The Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, translated “Five Lands”, is located on the Italian Riviera, just west of La Spezia and an easy train ride away from Florence.  It is made up of five beautiful seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. Colorful homes cling to steep terraces, fishing boats float in azure water, and brave villagers dive from rocky cliffs into the cold sea water.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

While you could definitely spend a few days here, we chose to visit Cinque Terre in one day, and it was definitely doable, given the fantastic transportation system, a train easily and quickly connecting all five beautiful towns.  There is little to no car accessibility (with the exception of Monterroso, I believe), which adds to the charm of these five quaint towns.  You can only access the villages with the train, a boat, and paths with gorgeous views of the cliffs and the sea.

The five main towns in Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  We began our day in Monterrosso, the farthest village from La Spezia.  Of the five villages, it is the largest and most “resort” like, as there is a beautiful swimmable beach and a boardwalk with restaurants, hotels, and shops.

What is the best way to spend your time in Monterosso?  My kids would say swimming and enjoying Gelato.  Ryan and I would have to agree, with the small addition of a Cappuccino while enjoying the views.  

After our trek from Tuscany early that morning, we were all starving.  We found a sweet open air cafe right on the beach, and spent our first hour devouring pizza, pasta, and a little Cappuccino.  Then the kids, much braver than we were, dove into the sea!  It was cold but they loved it.  Some lasted a little longer than others, but I won’t name names.  

While they swam and attempted to warm up in the beautiful May sun, Ryan and I explored the shops, in search of Gelato.  Yes, I know…always Gelato!  Success, of course, and it didn’t take long for the kids to abandon the water to join us.

We were finally able to tear the kids away from Monterrosso and move on to the next town, Vernazza, a remarkable fishing village.  This one was our favorite of all five villages for the views alone!  I am confident Vernazza is one of the most photographed destinations in all of Italy, it is that lovely.  Instead of rushing through the town and then racing on to another village, we chose to spend the next few hours relaxing here, and taking in the views.  In our opinion, it is better to extend our stay in one town and really immerse ourselves versus visiting every single village but not really getting to know any of them well.

Below are a few shots from the waterfront.

Here are a few more from the beautiful villages with their shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels.

Quick Tips

Staying in Cinque Terre:  While we were able to visit three of the five villages in one day (and could have visited all, had we wanted to), I’d still recommend staying a minimum of two nights.  This way, you can really enjoy all Cinque Terre has to offer, including hiking some of their infamous trails in between villages.

Hiking:  Hiking is a favorite activity here, but do your research prior to arrival, as some trails could be closed due to rain.  Additionally, after receiving over 2.5 million visitors this past year, Italy is considering limiting the number of tourists in this area and on its trails to 1.5 million with a new ticketing system starting in the summer of 2016.  So…do your research and plan ahead!

Train:  The most practical way to get to Cinque Terre is via train from La Spezia, which is connected to many Italian cities like Florence.  Once in La Spezia, you’ll change to the Cinque Terre train, which generally runs every 1 to 2 hours, and stops at each of the five villages.  The distance in time from La Spezia to the first village, Riomaggiore, is only 10 minutes, and then less than 5 minutes each to the following stops.  Make sure to pick up a train schedule before you leave La Spezia.

If you’ve ever visited Cinque Terre, please take the time to share more and make sure to include which was your favorite and why.

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