Have you ever traveled somewhere because of a single photo you stumbled upon on social media?
No? Well, that is sort of how we ended up in Cinque Terre (pronounced chink-wa tear-a).
Actually, I have seen lots of photos of Cinque Terre over the years (specifically that ^ photo of Manarola). I have a puzzle of almost the exact same photo as the one above. It’s also the same image that’s on the cover of a Visio TV box. So, you see, I was aware of Cinque Terre, I just had no idea where it was and what it was called.
Until a fated Instagram post, which used the same image as the others, actually called the place by name! I learned it was in northern Italy and – what do you know – we were going to be in Italy later that Summer!
We worked a few extra days into our Italy itinerary just so we could make a special trip up to Cinque Terre and I am so glad we did. It was one of the highlights of our trip and very different than our other adventures in Florence and Rome. So now I am here to try to convince you to add Cinque Terre to your next Italian vacation, even if it’s just for 48 hours.
Where is it and How do I Get There?
Cinque Terre isn’t just one place, it’s actually five villages (cinque = five, terre = lands) all nestled right on the coast Ligurian Sea. Each little village is made up of pastel homes that look like they were all built on top of one another, cramming in to get a view of the ocean. But each one has its own distinct personality.
Monterosso is the beach town that is very laid back and tourist friendly. Vernazza is quaint but is easy to get around and has lots of great shops. Corniglia is nesteled up in the hill and filled with lots of narrow paths that can lead anywhere. Manarola is the picturesque village that is the face of Cinque Terre. And Riomaggiore is the small villages that looks like it was carved into the cliffs and great for any adventure seekers.
Getting to Cinque Terre isn’t all that tricky, but it may take some time. Italy has a great train system that can take you just about anywhere. Fly into Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence…wherever, then hop on a train to Monterosso, which is the largest of the five villages. It took us about 4 -5 hours to get to Monterosso from Rome and about 2 hours to get to Florence. You can even work in a day trip from Florence, Genoa, Lucca, or Pisa.
What Should I Do While I’m There?
Cinque Terre isn’t your usual Italian vacation stop. While there is history (probably), the villages aren’t filled with museums or other historical monuments so your days won’t be filled with sightseeing. The villages are all built right to the ocean, but only one of the five villages has a decent beach, Monterosso. So if you are looking for a typical relaxing beach vacation you will want to stay in Monterosso.
However, this place would be great for anyone who loves to be outdoors! There are hiking trails that take you between each village and beyond. You can rent kayaks or boats and head out into the sea. You can even do a little bit of cliff jumping!
Even for those who aren’t really into laying on the beach or doing lots of hiking, Cinque Terre is just a wonderful place to explore. You can easily travel between the villages by train and then walk around and explore what each town has to offer.
Alternately, you can take a ferry between each of the villages to get a different view.
And if you happen to be there on a Tuesday, head to Vernazza and take a stroll through the market to pick up some fresh fruit, flowers, or any other souvenirs.
If you are only going for a few days, I would recommend maybe spending a few hours at the beach, then hop on the train and head to a new village for lunch or dinner. Maybe take a day to hike a trail or two, or just walk around the villages and do a little bit of shopping.
Honestly, 2 days was the perfect amount of time for us because we didn’t do any beaching or hiking, but we really got to know each of the villages from just walking around and spending time in each one.
What to Should I Eat While I am There?
Food is a bit part of any of my trips (surprise, surprise), so I do a lot of research on food and restaurants before traveling anywhere. Cinque Terre was a bit of a hard nut to crack because it’s not really known as a culinary town. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of restaurants, but they all cater to tourists and serve mainly stereotypical Italian food.
However, if you are a seafood fan, you will love this part of the country! This area is known for their fishing and seafood. In fact, the anchovies that come from Cinque Terre are some of the best in the world. Here, they serve them fresh (not from a can) and prepare them in lots of different ways. Even as a non-seafood lover, I can say they weren’t bad!
Another seafood specialty that is all over the villages is essentially a fish and chips cone. You can purchase a big paper cone filled with freshly fried french fries and topped with your favorite fried seafood. It can be fish, shrimp, oysters, anchovies, or calamari. Be prepared to wait in line, however, because these places are very popular.
Did you know that focaccia bread originated in this area? I certainly didn’t. But I quickly learned after passing one focacciaria after another that they love their focaccia here! And for good reason…it’s amazing! They treat their focaccia almost as a base for something similar to a pizza. You can find it topped with just about anything. Oh, and you can eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I highly recommend stopping and grabbing a slice whenever the mood strikes.
Another food item that originated in the area is pesto and you won’t be able to escape it. They serve pesto on everything, but they do it very well. You can even find little shops that sell jars of various pesto flavors in case basil just doesn’t cut it for you.
Have I Convinced You Yet?
Cinque Terre should definitely be added as a stop on your next Italian vacation. You don’t need to spend a lot of time there to get the full experience from the area. It would be a wonderful way to break up a busy sightseeing trip through Florence, Venice, Genoa, or Rome.
I will add that Cinque Terre may not be for everyone. If you have a hard time getting around by foot, this may not be the place for you. The streets can be steep and narrow and the roads are mostly cobblestone. Even for Billy and me, the walking just around some of the villages was a bit exhausting.
It also may not be a great place to bring young children unless you plan to be on the beach all day. There didn’t seem to be lots of activities that the kids would enjoy and after rolling three suitcases through the streets, I couldn’t imagine pushing a stroller.
But for the rest of you…put it on your list of places to go! Even if it’s just to get a photo like the one on the Visio box.