Cinque Terre means 5 lands/villages, which are situated in the Liguria region of Italy. It’s composed of 5 villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. You will be amazed by the perfect combination of its coastline and hills. The colourful houses built on top of each other look like jewels and seem more a set of a film rather than fishermen villages. This absolutely peculiar location attracts tourists from all over the world, with the majority are coming from United States. Compared to most of other Italian cities, almost everyone in Cinque Terre speaks very good English, even for the elder generations. Anyway, we always recommend to learn a few words Italian regardless the good level English of the locals. This rule applies everywhere, but here you’ll really get a better treatment than other tourists if you do so.
For a more thorough travel experience in Cinque Terre here are our 5 DO and DON’T below:
1 – HOW TO GET THERE
Do use the train for Cinque Terre hopping. Trains go back and forward from Genova to La Spezia with a 15/20 minutes frequency and cost little more than a bus. There is a special Cinque Terre Card that is working as a day pass for trains and certain hikes too. Hassle free and the train station is always close to the centre.
Don’t use the car for Cinque Terre hopping. It takes ages to get from one city to another using a car, plus spending $$ on parking fee. Plus the only big parking lots are in Monterosso or Levanto (which is the nearest village going up north). But If you book you accommodation on the hills or in one of the nearby cities, you will have the opportunity to drive out of Cinque Terre through those tiny and windy roads and take some real scenic photo from a different point of view.
2 – WALKING TRAILS
Do the walking trails. The surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bring a good pair of walking shoes, lots of water and some chocolate bar/dry fruit and nuts packs. Every hike, from Levanto down to Riomaggiore is worth the effort. While hiking through the mountains, you can also enjoy the stone away magnificent scenery of the sea.
Don’t underestimate the walks. They are tough! In the summer, do the hikes in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the hottest hours. Also, try to avoid these two parts of Sentiero Azzurro: 2D (Monterosso to Vernazza) and 2A Via Dell’Amore (Manarola to Riomaggiore). All the paths are beautiful, but the aforementioned two are the most popular ones and you’ll end up walking in a queue and paying money to enter the trail. Also check if the paths are open before going.
3 – BOAT TOURS
Do a private boat tour or rent a kayak yourself. Looking at Cinque Terre from the sea gives you a different prospective of this beautiful land. If you do a boat tour, your local guide will bring you to some spots that are inaccessible from land, like caves or waterfalls. In the summer, the sensation of taking a swim to these caves and waterfalls is unforgettable. We booked our trip with Enjoy Cinque terre in Manarola. It was a small group of 8. Daniele, our local guide, is really an amazing guy! He was very knowledgeable, friendly, speaking very good English and most importantly he brought refreshments (beers, wines and prosecco) and nibbles on board for us to taste. We also had a chance to swim/snorkel in a couple of “secret” spot accessible only by boat.
Don’t go for a big boat tour, unless you’re using the boat to travel from one village to another. The big boat tour feels like a ferry. They’re very crowded and you do not have the freedom to take a swim at all. The small boats are quite affordable and our tour was really a great experience!
4 – ACCOMODATION
Do spend at least a couple days and nights in Cinque Terre and be generous with your itinerary. Enjoy your hikes, your kayak and boat tours, relax on the beach, dive from the rocks, taste some amazing Italian food specialities. Staying in one of the 5 villages may be expensive if you have limited budget but it’s worth it! If you arrive by car, we would suggest to check an accommodation on the hills (we did) on in one of the nearby villages, like Levanto or Porto Venere. They’re not officially part of Cinque Terre, but they’re still beautiful, overlook the ocean and less expensive.
Don’t make your visit a day-trip or weekend trip. Try to avoid visit Cinque Terre during the weekend and in peak season because the space is limited and there will be an extreme amount of tourists, mostly on a day-tour. Do your activities in the mornings or later afternoons, while relaxing during the day. You’ll avoid back to back hiking with a lot of other sweaty people. You will have more time take immaculate pictures, have enough space for swimming and sun tanning at the beach and less time waiting for restaurant.
5 – FOOD AND DRINK
Do try all the local food you can put your hands on. Let’s start with five classics:
- Acciughe (anchoves) – Named “the bread of the sea” you’ll find countless recipes with them. Cooked with garlic, lemon, oil and parsley are a MUST!
- Muscoli (mussels) – Have them as starter or on a main course, boiled, deep fried, pan fried, stuffed, cooked in every way.
- Pesto alla Genovese – Well known everywhere, here comes with a specific pasta (trofie) and usually with green beans and potatoes. Taste it here and forget everything you knew about it before.
- Gelato al miele (honey Icecream) – If you stop in Corneglia, you definitely want to try this, very refreshing after a tough hike!
- Sciacchetra’ – Wondering what the locals do with all the grapes you’ll see on the terraces while you hike? A delicious wine, dry, with straw yellow colour, and a delicate aroma.
Don’t eat food that are not local if you can. Avoid pizza, steak or panini for example. I’m not saying they’re not good here, but the local flavours are very peculiar and kind of hard to find elsewhere, so it’s definitely worth stepping into the unknown and try them. If you’re unsure, ask the waiter or the chef to recommend a dish, it’s a great way to break the ice, maybe have something done exclusively for you and enjoy something unexpected and more authentic!
Sail, hike, swim, taste and enjoy Cinque Terre!