ trails were closed including the famous ‘Lover’s Walk’ and this meant that to continue with the hike we’d have to take some of the advanced routes. I would recommend checking before you go if you are set on doing specific trails as they can be closed from time to time for maintenance etc. You can buy a 2/3 day hiking pass which was adequate for us and this gives you access to the whole region, all the routes are clearly sign posted and easily navigable and if you are unsure just ask a local and they will point you in the right direction.
The Cinque Terre is a National Park and territory protected by UNESCO. We visited Cinque Terre in late August and I would recommend this time of year as you miss the crowds and the heat of peak season but it is still warm enough to enjoy the sunshine at your leisure.
We walked through light drizzle from Riomaggiore to Manarola where we couldn’t visit without stopping at our swim spot before heading on to Corniglia. The walk from Manarola to Corniglia was probably the hardest but most rewarding walk I’ve ever done and when someone asks me to think of a happy time recently, I think back to this walk – to walking along a path at about 300m above sea level amongst vineyards and breathtaking scenery with your best friend. I have a picture of us and although we look tired and sweaty, I love this picture because it reminds me of that feeling I had up there.
After about 4 hours of hiking, we arrived in Corniglia and settled down for a lunch of pesto lasagne and a Peroni, nothing like an Italian lunch to lift your energy levels. We thought about leaving the rest of the hike but persevered and walked from Corniglia to Vernazza. Vernazza was extremely picturesque and some people firmly say this is the most beautiful of all the villages but Manarola was our first love and we had fallen hard.
Tired and weary, we had a few hours of sunlight left and to make it to Monterosso and complete the hike in full. This is a beautiful walk and probably my favourite, I’m not sure if it was because I was almost home or the local selling lemonade towards the end of the trail that made it so.
We stayed at Hotel Nazionale and although staying in Portofino itself can be very expensive, this hotel was perfect for us and probably the most reasonable of them all. I would recommend staying in Portofino, budget and availability allowing to truly get a sense of it’s charm and opulence. We set off in search of a swim and made it back just in time to catch a ferry which we thought would be a nice idea to see more of the coast and Portofino from the sea.
Unfortunately we missed our stop and ended up pretty far from Portofino, much to our taxi driver’s amusement and by the time we got back we had missed the dinner run. Instead, we headed up to the San Giorgio Church and viewpoint with a bottle of champagne in hand to toast our Italian adventure while gazing over Portofino bay oozing wealth and style reminiscing on our past few days in this little slice of paradise. Cinque Terre will always have a little piece of my heart.
And for some inspiration, New York Times 36 hours in Cinque Terre
‘Wherever you go, go with all your heart’ – Confucius