If you are in the north of Italy, and have a day to spare, one place you should certainly visit is the land of five towns, called Cinque Terre (pronounced as CHINK-weh TAY-reh).
Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Italian Riviera coastline, and today a National Park and Protected Marine Area.
Cinque Terre consists of five glorious fishing towns, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
In each of the 5 towns, colorful houses and vineyards cling to steep terraces,harbors are filled with fishing boats, and restaurants with delicious seafood specialties.
Thankfully cars are banned in the entire National Park and the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail links the villages, offering sweeping sea vistas. There is also a 19th-century railway line which cut through a series of coastal tunnels connecting all the five towns. And there are ferries going from village to village too.
One thing to note is that Cinque Terre's five villages date from the early medieval period. Monterosso, the oldest, was founded in AD 643; Riomaggiore came next in the 8th century; followed by the other three, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Much of what remains in the villages today dates from the late High Middle Ages, including several castles and parish churches.
And despite tourists flooding this place every day, I feel it has successfully maintained its rural, laidback vibe and has not fallen prey to urbanization yet!
The answers on how to get to Cinque Terre and whats the best way to explore the place are at the bottom of the page, but lets first go through all the views that I saw and you can see:
This view is from the most famous and crowded trail around the Manarola town (you can get to this trail from the Manarola-Corniglia trail too, it connects at a point). The key is when you start moving away from the town, find a path to get back to the town. Or you can also head to the harbor directly and follow the trail from there. (they all lead to the same place and views.
Now lets sort out some important details:
How to get to Cinque Terre?
To go to Cinque Terre, you have to get to a place called La Spezia, that's where the trainline connecting all the five town starts from, and that's where you can buy your tickets too. If you are not driving, like me, train is the best option. There are several direct trains from Pisa (1 hour), Milan (3 hours) and Genoa (1-1.5 hours). From Florence if you get the direct train, it takes 1.5 hours, else it takes 3.5 hours with a change in Pisa. From Rome, the direct train takes 3.5 hours or its 4.5 hours with a change in Florence. From Venice, its 5 hours with 1-2 changes.
It is better to check the timings online on websites like www.goeuro.com or www.trainline.eu or www.raileurope.com to plan the trip properly, depending on where you will be.
I would recommend taking a night train, and spending the night in La Spezia (in case you are coming from a place which has more than 3 hours train ride), and then have an early start the next day.
Whats the best way to explore?
Once you are in La Spezia train station, you can buy the Cinque Terre Rail Card for 16 euros. It gives you full day unlimited access to the train line connecting the Levanto - Cinque Terre - La Spezia line.
So, take the train and go to the last town Monterosso and make your way back from there.
I was more interested in exploring the entire national park, instead of killing time on the beach. But if you prefer to do that, then Monterosso is also the town which has a decent beach. Vernazza has a tiny beach too. The rest dont have a beach per say but you will still see people sun bathing almost anywhere on the rocks.
The best thing to do, as I did, is take the hiking trail from Monterosso to Vernazza - which provides some of the spectacular panoramic views of the coastline. Have some beach time and lunch in Vernazza (remember, delicious seafood!), and then take the train to Manarola, and then train from Manarola to Riomaggiore, and finally when its time to leave, its a 5 mins train ride from Riomaggiore to La Spezia.
Corniglia is the least attractive of all, doesnt have special view of its own, but its the village from where you can see all the other 4 village. But for this village, you have to take a Park bus from the train station to the village (its around a 10 min ride), unless you prefer walking. And the buses are not that frequent and badly loaded with tourists. So, if you are short on time, just skip it! (I visited it and I got a zoomed in shot of Manarola village from there, but I wished I skipped it too).
I hope you enjoyed the pictures and the information helps. Please feel free to drop in a comment for any further details on Cinque Terre of any other place in Italy and I shall be more than happy to help you! :)
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