5 things you really MUST TRY in Cinque Terre Italy
I have a lot of favorite places on this planet, and many of them happen to be in Italy. Italy is full of color, architecture, beautiful landscapes, music, amazing food and wine – it is full of LIFE!
The Cinque Terre is a perfect example of all those things. Cinque Terre, meaning five lands, refers to 5 small fishing villages clinging to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, north of La Spezia, south of Genoa. The villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are many centuries old, and you get the feeling they haven’t changed much over the years.
The easiest way to access the villages is by train, but you can also travel between them by ferry or travel by foot along the hiking trail that links them, more on that in a minute. You can access the towns with a car, but you’ll have to park outside and walk in as cars are not allowed to drive on the narrow, crowded streets. Currently a train ticket from Milan will cost you roughly 62 euros each way. If you are going to Vernazza from Milano Centrale train station you’ll take the train to Levanto where you will switch to the train traveling to the La Spezia Migliarina station, stopping in Vernazza. Traveling by train in Italy is very easy and a great option as most towns can be accessed by train.
What should you do in Cinque Terre?
So, now that you are in Vernazza, or your village of choice, what should you do? Here is my must-do checklist for any of the 5 towns:
- Try the local food. Being on the sea, seafood is very available. Some local specialties include seafood soup or seafood risotto. You can find both at Il Pirata in Vernazza where either option includes mussels, clams, and calamari in a tomato herb broth. Pesto is also a major part of the local fare and can be found in pesto lasagna or with trofeo, the regional pasta.Do not leave 5 Terre without trying the focaccia! Sure, you may think you know what focaccia is, but trust me, I first tried it in Vernazza 7 years ago and I’ve dreamed of it to this day. It is crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, buttery and salty. You can have focaccia pizza or a focaccia panini or just focaccia with local pesto sauce, but please try it.
Some restaurants in Vernazza that I recommend are Il Pirata della 5 Terre, mentioned earlier, 5 Terre Bistro, and Ristorante Belforte.
walking the Cinque Terre trail
- Take a walk. As I mentioned earlier, the 5 towns are linked by a coastal hiking trail. I haven’t done the whole thing, but we did do the section between Vernazza and Corniglia and the view was definitely worth the hike. The 3.5 km trail is well maintained with lots of stairs, up and down. Most of the steep areas have a handrail, but it wouldn’t hurt to have walking sticks if you think you’d be more comfortable. We saw several older people on the trail, but no children. The weather while we were hiking was cool and overcast, perfect for hiking, but towards the end it started to rain a little which makes the rocks paving the trail very slick, so be cautious. It is required to wear close-toed shoes with tread on the trail, no sandals, or slick soled shoes are allowed. For the two most famous sections of the trail, Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia during the months of April through October you do need to pay a fee of 7,50 euros per person at one of the little booths set up along the trail. The rest of the trails are free.
You can travel the trail in both directions, so you could turn around and go back at any point, but we chose to take the train back to Vernazza. The cost for a ticket was 5 euros per person. Note that if you walk from Vernazza to Corniglia, the train station in Corniglia is down a LOT of stairs.
swim in the sea
- Swim in the Med. This may be limited to certain times of the year and conditions of course, but if you get a chance, do it. The Mediterranean is my favorite water to swim in. It’s warmer than the oceans, and the salinity is higher, so you float better and your skin feels amazing after. The color of the water is “Mediterranean Blue”, a deep teal blue that is unique to the med.
If you aren’t comfortable swimming, you can also rent a kayak and check out some of the caves along the coast. Or if that isn’t an option, hire a boat or even take the ferry, just get out on the water and see the coastline from that perspective.
enjoy the quiet
- Stay a night or two. Yes, you can access the Cinque Terre by train from La Spezia, and you can see what you want in a day, but staying the night is worth it. During the day the towns are full of day tourists, but in the evening and the early morning, it’s only the locals and the tourists who are staying over. The towns are quieter and feel more authentic during these hours.
That said, it’s important to be aware of a few things regarding lodging there. First, these towns are built into hillsides, so that means stairs. Lots of stairs. Pack light and be prepared to climb a lot of stairs to your hotel or guesthouse. Second, rooms there are quite expensive. I guess it’s because there are only so many available and the area is quite popular with tourists, supply and demand, right? But given the price you will likely pay, don’t expect ANYTHING. The rooms I’ve stayed in there were probably the worst rooms I’ve experienced anywhere. Old, run down, uncomfortable – you aren’t likely to find anything else. So far the places we’ve chosen were at least pretty clean though.
enjoy a picnic
- Eat lunch or dinner by the water. This is a tradition that my husband and I started years ago in Bellagio on Lake Como. We go get a nice bottle of wine (you can’t go wrong with a Barolo or a Brunello) and some take away food like pizza or a panini, then find some steps or rocks to sit on by the water to enjoy our picnic. This is not very European, but some of our best meals have been enjoyed this way, and the ambiance is incredible! If the weather is good, go for a swim after, or just lay on the rocks and take a nap in the sun, soaking up your surroundings. It’s these little moments that you will remember most about traveling.
enjoy your time in Italy!
I hope you enjoy these travel tips, let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any or plan to try on an upcoming trip to Cinque Terre or another part of Italy. Happy travels!