Cinque Terre consists of five small towns along the Italian Riviera, each more stunning than the last. With gorgeous blue water, striated rocks, tiered fields, and colorful homes, these towns are a must see for any serious travelers.
We visited this beautiful Italian destination as part of our European road trip — but you don’t use a car to get around these towns — so step one was figuring out where to park our rental car.
Parking in Cinque Terre
When booking our hotel room in Cinque Terre, our host gave us a good tip of where to park our rental car during our stay. She told us about a parking lot in a neighboring town, La Spezia, where parking would be FREE! The lot was called Piazza d’Armi, and it was in what appeared to be a good neighborhood. We felt okay leaving our car there during our stay.
From there it was a ten minute walk to the train station, fifteen minute train ride, and five minute walk to our room in the southernmost of the five towns, Riomaggiore.
After settling in, we decided to walk around town. The views were incredible!
We walked up hill, then down and around towards the water, walking down “hidden” pathways and staircases that we weren’t sure were for public use. We were instantly drawn to the unique rocks along the water (and the beautiful blue water itself).
We continued circling down and around and found stairs that gave way to the rocks along the ocean. We climbed down and sat by the water for a good half hour, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the waves crashing against the rocks at sunset.
We circled around the rocks and in to the port where we got our first glimpse of the colorful buildings that stood out in all the photo’s we had seen leading up to this trip.
We were quickly running out of daylight, so we stopped at a bar and had a few drinks, then grabbed some dinner and called it a night.
Unfortunately, because we were visiting in the off-season (early February), most of the restaurants around town were closed. We may have saved money visiting at this time of year, but we weren’t able to get the full Cinque Terre experience. Something to be aware of if you are planning a visit.
The most efficient way to travel from one town to the next in Cinque Terre is by train. The tracks are right along the water so the scenery is beautiful, tickets are inexpensive (~2 euro each), and it only takes a couple minutes to get where you’re going. Armed with this knowledge, we boarded the train to Vernazza.
We walked around Vernazza taking photos and exploring for a while.
We had read that it was possible to hike from one town to the next, but weren’t sure if the time of year would prevent us from doing so. We found a tourist information office and went in to find out. The gentleman working there gave us a somewhat confusing, long-winded answer along the lines of:
“It’s closed for the winter but you can go, but you can’t, but if you want to risk it, you can.”
Not entirely sure, we went to the trail head to check it out. There was a “barrier” in place that said “No Access” which would have stopped solo-Dax in his tracks, but Laura decided that we would power through. It was a steep climb, but the views made it absolutely worth it!
In the middle of our hike we came upon an interesting sight. A “Cat Hotel” among the trees, with four or five cat houses, food packets, pictures of the residents, and a donation box. You could feed and pet the cats, and you were encouraged to donate to their fund. Quite strange, but fun! There was only one resident cat lying around at the time, and she enjoyed the attention we showed her. We made a small donation and continued on.
As we reached the apex of our hike, Monterosso became visible through the foliage.
We continued on, encountering several streams, bridges, and steps (both up and down) along the way. It took us about 1.5 hours to get from Vernazza to Monterosso, and it was well worth the experience!
By the time we reached Monterosso we were both hangry and getting tired. The owner of our hotel in Riomaggiore had given us a Monterosso food recommendation called Ciak Miky (or so we thought). We walked around looking for a while and couldn’t find it, later realizing that it was actually two separate restaurants (Ristorante la Lampara Ciak, and Miky Ristorante). Doh! We settled for what was open and in front of us, which turned out to be crummy American food.
Probably stemming from our quickly deteriorating moods, we didn’t take many photos in Monterosso. We only really saw half of the town because we didn’t realize that it was possible to walk along the water and through a tunnel to get to the other side. What we did see looked similar but different to the other towns, with it’s own unique characteristics here and there.
We made the decision to catch the train back to Riomaggiore for dinner and sleep. It was in both of our best interests. 🙂
The next morning we were back on the train for a quick ride to Corniglia on a sunny but windy day. Upon arrival, we were greeted with several flights of stairs that switched back on one another many times. Stairs that had to be climbed to get to the town.
Once in town, we meandered for a while until we landed on a large deck overlooking the water. We could barely feel the wind from there and it was glorious with the sun shining down upon us! We probably sat there for an hour soaking up the rays, just relaxing and enjoying life.
We eventually made our way back to the train station so that we’d have time to visit the fifth and final town on the list, Manarola.
Manarola is arguably the most beautiful of the five towns (and our favorite). It had the coolest waterfront, which included a waterfall that jutted out from under the town! It also had a protected area to swim and a ton of rocks to climb around on. There was a paved road we followed up and around that took us just across from the town and allowed us to get some great photos!
Again, since we were visiting in the off season, all we could really explore was the scenery since most of the shops and restaurants were closed. Luckily for us, we love relaxing and taking in the scenery while we travel. Sometimes too many people can ruin an experience, and one of the great things about this visit to Cinque Terre was that no one was around! We were able to do things like sit on the rocks listening to the waves, or hike from one town to another with no one around, or sit on a quiet sun deck for an hour overlooking the ocean. It was an incredible experience, to say the least.
A Local Fisherman Named Eduardo
For our last night in Riomaggiore, we made dinner reservations at one of the few open restaurants — Rio Bistro. It was an upscale establishment, which was reflected in both the food and the price! We both ordered the five-course tasting menu which turned out to be five large courses accompanied by some delicious Cinque Terre wine. When the waiter brought the pasta course to the table, he shared with us it’s origin story.
“Here’s your pasta with tenderized squid, caught fresh this morning by a local fisherman named Eduardo. Enjoy!”
Such a quaint town!
We relaxed for the rest of the night, enjoying the cities beauty and reflecting on how lucky we were to be visiting such an incredible place!
Activities for Cinque Terre
Hiking – There are multiple hiking trails between each of the towns. Some will be more difficult than others and may also only be open certain times of the year.
Eating – Each town has many restaurants. However, if traveling during the winter, most will be closed. Although your choices will be limited, you can still get some of the freshest seafood around!
Swimming – You can’t swim in every town you visit. But if you come during the summer, don’t forget your swimsuit!
Wine Tasting – We were told by countless people about wine tasting here. Again, it’s seasonal and not open in the winter. Oh well, next time for us!
Shopping – Each town has small shops, food markets, etc. that you can buy local art and souvenirs.
Ask a local – Your best bet upon arrival is to talk to the hotel or apartment owner (or whomever you’re staying with), or even stop by the visitor center. Ask them what’s open and available to you when you’re visiting. Keep an open schedule! Remember to relax and enjoy Cinque Terre!
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