Is Cinque Terre, Italy on your bucket list?
During July, the topic of the month is rail travel, and where better to travel by rail than Cinque Terre in northern Italy, especially since I just added an Italy Odyssey, a new 2020 Women Only Tour to the website? Of course, if you’re travelling from Canada (or the U.S.A.), you’ll need to hop on a plane to Italy first, but once in “il Bel Paese,” there are plenty of rail services connecting Cinque Terre (via La Spezia) to the rest of the country.
What is Cinque Terre?
Located in the province of La Spezia, Liguria on the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre (Five Villages) is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that “is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value.” Needless to say, Cinque Terre is a popular tourist destination and is on many people’s bucket lists, mine included.
Cinque Terre’s five main villages, which are built on the steep and rugged Liguria coastline between La Spezia and Levanto, date as far back as the Middle Ages. They are connected by a railway line and a series of tunnels, so travelling by train is an ideal way (and some say the best way) to see all five villages. However, they can also be visited by bus, car, motorbike or on foot (when the paths between them are open and safe to do so, that is). However, although all five villages are located on the coast, only four of them can also be visited boat.
The Five Villages
The five villages of Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Below is just a few tidbits about each village.
The most southerly of the five villages was built in the valley of Rivus Maior, from where it gets its name. The village, which is a maze of alley ways and steps, is dissected by the railway line that brings tourists to visit. At the base of the village, there is bay with a rocky beach where you can see colourful boats and watch fishermen bringing in their daily haul or catch the sunset from one of the restaurants or bars. Some of the cultural sights in the village worth visiting include the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Oratory of San Rocco and the Museo delle Cinque Terre Antiche (Museum of local history).
Registered as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, you can get to Manarola by land (car or train), boat, or on foot via the path from Riomaggiore (when it is open). Manarola is the second smallest of the Cinque Terre where you can enjoy a morning stroll, sample exquisite Italian cuisine and local wines, watch a beautiful sunset or discover the best spots to take stunning photos. Some of the best cultural landmarks in the village are the Church of San Lorenzo, the remains of Bastion (castle) and Museo dello Sciacchetrá (Sciacchetrá museum).
Located 100 metres above the sea and with no harbour, this is the smallest of the Cinque Terre villages and the oldest. Arriving by train, you’ll have 382 steps to climb to get to the top of the village (or take the easy option—an electronic bus) where you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire Cinque Terre coast. Although Corniglia is by the sea, it can only be reached by land due to its elevation and lack of harbour. However, you may be surprised to find, there are actually three small beaches in Corniglia where you can go for a swim—one right by the train station. A couple of cultural sights worth visiting while you’re in Corniglia are the Church of San Pietro and the Oratory of the Disciplinati of Santa Caterina.
Considered the pearl of Cinque Terre, and another one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, Vernazza is a popular tourist hot spot, and can therefore be overcrowded. Mornings and evenings, as well as low season months are the best time to visit. With a natural harbour and beach, it is a great place to go for a swim or watch locals play water-polo, relax at one of its many restaurants or bars and watch fishermen bring in their daily haul. A couple of cultural landmarks worth seeing are the Church of Santa Margarita d’Antiochia, and Doria castle and Belforte tower.
Monterosso al Mare
The most northerly of the Cinque Terre villages, Monterosso is much flatter than the other four with fewer stairs to negotiate to reach it from the train station. It also has a long parasol-lined beach making it ideal for families with small children or for seniors. Some of its cultural landmarks include Church of San Giovanni Battista, The “Yellow pagoda” and the Convent of Cappuccini and Church of San Francesco.
No, you haven’t miscounted…This tiny village, with only two streets and a lovely sea view, is located within Cinque Terre National Park, on top of a hill above Manarola, but it is not part of the five villages. It is worth a mention though because its inhabitants were responsible for the development of Manarola. Volastra, which is accessible by car via the Cinque Terre panorama road, or by bus from Manarola, or on foot from Manarola or Corniglia, lies in the middle of beautiful olive groves, from which it gets it’s name. The main attraction in the village is the medieval Nostra Signora della Salute church.
Best time to visit Cinque Terre
Whether you travel by train, car, boat or on foot, the best time to visit the villages of Cinque Terre, to avoid hoards of tourists, is early morning or evening, or in the low and shoulder seasons from September to May. You’ll have a much more relaxing time strolling through the tiny streets or watching the locals as you enjoy a coffee at one of the many cafes or bars.
Mid-May and mid-September are particularly good times to visit, especially if you plan to stay for a few days. The weather is warm and there are fewer visitors than in the summer months, so accommodations will be easier to find. The water is still cool in May, however, so if you like to swim, September is your best option.
If you like to hike, you might want to go a little earlier in April, which is one of the best months for hiking the trails that Cinque Terre is known for. September is also a good month for hiking. Once you get into October, however, the rainy season means some of the trails will be closed due to the possibility of landslides.
Durin the winter months (November through March), while not freezing, the temperature is cool and rainy, and many of the trails are closed. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid the crowds, don’t care for hiking or swimming, and don’t mind the rain, this tiime of year would be a great time to visit.
December to January is a good time to visit if you love Christmas lights, decorations and the holiday festivities, especially in Manarola, which has the biggest precepe (nativity) scene, not just in Italy, but in the world. However, the villages will be more crowded than the rest of the winter season.
Whatever you do, avoid August like the plague! This is the busiest and most crowded month in Cinque Terre due to the Italian summer holiday. Not only is it super crowded but you’ll be paying through the nose for accommodations.
Is Cinque Terre in Liguria, Italy and the Italian Riviera on your bucket list?
Stop dreaming… Start Planning.
If Cinque Terre is on your bucket list, check out this 2020 Italy Odyssey, a women only tour that includes 2 days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or if you’re looking for a cruise on the Italian Riviera or a tailor-made trip to Italy, contact Kaz Custom Travel can help you plan, create and arrange everything needed for an experience of a lifetime!