Cinque Terre means “five lands” in Italian and consists of five fishing villages clustered on the Ligurian coast in northern Italy roughly between Genoa and Pisa. Pesto and Foccacia are a part of the local range of food. This is part of the Italian Riviera, so beaches and small towns abound. Dramatic cliffs plunging into the waves and colorful towns clinging to rocky shores make for an engaging landscape to explore. Exploring Cinque Terre is quite interesting and worth more than just the visit to the famous five towns. Here’s what you’ll find if you decide to add Cinque Terre to your Italy itinerary.
These are the five picturesque towns known as the Cinque Terre. They are protected by a national park, and so have retained a lot of their old world charm.
From west to east the towns are :
Monterosso al Mare – the only one of the five with a beach.
Vernazza – a wide bay lined with multi-colored houses
Corniglia – perched on top of a cliff, this town has no direct sea acces
Manarola – one end of the “love tunnel” portion of the hiking trails as it heads toward Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore – easily reached from La Spezia
There are hiking trails between all of the towns, though they may be closed due to weather or damage, so check ahead if you are dead set on hiking. The trails are steep in places as well. Even if the trails as a whole are shut down, or you aren’t interested in a lot of hiking, still check out the trails around each town. We walked a short loop near Manarola that gave excellent views into the town and down the coast.
The best way to see all of the towns in a day or two is by train. There is a train that runs through the national park from Levanto to La Spezia and stops at each town. Corniglia’s train station is below the town and involves a hike up stairs or a short bus ride to reach the town. Check out this site for more info on the train and the day tickets.
Beyond Cinque Terre
La Spezia is the next largest town at the south-east of the the train line. It has a castle and a naval museum, but is otherwise just a city, though does make a decent base for exploring the area.
If you can’t get enough of cute Italian towns, check out Portovenere. It is south of La Spezia (reachable by public bus) and has a castle, several church buildings and a grotto area that looks over the rugged coast. Across the strait is nature and hiking island of Palmaria.
Levanto is the north-western end of the Cinque Terre train line. Beyond it to the west on the volcanic peninsula of Portofino. This area has the decidedly upmarket town of Portofino reachable only by bus, boat or on foot from the train station at Santa Margherita. Santa Margherita is worth a visit as well. On the western end of the peninsula is Camogli, and between them in a secluded San Fruttuoso Abbey, accessible by boat or foot. The whole peninsula is crossed by hiking trails.
An hour or so east from La Spezia is the town of Sarzana. It is inland, so not a fishing village, but gives you a different view of the area. The formerly walled town has a castle in town and one nearby on the hill as well as several of the towers.
If you have an urge to see even more Italy from your base near the Cinque Terre, Pisa is a doable day trip from La Spezia. It is a long day, but trains run to the town of the famous leaning tower.
Out the other side of Cinque Terre, if you are one your way to France, is the city of Genoa with its old town. Don’t base yourself here if you want to explore Cinque Terre unless you fancy long train trips. Beyond Genoa toward France the Italian Riviera continues with all manner of fancy resort towns.
Read more about Italy:
- If you’re looking for insider tips on travel in Italy, check out this guidebook filled with interviews with 100 locals
- Underground Colosseum and Roman Forum Tour Review
- Which Food Tour in Rome Should You Take?
- And check out the full Italy section here