Cinque Terre, you were beyond magical. From the colorful houses to vineyards on steep terraces, harbors filled with fishing boats and endless gelato, pasta and aperol spritzes, I am already dreaming of my return.
If you’re not familiar with Cinque Terre, it is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth. Located on a rugged portion of the Italian Rivera, Cinque Terre is home to five villages — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the last few centuries, people have built homes, terraces and wineries on the rugged, steep landscape overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Cinque Terre is the lack of commercial development: footpaths, trains and boats are the only form of transportation connecting the five villages.
My mom and I visited Cinque Terre in late September, and we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather or crowds. The sun was out bright and early every morning with highs into the 80s — perfect for hiking and swimming, and the summer crowds had started to wear thin. When planning our trip, we had three full days for Cinque Terre, which seemed like more than enough… but looking back, I could easily spend an entire week exploring, hiking, visiting wineries, eating, and soaking in just how dang beautiful this place truly is.
If you’re heading to Cinque Terre, or just looking for some Italian Rivera trip inspo, here are six things you absolutely cannot miss!
Hike the Cinque Terre Trails
Cinque Terre is home to some of the best coastal hiking trails in the entire world. Yes, the entire world! We hiked from Manarola to Riomaggiore, and Manarola to Corniglia, and let me tell you, there is nothing better than stopping to view the rugged coastline along the Italian Rivera with colorful villages in the background after a grueling…and painful…and oh so sweaty hike through ascending steps, stone terraces and vineyards. I wish we had had more time to hike all the way to Monterosso al Mare, but now I have the perfect excuse to return!
Before visiting Cinque Terre, do your research! Quite a few paths are currently closed due to landslides and trail restoration — including sections of the Sentiero Azzurro (also known as Trail 2 or the Blue Path) and Via dell ’Amore. Also, come prepared! We had been told the paths were “easy, peasy!” and “you won’t break a sweat!”, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The two trails we hiked — Manarola to Riomaggiore, and Manarola to Corniglia — were intense! In fact, half way up the mountain we started noticing signs that said “Path for Expert Excursionists”! (Don’t ask me why this wasn’t posted at the trailhead!) At times, the only thing keeping us going was knowing gelato and aperol spritzes awaited our arrival in the next village! Make sure to pack sneakers and athletic gear, and carry plenty of water!
Funny story… As we set out for our first hike between Manarola and Riomaggiore, a local had given us directions to the trailhead and assured us that yes, the path was indeed open. After hiking for over an hour and not encountering a single sign of life, we debated whether or not we should turn around. But after seeing how far we had hiked (or should I say how high we had climbed), we decided to keep going. By the time we made our descent and reached Riomaggiore, we encountered a locked gate and were unable to leave the trail! We had to climb through bushes, mud and even a small stream to reach the road, and I’m sure every local witnessing our attempt to escape could only laugh at our stupidity for hiking a closed trail.
While I am not encouraging you to hike the Beccara Trial (number 531), I must say this was our favorite hike in Cinque Terre. The views of Manarola and Riomaggiore were absolutely stunning, and I’m sure my mom and I will be laughing at this memory for years to come. I’m just glad we didn’t have to turn around and hike that darn mountain again!
Visit Buranco Winery
One of the things I was most excited for in Italy was visiting vineyards and trying new wines, and let me tell you, I am so happy we discovered Buranco Winery — a true hidden gem! Located steps away from downtown Monterosso al Mare, Buranco is a boutique winery with only nine acres of land — planted with grape vines, olive trees, and citrus. And despite the close proximity to Monterosso, you feel like you’re in a completely different world once you step foot in the vineyard.
Buranco Winery produces three different wines (two whites and one red), a desert wine, and grappa. (They also produce their own limoncello!) We decided to get a flight of wine, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny (or Euro)! The winery pairs the wine with a platter of spreads and crackers, and I have never tasted anything so delicious. We enjoyed the wine and atmosphere so much, we came back the very next day!
