Renowned for their outstanding beauty, the five pastel-hued seaside villages of the Cinque Terre, or Five Lands, are the Italian Riviera’s most iconic highlight. On Italy’s western coast, in the region of Liguria, just above Tuscany, the Cinque Terre get its name from the five fishing and wine-making villages perched along a 11-mile stretch of coast, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, connected by hiking trails and walking paths offering jaw-dropping views. The surrounding hillsides produce fine wine and olive oil.
With its dramatic coastal scenery and colorful houses, the Cinque Terre is a destination with timeless appeal, that you are going to remember for the rest of your life. The main attraction here is the beautiful yet rugged landscape.
As you ascend along the coastal route, you will marvel at one of the most impressive views in all of the Bel Paese, with rocky coves, Apennine ridges and dramatic cliffs that fall steeply toward the sea, crowned by the colorful houses. Construction is not allowed in this area, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Get around the Cinque Terre
Individual car access is highly inadvisable in this area, as there is actually no coast road and the villages have a limited number of parking spaces. The most common way to travel between the five coastal villages is by train. However, the local train, called the Cinque Terre Express, tends to be very crowded and runs to a complex timetable, with no reserved seating.
The five rock-perched villages of the Cinque Terre look great from the deck of a boat. If you want to make a glamorous entrance, then, rent a yacht or mega yacht from the harbor in Portofino, Genoa or Porto Venere, get an overall view of the different villages and visit hidden coves.
A number of top boutique tour companies offer luxury private tours with experienced English-speaking guides, winery tours where you will have the chance to taste local wines and meet the winemakers, guided walking tours amongst the olive groves above the villages and romantic sunset boat tours from the marina of Riomaggiore. You can also ride the hiking trails and walking paths on mountain bike or horseback.
The ideal time to visit the Cinque Terre avoiding the summer heat is May, early June or September, when the weather is pleasant, the days are long and vacationers are scarce. By mid-June, tourists from all over the world start arriving in hordes.
The five coastal villages, from west to east
Monterosso al Mare
The northernmost town of the Cinque Terre, about 60 miles east of Genoa, Monterosso al Mare has a stunning strip of beach, a medieval historical center and charming lodging options, including boutique hotels.
With its narrow lanes called caruggi and a maze of stairs and tiny terraces, Vernazza is a charming, laidback and jovial fishing port, with sea-facing pastel houses piled up the slopes, towards a fortified tower called Castello Doria. Piazza Marconi, by the harbor, is lined with excellent restaurants and cafes. On the other side of the town, there is a little beach.
Built on a rocky promontory surrounded by picturesque vineyards and olive groves, Corniglia is a tiny village, with no direct access to the sea. From the shore, climb the Scalinata Lardarina up 360 steps. Corniglia’s narrow alleys lead to a broad sea-facing terrace, from where you can take spectacular pictures of all villages at once.
Manarola is beyond gorgeous, with its brightly painted homes, terraced hills and picturesque views. The second smallest of the Cinque Terre villages, Manarola is thought to be the oldest as well. The grapevines surrounding the town produce the Cinque Terre wine, sweet Sciacchetrà.
The easternmost town and the closest to La Spezia and Porto Venere, Riomaggiore is the largest of the five towns, with colored houses and a rugged and delightfully secluded pebbly beach. An exclusive birdwatching center and a botanical garden are to be found on a rocky promontory up the hill.