To put it simply – there’s no place like the Cinque Terre. The region had long been sitting at the very top of my travel bucket list, and when I finally arrived, it was COMPLETELY worth the wait.
The famously dramatic portion of coastline is made up of five adorable fishing towns – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All are precariously perched above the sparkling Mediterranean, offering breathtaking views and gasp-inducing photo opportunities. Within them, you’ll find the most spectacular of Italian scenes – steep winding streets, pastel-hued homes, leather-skinned locals, vineyard-covered hills & the kind of fresh Italian produce that food dreams are made of.
Traveling from Santa Margherita, we based ourselves in Monterosso (the northern most town) for three days & nights of intrepid exploration. First on the agenda? Tackling the infamous Cinque Terre hike – a steep & sweaty 6 hour expedition along the many walking trails that link the five villages. Of course, we completely underestimated its level of difficulty… yet somehow managed to complete it on one of the hottest days of summer – an achievement which we decided required fervent celebrations! (It was, after all, the most exercise we’d done all holiday – and the perfect excuse to continue our decadent Italian diet!)
The remaining days were spent replenishing our energy stores in every manner possible; lazy days on Monterosso beach lounges, late night cocktails with the locals, and some of the most incredible meals of the entire trip. With no glitzy fashion boutiques, art museums or pesky traffic (they banned cars years ago) to steal our attention – the Cinque Terre offered pure, unadultered Italy – and the perfect backdrop for ultimate relaxation. Go there, and experience “La Dolce Vita” for yourself. All the heavenly highlights & top tips below.
MUST STAY: A day trip to the Cinque Terre is simply not enough! Stay for 3 -4 nights to allow enough time to explore as many towns as possible. The most popular towns to stay in are Monterosso, Manarola and Vernazza. We opted for Monterosso – the most resort-like town of the five – and the only one that boasts a proper stretch of beach. For the best beachfront location & impeccable Italian hospitality – book an ocean view room at Hotel Pasquale. The rooms are cosy (you’ll be hard-pressed to find Cinque Terre accommodation that isn’t), yet beautifully modern – and the staff will do whatever they can to ensure you have an exceptional Cinque Terre experience.
MUST DO: The Cinque Terre walking trail is the most rewarding way to explore the five towns – and one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. There are several ways you can do it. We did it all in one day, but many opt to break it into more manageable pieces to achieve over several days at a slower pace. Whatever you do, make sure you wear appropriate clothing & do the walk from south (Riomaggiore) to north (Monterosso). Doing the walk in the opposite direction is approximately 50% more difficult and we felt sorry for almost every person we walked past who had unknowingly chosen the hard(er) way!
**NB. Sadly, several parts of the Cinque Terre were devastated by severe flash floods in 2011 and many parts of the walk remain closed/diverted as a result. My advice? Source a map, and get some local advice from your hotel on exactly which parts of the trail are open on the day that you’ll be walking. And try not to get lost!
MUST EAT: Some of the most memorable meals of our trip were had in Monterosso. Right on the cliff’s edge, overlooking the beach is L’Ancora della Tortuga – a fine dining restaurant with an incredible ocean view. Book a table for dinner on the outdoor terrace to enjoy a sumptuous seafood feast while taking in a perfect Italian sunset. Also on the water’s edge – is the uber trendy Cantina di Miky – an absolute must-dine casual lunch destination. It’s sophisticated (& far more expensive) older sister, Ristorante Miky, is widely considered one of the best resaturants in Monterosso – & also worth a booking if you feel like splurging on something special.
Have any other top Cinque Terre tips I should know about?
Use the comments section below to tell me all about them!