To top off our visit to the winery, there was an adorable little (read: chubby) dog that wandered throughout the winery, visiting every table for pets and leftover scraps of food. On our second day at the winery, we were visited by the sweetest little kitten who slept in my lap as I enjoyed our bottle of bianca. You could immediately tell this family-run winery treats their staff, patrons, and pets very well. I’m already dreaming of returning to Buranco Winery!
Take a Cooking Class
Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto, and what better way to experience pesto than by making it yourself! For Mother’s Day, I surprised my mom with a pesto-making class through Cinque Terre Cooking School, and I am so glad we did this! Our host picked us up in Monterosso al Mare and drove us through the Ligurian hills to the cooking school, where we were joined by ten others from all around the world. With the freshest ingredients, we made pesto using a mortar and pestle and potato gnocchi from scratch. Our meal was perfecto, and I can’t wait to use my new cooking skills at home in Brooklyn!
Explore Cinque Terre’s Villages
One of the best parts of Cinque Terre is that there are five different villages to explore, and each village is unique with something different to offer!
Riomaggiore is the easternmost village and offers the region’s most postcard-worthy photos. We visited the day of the wine harvest, or Simaatera, and the whole village was in celebration.
We stayed in Manarola, and from the moment we arrived, I fell in love. Manarola is the oldest village, known for its sweet Sciacchetrà wine. From hilltop terraces to the rugged coastline, Manarola is beyond beautiful. Our first night in Manarola, we discovered Cantina del Nessum Dorma, a small tasting room up on the hill, where we enjoyed different white and rosé wines. The woman working at the tasting room was even kind enough to call Trattoria dal Billy — one of the best seafood restaurants in Cinque Terre — and get us a last minute reservation!
Hiking from Manarola to Corniglia, we only had a glimpse into the village life of Corniglia, but we definitely had some of the best gelato Italy has to offer!
Vernazza was relatively small — easy to walk within 15 minutes. I made dinner reservations at Belforte, and while it was a neat experience to dine cliffside along the Ligurian Sea, the food was anything but average and overpriced.
Monterosso al Mare is the most visited village, with a large beach, colorful umbrellas, and endless seafood. It is also home to Buranco Winery, a must-visit when in Cinque Terre. I definitely stay in Monterosso the next time I’m in Cinque Terre!
Manarola by Night
Out of the five villages, Manarola was my favorite — and especially after sunset when the crowds disappeared, restaurants were filled with only locals, and you had the cliffside to yourself. If you’re staying in Cinque Terre overnight, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Manarola by night.
Venture to Porto Venere
Wanting to see Cinque Terre from sea, we boarded a boat headed to Porto Venere, and let me tell you, Porto Venere is a true hidden treasure. Far less crowded than Cinque Terre, Porto Venere is an old medieval town with a picturesque harbor, narrow cobblestone streets, an old castle, and a Gothic-style church sitting atop a rocky headland. While the boat ticket is a bit pricey, you have amazing views of Cinque Terre from sea, as well as the opportunity to stop in any of Cinque Terre’s villages.
Transportation: Whether you’re coming from Milan, Venice, Florence or Rome, avoid renting a car at all costs! The Italian rail system is very extensive and you can easily reach Cinque Terre by train. Regardless of origin, your high-speed train will stop in La Spezia, where you’ll transfer to the local Cinque Terre train. Make sure to pick up a train timetable as this will be your best friend come evening when the trains don’t run as frequently. Also, think about how often you’ll be riding the Cinque Terre train — as of 2018, a one-way ticket is 4€, while a day pass is 16€ (single rides definitely add up!).
Where to Stay: With five villages, it’s no simple task deciding where to stay! We stayed at Hotel Ca D’Andrean and absolutely loved our hotel and the village of Manarola. I would love to stay here again or even venture over to Monterosso al Mare — mainly for the close proximity to the beach and Buranco Winery!
How Long to Stay: Some people visit Cinque Terre in a single day and feel as though they have seen and done everything there is to offer, while others could spend an entire week exploring. It just depends on your interests. Next time, I would love to have three or four full days — the perfect amount of time (for me!) to hike, explore the villages, and relax on the beach.