A Brief Introduction for your Itinerary Planning
Cinque Terre, which translates to "five lands" is perhaps one of the more popular destinations just outside the boundaries of Tuscany that many coming to Tuscany go visit. An easy day trip via train for those staying near or in Florence and Pisa, these five picturesque towns offer a unique and enchanting panorama of the traditions, landscapes, and culture along the coast of Italy. Though similar in many respects, each and every one of these little "lands" has a history and personality of its own, and they are all beautiful to visit. If you are planning a trip on your own, we have organized a brief outline of info and personal considerations. Also make sure to check out this page for more information on how to arrive and more around Cinque Terre. You can also let someone else do the planning with an organized tour, but in any case, the general info we present below will give you an insider peek into what you are about to explore.
The southernmost town, Riomaggiore gets its name from the position of the characteristic tower homes built along the river (rio). It is the largest of the five towns and is often the starting point for exploring the other four and the over 120 km of trails along the coast and in the hills right over the coast. Some will say that the town goes as far back at the 8th century, but there is only news of it starting in the 1200’s. In any case, it has grown in importance and presence with its pastel-shaded homes that climb the steep incline.
Personal Comment: The main street has many restaurants and shops, the castle above is used for special events. Charming and quaint, Riomaggiore's main attraction is the start of the Via dell'Amore, the flat trail called "The Way of Love" right alongside the cliffs that connect Riomaggiore to Manarola. Unfortunately, since 2012, the Via dell'Amore has been closed due to a major landslide that damaged the manmade, flat path. Major engineering works are planned to start in late 2017, with reopening of the path in 2019. Funding is an issue, so let's hope the money is found and the full trail reopens! For now, just a short piece of the path from Manarola to a bar (about 200 meters) are open.
The colorful buildings and houses that slide down the rocky and rugged coast of Manarola make it hard to imagine that this town was (and still is) famous for its wine production. The name itself is proof of the agriculture society that went hand in hand with the fisherman, as it derives for the dialect word for "mill wheel" (you will see the wheel along the main street right below the church tower and the river that flows down to the sea). The picturesque hillside terrace farming surrounds the hidden and isolated city.
As with all of the small towns, Manarola has many picturesque trails that make a great activity for those looking for those special views, photos and prefer to enjoy exploring by getting close to nature. Many trails in this area will take you into the local vineyards and olive groves. While the easier Via dell'Amore is closed, you will find another steep trail that connects the two towns if you enjoy hiking (about 45-60 min uphill hike).
Personal Comment: We chose to stay in this village overnight, which we enjoyed. If you have time, take unplanned detours off the crowded main street and wander around the narrow lanes. You will see that in just a few minutes, you are almost alone and will be able to enjoy the village more quietly, discover how the village is constructed and get some good views. You can also take a dip in the sea from the rocks by the small harbor.
Perhaps one of the older of the five cities, the town of Corniglia was a strong producer of wine and agricultural goods. The origins as a Roman borgo was confirmed by the findings in Pompeii of anforas that were labeled with the Roman name for this town “gens Cornelia”. The only town with no natural port, you need to climb the “Lardarina” with more than 300 steps to admire the streets and alleyways of this little hamlet (or you can catch a bus :-P).
Personal Comment: This little village lies on the top of a rock surrounded by vineyards, making it a beautiful sight from afar. It is the smallest of the villages; very charming with very narrow alleys. Following the main alley, you will reach a viewpoint with spectacular views of all five settlements. Arriving by train, you will need to take the 382-step staircase to get to the village. If you want an extra hike or just an even more astonishing view, walk to San Bernadino along the asphalt road, take a coffee in the bar and enjoy the views on the descent back to Corniglia.
Vernazza grew as a powerful fortified town with a strong military defense, probably used as a port for defense against invading pirates. Boasting the only natural port in the Cinque Terre, try to imagine the boats tied up next to the houses: in medieval times there wasn’t a beach or a “proper” port like there is today. Without any car traffic within the city center, this little town is characterized with pastel colored homes that look out towards the water.
Personal Comment: The main street leading from the train station to the charming harbor is full of cafes, stores and... tourists! However, sitting at one of the restaurants at the piazza by the harbor enjoying fresh seafood is worth the trouble. If time allows, get off the main street and explore the narrow lanes and climb up to the tower of the fortress overlooking the coast.
Divided into an old and "new" section, Monterosso has a small tunnel of about 100 meters that connect the two sections. Once only accessible via water or the mule trails that led inland, this town was truly isolated until the railway came through in the late 1800’s. A visit to the sandy beaches will also reveal the remains of the colossal giant statue of Neptune, sculpted in 1910 and who has withstood the test of time, war, and weather.
Personal Comment: If you want a day on the beach – go here. This is the only village with a real sandy beach. If you travel with children, it has a nice, large playground close to the beach which also has a café next to it, making it perfect for a break for everyone. There is another playground in the "old" part of town as well, right in front of city hall near the train tracks.
These notes about Cinque Terre are just a brief summary to give you some guidance when planning your itinerary, click on the links above to view the full article on each town, information on monuments, beaches and directions on how to arrive via car, train or ferry boat.