Cinque Terre (Five Lands), Italy, includes five picturesque seaside villages clinging to the sides of the mountains: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manrola and Riomaggiore. These towns haven’t changed a lot in the last few hundred years. The area is now a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited in 2006.
The towns are connected by a train and hiking trail. You can also drive from one to the other through a very winding and long drive through the mountains (not recommended).
The towns are only one to two miles from each other, so you can hike through all five towns in one day on a seven mile trail. We completed about five miles of the trail, starting in Vernazza and making stops in Corniglia, Manrola and Riomaggiore. Wow! What a beautiful hike – one to remember a lifetime.
We stayed in Vernazza, and it turned out to be my favorite of the five villages. The locals rent rooms, and we got a fabulous room from Daria with a private balcony overlooking their main street. Since cars are not permitted in most of the towns, we parked the car in Monterosso and took the four minute train ride to Vernazza. The railroad connects the towns via extensive tunnels through the mountains.
Looking down onto Vernazza from The Castle.
The ‘Sentiero Azzurro’ or the Blue Path Trail, connects the villages and hugs the cliffs above the sea. Unfortunately, the area suffered several floods and landslides starting in 2011. Sections of the trail are still being rebuilt as of 2020. Check for trail construction and daily limits for trail tickets before you go.
Approaching Corniglia via the trail.
Main Street in Corniglia looks more like an alley. Find souvenir shops and cafes.
Approaching Manarola from the trail.
Walk up the “main street” of Manarola for ever changing views and great gelato!
Walking into Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore dates back to the 1200s.
Another vista of Riomaggiore. How did they build this town hundreds of years ago?!
Monterosso has a sandy beach – and the only village that allows cars in town. So it’s more commercial and not as charming as the other villages.
Thanks to Rick Steves, we were well prepared to visit one of his favorite destinations. We discovered that he is the “real deal” just a few minutes after arriving – seeing him on the street researching for an upcoming trip!
More Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre
- Visit in the Spring or Fall to avoid the summer crowds and heat. I recommend staying in Vernazza or Manarola – train service to both. If you are driving, park in Monterosso and take the train.
- The beauty of staying overnight in one of the villages is that all the day visitors are gone by early evening.
- Purchase a Cinque Terre Card that covers unlimited trains and hiking fees. There are train stations in each village with attendants. The trains run about every hour.
- While you can hike the entire trail that connects the five villages in one day, I suggest starting at Vernazza and heading south (to see the best four villages). The first leg to Corniglia is the toughest, but the most scenic. The last two legs are pretty easy. By cutting out the first leg from Monterosso to Vernazza, you can save time and energy to explore each village more.
- Take your time on the hike to soak it all in. Stop in each village for snacks and lunch. Don’t forget the gelato! From Riomaggiore, return to Vernazza by train.
- Hike in the morning. Much of the trail is on a southwest facing slope, so it really heats up in the late afternoon.
- Visit with the locals. Most shopkeepers and restaurant employees speak at least some English.