The Italian Riviera is a narrow coastal strip that is blessed with rugged coastlines and colourful villages and towns dangling from cliffsides. However, there are five charming and romantic villages and their nearby areas that are the key highlights of the Italian Riviera. Collectively known as Cinque Terre (means Five Earths and pronounced as chin-kwe ter-re), these five seaside villages are among the world’s most photogenic and Instagram-worthy destinations. Located in the coastal region of Liguria, in the north-west of Italy, these five pretty, fishing villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore and along with the surrounding hills, they’re part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why Cinque Terre is so special
Tucked in a mountainous coastline, the five villages of Cinque Terre thrived in isolation. Over the centuries, locals built terraced farms, cliffside houses, and fishing quays, all the way back from the 11th century. Today, Cinque Terre is among the top destinations of Italy. The five colourful villages are part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
These villages have a reputation for serving delicious Liguarian cuisine featuring the finest regional wine of Sciacchetra and a picture worthy food comprising of pesto sauce based pasta, fresh focaccia bread, delicious Anchovies, lemons, olives, fish fritters, desserts and Gelato. The beautiful hiking trails offer stunning scenic beauty of the villages, cliffs, and the sea. Cruise in the waters of Cinque Terre and get a different perspective of the terraced villages and it’s fishing harbours.
The best part of Cinque Terre is its beautiful philosophy – ‘Dolce Far Niente’ (the art of doing nothing)! Cinque Terre is the place for slow travel. Sit back and smell the roses, breathe the fresh air, chat with friendly locals, sample the delicacies, lounge in its small beaches, and most of all, learn to appreciate the smaller things in life.
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5 Picture-Perfect Villages of Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore is the southernmost village and is generally the first stop on most visits to Cinque Terre. It has one main street, lined up with pastel coloured buildings all the way to a steep ravine and a tine harbour. The village is the closest to the main city of La Spezia and has a direct train connection. One of the most vibrant villages, it has a vivid nightlife in the summer with outdoor DJs and concerts. The village has a rocky beach and crystal clear water. The best way to admire the classic panoramic views of Riomaggiore is to take a 45-minute hike up the hill at the top of the village.
North of Riomaggiore lies the second village of Manarola. This one-street village has a small harbour and is one of the most photographed villages of Cinque Terre. Some of the most Instagram-worthy areas of Manarola include a small marina, terraced colourful houses, and its rocky cliffs. The surrounding areas of the village produce grapevines known for the famous regional wine, Sciacchetra. The waterfront promenade is mostly lined with fishing boats. The best viewing point to enjoy panoramic views of Manarola is Punta Bonfiglio. The village of Manarola has a chilled-out vibe that goes well with its character.
Corniglia is the smallest village in Cinque Terre. It’s built far above the ocean on the cliffs atop a 100-metre high rocky outcrop. Corniglia is the only village in Cinque Terre that lacks direct access to the sea. To reach the village, one has to climb a long flight of 382 steps. Perched on a cliff, Corniglia is less touristy compared to other villages. One of the best ways to admire the village is to hike up the street that leads to a broad seafront terrace. This wonderful viewpoint offers panoramic views of all five villages.
Vernazza is the most beautiful village of Cinque Terre. This one-street village has a castle, remnants of the old wall, a scenic waterfront piazza, and a harbour with a stretch of sand. The village is famous for its pastel-coloured houses, narrow lanes, a maze of stairs, a beautiful church, and beautiful viewpoints. This scenic village has a typical Italian feel in its nook and corners. The village has no car traffic and is the only natural port in Cinque Terra.
Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost town and is the biggest village of Cinque Terre. The village has two parts – the New and Old Town. It also has a long stretch of sandy beach with a boardwalk lined with classy hotels. Also the flattest village of Cinque Terre, Monterosso is known for its lemon trees and fresh anchovies. Monterosso’s strip of beach attracts plenty of sun loungers and local Italians during the summer.
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Best Time to Visit Cinque Terre
If you wish for a calmer and less crowded experience of Cinque Terre, September – October is the best time. Summer touristy crowd is less and the hiking trails are empty allowing plenty of time to enjoy the sights and sounds. The average temperature drops a bit but stays comfortable and there is a slight chance of rains. Festivals during this period are Anchovy and Olive Festival (Monterosso – September) and Grape Harvest (September).
June to August is the peak travel season with plenty of tourists crowding the villages of Cinque Terre. Plan and book hotels in advance to enjoy summer festivals like The Day of San Pietro and Paolo (Corniglia – June), The Day of Santa Margherita (Vernazza – July), and The Day of San Lorenzo (Manarola – August).
November to February is the off-season in Cinque Terre. The temperature is cold and most of the restaurants and attractions are closed during this season. Hotel prices are much cheaper and hiking is a very pleasant experience. Cinque Terre is also a wonderful time to be in during Christmas when the villages are beautifully decorated and illuminated.
March to May is the spring season in Cinque Terre and sees a fair amount of rains. it’s very beautiful due to greenery and full bloom flowers. Lemon Festival in Monterosso is another wonderful event that one must attend.
How to Reach Cinque Terre
Milan’s Malpensa International Airport receives the maximum number of flights from all over the world. The city of Milan is around 2-hours ride from Genoa, from where one can switch to the local train lines.
The easiest way to reach Cinque Terre is to fly to Pisa International Airport or Genoa International Airport. From both the airports, reach the Pisa Centrale Train Station to take a train to La Spezia Centrale. Board the Cinque Terre Express from La Spezia that passes through all five villages.
If you are coming from Rome or Florence, take a train to Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station and from there to La Spezia train station.