Picture of colorful village of Manarola Cinque Terre Italy

The Cinque Terre – Magical Views Come With a Price

The price you will pay is the mobs of people that you may encounter here.

The Cinque Terre, or ‘The Five Villages’, are some of the cutest-darn-little fishing towns on the planet. Tucked into a north western corner of Italy and just a short distance away from the port town of La Spezia, Cinque Terre is along the Italian Riviera. The little villages are built into the rugged, craggy cliffs and dramatic hills, and are condensed where the sea meets the land. The buildings are extremely colorful, charming, and you won’t want to go home. An important note is that the villages cannot be reached by car. There are boats, hiking trails, and trains that connect the villages, so don’t plan on renting a car and driving to each one.

Oh, and of course it is Italy, so there is amazing food too!

..That elephant in the room though…

The likelihood that you will have a great trip isn’t guaranteed. The Cinque Terre is no longer a secret, quiet getaway. In reality, the Cinque Terre is freaking crowded. Depending on the crowds, a trip to a place like this can end up being the absolute best experience or the absolute worst. I experienced this in the during a trip to Bruges. I was so excited to see what the rave about Bruges was all about. It wasn’t a terrible experience, but I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of people (and we went in the off season!). Maybe if i had mentally prepared for it, I would have been able to better enjoy it. Visits to locations like Santorini and Venice during peak seasons are subject to the same concerns I and would suggest avoiding these peak times which are typically in the middle of summer.

Cruise ships and big name tour operators bring people through here by the masses. I would suggest doing a guided tour of the towns to get the most out of your money, and one that leaves really early in the morning, before the crowds and heat start to get to you. If the latter happens, it might make for a very stressful visit, and who wants that?! No one. The tiny trains that connect the little villages, even in May, were packed with crowds quickly entering and exiting them. Thankfully, we did this with a guide so he knew right where to go. Often times with a guide, you are paying for efficiency, and this was no exception. If you’ve ever been on the Les Halles metro stop in Paris at “rush hour,” this is a similar experience.

Some destinations leave you returning home with the memories of the people..some leave with you the warm thoughts of the food had there, or maybe even the butterflies you get remembering back to the really awesome excursion you did when you cage dove with sharks in South Africa. Cinque Terre (for me) left behind the memories of the scenery. The complete list of all five villages of Cinque Terre consist of the following:

Riomaggiore | Manarola |Corniglia | Vernazza | Monterosso

3 of the 5..

Manarola

Picture of colorful village of Manarola Cinque Terre ItalyThe bus let us out at the top of the hill to walk down towards the town of Manarola. It was very early in the morning in May, so it was peaceful in Manarola. We paused along the way to check out the hillside surroundings where you can see (placed high on the hill top among the gardens), the largest Nativity scene in all of Europe.

We did what any person in a seaside town would do – head towards the water. Winding down the colorful pathway past little storefronts and eateries, eventually led us to the iconic “postcard” view of The Cinque Terre.
It’s easy to tell where to go to get the best picture of the village by heading along the path to the right. This path also leads to a park, which we spent a little time exploring and then pausing to soak in the smell of the sea and feel the breeze.

After checking out the park in the distance, we did a little shopping around, grabbed a cafe americano, and (my husband) tried a shot of Limincino, which is a liquor made from the lemons in this region. It’s not to be confused with “Limoncello” from the southern region of Italy (different type of lemons). We sat sipping our drinks and discussed how we could live here forever if it were undiscovered. Then, we met back up with the guide and hopped on the boat headed to Vernazza.

Vernazza

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Different from Manarola but equally picturesque, Vernazza is super cute and absolutely worth a visit. The famed travel guide Rick Steves votes it as his favorite out of the five. It is completely isolated because even though cars aren’t allowed in the Cinque Terre, there isn’t a place to leave them up above Vernazza (like there is in Manarola). We were told the gelato here was amazing, so who were we to go against a a reason to eat more gelato? It was the best gelato I have had in Europe hands down, of any trip. Ever.

Monterosso

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A short boat ride away from Vernazza passing picturesque cliffs with old watch towers turned into houses set into them, Monterosso has yet a different twist on the quaint village. There is an old and a new section of Monterosso. As I always, always go by the guidelines of exploring the Old Town of any Village when deciding which direction to go, so this was no exception. After exploring, people watching, and browsing around, we had a fantastic meal here served on a giant cutting board complete with adorable, tiny fish shaped pottery holding some of the goodies. The whole thing was arranged like it should be hanging in a museum. Mind you, this was before the “cheeseboard” fad hit the U.S. I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of this meal, or remember the name of the restaurant. It would have won my “Best Meal of 2014” award, if I just.had.the.picture.

After hitting up the Old Town, we wanted to check out the beach here. Head through the tunnel to the New Town area for the afternoon (or a lifetime), where the beach is glorious..

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The Beaches of Monterosso

Monterosso literally translates to “Red Mountain”. And although there are most definitely mountains, there are no red mountains here; but the man that came up with the name happened to have red hair.

There is a spot in the Cinque Terre (Monterosso) where you can see all five villages standing in one spot on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy when we were there, so the picture doesn’t cut it. Even with the haze, we could still make out 4 of the 5 villages.

Whenever the next time that Italy comes to your mind (hopefully that’s often), you can now add sipping a Limoncino on the beaches of Monterosso to your bucket list, right up there with a visit to Rome and Venice, and especially Florence. Cinque Terre is easily reachable by train from Florence. You should go.. soon.. and decide which Village of the Cinque Terre is your favorite.

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