Cinque Terre is often described as the Amalfi Coast of the North, and with its beautiful harbours, colourful pastel-hued houses and sloping streets, it’s not hard to see why this stretch of the Italian Riviera carries the same appeal. The literal translation of the name is “Five Lands”, which include: Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola, and Monterosso. While they have similarities, each town has uniquely loveable traits, and all of them are worth spending some time exploring. Admittedly, I had never heard of Cinque Terre before I visited on Busabout last year, but as soon as I arrived, it was easy to find more than five reasons to fall in love with this gorgeous little section of the Italian coastline.
5 Reasons I Fell For Cinque Terre
You can experience Cinque Terre in a variety of different ways, and each of them will probably leave you with a fantastic impression of your time here. Whether you’re eating your way through the wide variety of culinary treats at cute trattorias, trying fresh seafood, crusty pizza or al dente pasta in the birthplace of one of my favourite sauces – pesto. Or relaxing by the water, sitting on one of the warm, wide rocks and watching the boats come and go from the harbour. You can also easily waste away your day exploring the adorable streets, souvenir stores and little laneways that take you to hidden parts of the town you wouldn’t find unless you stumbled upon them. If you’re feeling active, you can volunteer your time to help others, or you can explore as much of the landscape as you can by land or sea. I did a combination of all of these things and had a fantastic time.
The squad stayed in Riomaggiore, so once we’d settled into our accommodation, we grabbed some delicious takeaway pesto pasta from one of the many cute takeaway spots, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the rocks and getting some sun. When it got too hot, we’d dip in for a swim in the harbour among the boats, and it was there that Faith and I made friends with a local guy who offered to take us out on his kayaks later that night to see a sea cave and the bioluminescent plankton shimmering in the water.
As a regular solo traveler, I have learnt to trust my gut feeling and intelligently walk the line between prioritising my safety, and trusting in the kindness of strangers. In this case, our new friend was a marine tour guide, who took tourists out on boat cruises around the coastline by day, and showed us a great time out on the water that night. With each of us on our own kayaks, Faith, he and I all paddled out to a sea cave, which he navigated us inside of so that we could see the beautiful shimmering plankton in the complete darkness of the cavern. We then went to a little cove of rocks, pulled our kayaks in to the natural pool protected from the waves, and enjoyed the night sky as the clouds parted and the stars started to shine down on us, mirroring the plankton twinkling in the water. What a night!
It’s A Long Way To The Top, If You Want To Go To Manarola
If you want to channel your inner #fitspo and get the best perspective of the cities, I advise that you strap on your sneakers and take the stairs between each of the towns. After a couple of weeks in Italy, it felt very satisfying to do some cardio to negate some of the carb and sugar loading that I’d been doing (how much gelato is too much in a day? To quote Mean Girls, one of my favourite movies – “the limit does not exist!”). From experience, I would suggest starting from Riomaggiore and heading towards the rest of the four towns, as this is easier than walking back from the other direction. A lot of the stairs on the way down are quite high and uneven, so it is much less strenuous going down, rather than up (but depending on how much gelato you’ve actually eaten, you may choose to go the harder way… all that extra cardio will give you time to think about your life decisions).
Although the squad didn’t have time to do the hike this year, I met a cool group on Busabout last year and spent a huge day climbing up and down the vineyards, winding around the coastline and looking down on the rainbow of red, orange, yellow and pink houses, green vineyards and the bright, sparkling blue sea. There are two trails that you can take between the towns. The first is a national park along the coastline, which you have to pay to use and is often closed under construction. The second is a free dirt and stone trail that goes over the hills between each of the towns. From these vantage points, you’ll gain hard earned views of the curvy coastline, hike through the beautiful vineyards and be able to take those insta-worthy shots of the towns from above. This hike isn’t necessarily easy – you’ll be in the Italian sunshine all day and the trails can be thin, steep and slippery, but the experience is definitely worth it. Remember, you can always go at your own pace, take the train between each of the towns if you’ve had enough, and stop for a hard earned gelato whenever you like.
Train Spotting and Town Hopping
During our time in Cinque Terre, we visited Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola, though thankfully I was lucky enough to explore all of the towns when I traveled with Busabout last year. Riomaggiore has a gorgeous little harbour, a sloping main street that takes you into the vineyards, and plenty of wonderful cuisine for you to choose from. Manarola is cute and small, with a popular spot to jump off the rocks into the deep water, and a very Instagrammable restaurant up at the lookout over the town. Corniglia is the least touristic of the towns, as its location up in the mountains differs it from its coastal neighbours, so it’s the one to choose if you want to escape the crowds. In contrast, Vernazza is probably the busiest, due to its town square, little beach and range of shopping and dining options. This is also where the iconic photo opportunity from the hilltop is, so don’t miss it! The Amalfi Coast vibes really stem from Monterosso, with its colourful striped umbrellas shading patches of private stone beaches, and pristine houses and shopfronts right on the water, with purple bougainvillea flowers climbing across them.
With only two nights to enjoy this area, we simply spent our first afternoon in Riomaggiore by the water, then on kayaks. The next day we got to take part in the unforgettable Save Vernazza activity, which I wrote a separate post about, because it was so awesome and worthwhile. Afterwards, Faith and I went to Manarola for some pictures on the rocks, a stroll to the lookout, and a hearty pasta dinner on a terrace overlooking the water. The next morning, I made my way back to the coach in La Spezia feeling refreshed, looking sunkissed, and carrying even more wonderful memories of Cinque Terre as happy souvenirs of our last stop in Italy.