A Guide to the Five Villages of Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, a rugged and photogenic coastline on the Italian Riviera, consists of five beautiful hillside villages. Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are nestled on the cliffs and linked together by narrow hiking trails stretching along the coastline. Although the resident population of Cinque Terre is small at just around 3,500 people, the number of tourists each year adds up to nearly 2.5 million.
The Cinque Terre history stretches back to the Bronze Age. In the 11th century, architectural work began to shape. The and villagers constructed walls, terraces, and houses on the cliffs and began to cultivate vineyards. The colorful, pastel buildings in Cinque Terre are iconic, and seem to fit perfectly into the area’s rugged landscape. Each of the five villages have a similar pastel color palette, feature steep streets and paths, and are full of charming houses, restaurants, churches and shops. The best way to enjoy Cinque Terre is to plan on at least 2-3 days, allowing time to explore, enjoy the local cuisine, and sightsee.
Cinque Terre became a popular destination in the 1970’s. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Park. This makes the region an ideal location for day trips or hiking holidays,. There are many designated trails leading between the villages and plenty of breathtaking scenery. Paths, trains, and boats connect the villages, as cars can only reach them (if at all) with great difficulty via narrow and precarious mountain roads. In Cinque Terre, the streets are closed to car traffic, except for the residents in limited areas.
Given its location on the Mediterranean, seafood is plentiful in Cinque Terre, and anchovies are the local specialty. The hillsides throughout the villages are terraced and are perfect for cultivating olives and grapes. If you also haven’t had pesto and focaccia in Cinque Terre, you are missing out!
If you’re looking to entice your sense of adventure on the Ligurian coast, here is our guide to each of the “five villages” of Cinque Terre.
Monterosso al Mare
Things to See and Do in Monterosso
Monterosso at the far north end, is the largest and most resort-like of the five towns. The train arrives at the seaside station, amid beachside restaurants and hotels. The first thing you’ll see as you exit is the long coastal sandy beach. While all villages (except Corniglia) are on the sea, Monterosso boasts the only sandy beach in Cinque Terre. Once there, you are able to reserve and rent colorful beach umbrellas and chairs by the hour or by the day and enjoy a relaxing day and the beauty of the sea. Monterosso is divided into a charming old town (“Centro Storico”) and a more modern new town (“Fegina”). The two parts of the village are separated by a pedestrian tunnel. Scenic Monterosso is filled with churches, shops, and restaurants, and of course, hiking trails featuring vineyards, olive groves and lemon trees. The 1.5 hour main coastal hiking trail between Monterosso and Vernazza is one of the most beautiful and also one of the most heavily traveled footpaths in Cinque Terre. While in Monterosso, take a stroll near the pedestrian tunnel up a stone path to a lovely chapel and former monastery, where you’ll find a terrace featuring a statue honoring St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy and patron saint of animals and the environment. The view from the terrace is breathtaking. Farther up the coast, you’ll also find a giant statue of Neptune overlooking the sea.
Things to See an Do in Vernazza
Vernazza is known as the crown jewel of Cinque Terre and its main source of local revenue is from tourism. The busiest of the five villages is reached via hiking trails, train, or most dramatically from the sea. Its tiny harbor is painted with subtle pastel homes, and the piazza is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. Tuesday morning is a highlight in Vernazza, when the morning market is open for business. Grab a seaside lunch then stroll through footpaths and up a maze of stairs to the ruins of the Doria Castle tower, a beautiful vantage point for vast views and known to be the town’s watchtower in pirate days and served as a lookout during World War II. On the other side of the small harbor and breakwater lies the Santa Margherita Church and its bell tower, located in the town’s main square, Piazza Marconi. The path to Corniglia begins in Vernazza, and above on the hillside you’ll see terraced vineyards, a school, and the best view of all… from the town cemetery.
Things to See and Do in Corniglia
Corniglia is the only village that is not nestled along the sea, but rather set upon a rocky hilltop cliff 100 meters above sea level. It is also the village with the smallest number of residents. The best way to reach Corniglia is via train from La Spezia or Levanto. Once you arrive at the train station, a shuttle connects the station with the hilltop village, or the adventurous and able-bodied can climb a nearly 400-stair brick switchback footpath from the train up to the village, where shops and restaurants and incredible views await. Be sure to sample the locally made wines, and enjoy some gelato after the climb! The agriculturally-oriented town of Corniglia is connected to the other villages of Cinque Terre by well-maintained trails and is renowned for its wine production, with terraced vineyards dotting the picturesque hillside. The hiking trails lead to Manarola or Vernazza.
Things to See and Do in Manarola
Manarola is the quintessential “most photographed” and most “Instagrammable” of the five villages, but also the quietest. It boasts an iconic scenic hillside town, featuring a rugged coast and the charm of the colorful, pastel villages of Cinque Terre. The best view of Manarola actually is found along a coastal footpath that looks back toward the village and the water. Sun worshippers are often found lounging on the rockery lining the tiny harbor or diving from the rocks into some of the best deep-water swimming in the region, and fishing boats travel in and out of the harbor. Like the other five villages, you’ll find shops, restaurants and popular hiking trails linking Manarola to the other towns of Cinque Terre. Manarola is connected to Riomaggiore via the beautiful Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane), a romantic footpath carved into the rocks above the sea. This short half-mile path, rated “easy”, is scheduled to reopen in summer 2024 after repairs from a landslide. It is one of the most famous and romantic stretches of the Cinque Terre coastline, where visitors have often left behind padlocks, or “locks of love”, along a stretch of fence lining the path.
Things to See and Do in Riomaggiore
The most populated of the five villages, Riomaggiore is the southern-most village, linked by sea, train, and hiking trails that are not for the faint of heart. In the village, you’ll find fantastic restaurants and one of the best sunset views in all of the Cinque Terre. If taking the train from La Spezia in the south, it’s just 8 minutes – a bit longer if heading from one of the other villages to the north, depending on your starting point. Riomaggiore is a wonderful place to enjoy incredible views. Stroll along the village’s main street past restaurants and artisan shops, down to the sea, where a small marina filled with fishing boats fill the small harbor. The highest viewpoint from up on the hill is from Castello di Riomaggiore.
No matter which of the five villages of Cinque Terre that you visit, you’ll be met with stunning coastline scenery and the picturesque, iconic pastel colors. Our next post will highlight five wonderful day trips you can easily make from Cinque Terre, which will add to the adventure and beauty of visiting the beautiful Ligurian coast.