Italy’s Cinque Terre offers one of the country’s most stunning coastlines. Cinque Terre means “Five Lands” and is a collection of five small villages nestled into the cliffs on the Ligurian Sea. Formerly supported by fishing, the primary industry today is tourism. And it’s not difficult to see why thousands of visitors come to this beautiful area every year.
The Cinque Terre is an easy day trip from Florence, Pisa or Milan (Pisa is the closest airport), but to fully enjoy all the area has to offer, plan on at least 3 days. You’ll want to spend a bit of time in each of the five towns, all of which have their own unique charms.
Monterosso is the most popular town and the only one with a beach, though it’s a rocky beach – no sand. It is home to the most restaurants, the largest hotels, and the greatest number of tourists. Just south of Monterosso is Vernazza. Famous for its picturesque harbor and lively town square, it’s not quite as populated as Monterosso, but still sees plenty of visitors. Corniglia, the only town not at sea level, is perched high atop a rocky cliff with sweeping views of the sea. It is a bit more isolated and so has fewer tourists.
Manarola is the favorite town of many – big enough to offer choices in accommodation, yet small enough to retain its off-the-beaten-path feel. While it doesn’t have a beach, it has several protected coves where you can leap from rocky outcroppings into the sea. The southernmost village of Riomaggiore is another quiet town and offers easy access to the protected natural wildlife and marine park.
Connecting the five towns, is an 11-kilometer long hiking trail. It can be hiked in one day, but splitting it into two allows more time for relaxing and sightseeing in each town. There are plenty of stairs and inclines along the way; it’s a slightly easier hike if you start at the northernmost town of Monterosso and work your way south. For those not keen on exerting too much effort while on vacation, each town can also be reached by train and all but Corniglia are accessible from the sea as well.
Other than hiking, swimming, and taking in the beautiful scenery at every turn, the main attraction in the Cinque Terre is eating and drinking. The town of Manarola, surrounded by vineyards built into the hills, produces an excellent white wine. The Cinque Terre is also the birthplace of foccaccia and pesto, and they are offered on virtually every menu in many varieties. And, of course, fish and sea food are the main staples of the Ligurian diet. Sea bass and anchovies are just two of the specialty items served fresh off anyone of the many boats that float in the harbor. There are plenty of great restaurants to choose from as you wander around town, or you may grab some foccaccia and wine to-go for a picnic near the sea.
With the exception of Monterosso, the Cinque Terre doesn’t offer much in the way of traditional full-service hotels. The lodging options here consist mainly of small inns, bed and breakfasts, pensiones and apartments. Arpaiu is a great mid-priced option. Situated at the top of the cliff in Manarola, it offers apartment-style rooms for around 100 euros a night. There is no on-site staff, but rooms are modern and stylish and have mini-fridges. The common balcony offers stunning views of the town and sea below, as do most of the rooms.
If you are planning a longer stay in Cinque Terre, you can also take day trips to the nearby towns of Portofino (by boat) and Levanto. The beautiful views, natural setting, outdoor activities, and culinary delights of Cinque Terre make it the perfect destination for a few days of relaxation in Italy.