Despite the instagram hype, Cinqueterre has been on my list to visit since 2013. I distinctly remember when I was preparing to move to Italy for my Fashion Photography course and was spending evenings googling “places to visit in Italy” when I kept seeing images of this surreal part of Italy. My boyfriend, now fiancé, and I were just getting to know each other and he was telling me about this colourful part of his country, Cinqueterre, and what a special place the whole Ligurian coast is… Since then it remained high on my list to visit but until earlier this year I had never gotten round to it!
Finally we decided that we needed to plan a trip to this stunning corner of Italy. As summer is extremely busy and winter is too cold, the perfect time to visit this Unesco world heritage site is either spring or autumn and we spent three days there during April. We had driven up to the Cinqueterre after driving through Tuscany (you can check out my guide here) to finish the last part of our holiday by the Ligurian coast. We only had 2.5 days to spend along the Cinqueterre, you can obviously spend more time in both Tuscany and Liguria, but given our trip was only a week long we wanted to cover as much ground as possible.
C I N Q U E T E R R E
The Cinqueterre was even more beautiful than I had imagined. There is beauty round every corner of this national park and I wish I could walk up every morning with the views you have here. The Cinqueterre is basically 5 small seaside villages dotted along the Ligurian coast. The most famous of the five towns are Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola. Corniglia, the fourth village is located higher up and not on the water so ideal for a lunch pitstop and quick meander. The final village Monterosso sul Mare is more of a beach than a town, but the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon lazing by the sea and sunbathing if you have amazing weather while you’re there!
Even though we did arrive in Riomaggiore by car (we parked in the carpark located at the top of the national park which cost €35 a day) the easiest way to access the national park is by train. You can hop on a train from Pisa very easily, or instead if you’re coming from Milan, grab a train down to Genoa (West of the Cinqueterre) and then head on the coastline train down. The local train line literally rides all along the Ligurian coast and costs nothing (€10 to get from Genova to Riomaggiore!!) so you could stop and visit Santa Margherita and Portofino on your way if you like (highly recommended!!). All train rides can be booked on Trenitalia.com or Italotreno.it.
The Cinqueterre towns (more like villages) are 4 minutes apart by train and for €16 a day you can buy a train pass allowing you to ride between the towns as many times as you like. They were all stunning but a lot smaller than I had imagined (to be honest, not that different to the little towns of the Greek islands) so it was easy to visit more than one in a day. There are plenty of places to stay in the 5 towns, of course the earlier you book the better. We did, however, find a very cute room last minute in the centre of Riomaggiore, owned by a young local guy called Giacomo who had just renovated them. It was perfect for a couple of days and even had a very sweet rooftop with gorgeous views of the town (check it out here!)
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN THE CINQUETERRE
The three days we enjoyed in the Cinqueterre were spent dotting in and out of the three prettiest villages (Monterosso Sul Mare was also gorgeous but it wasn’t warm enough to tan!!). If you you love hiking you can actually walk along the stunning waterside path between each of the towns (get ready for a good hike though!), but since they are so well connected by train, it was very easy to cover lots of ground. Each of the three villages we visited have their own special personality and are best seen at different times of the day, so as soon as we arrived I noted down some key viewpoints of each of the towns. Further down the article you’ll find my favourite photo spots, but firstly I thought I would share my top food spots for each town… because let’s be honest, why else would you be in Italy than to stuff your face!!!
- Nessundorma, Manarola: One of our most magical moments was enjoying lunch at Nessundorma, this is a MUST do when in the Cinqueterre. The cafe is located to the right of Manarola (if you’re facing the sea, walk to the port and continue to the right). There will likely be a queue but we only waited like 15-20 mins and the view is so stunning you won’t even notice – it is worth it! Have a Spritz and a panino or some antipasti. Our panino was so delicious – it was by far our favourite lunch spot of the trip.
- Dau Cila, Riomaggiore: Our first night we ate at Dau Cila which was a lovely seafood restaurant with outdoor tables right on the port so you can look out to sea. Luca (my boyfriend) had fritti misti (mixed fried seafood) and I had pesto pasta. A perfect, relaxed spot for a lovely bite of dinner. Make sure you have a glass of white wine, they are famous for white wine in the region (there are so many hilltop vineyards dotted along the coast!)
- Rio Bistrot, Riomaggiore: The second restaurant in the port where we ate on our second night is the high-end fine dining option in Riomaggiore. It’s ideal for a romantic dinner, celebratory dinner, which in our case was our engagement (we got engaged this trip!). The food and wine there was amazing. One thing I always love about Italy when I go back is it’s elegance and service, they take dining experiences very seriously – the restaurant owners always offering excellent advice on the wine and food you’re consuming.
- Panificio Rosi, Riomaggiore: Liguria is famous for pesto. Pesto pasta and pesto focaccia are what it does best, so don’t miss out on trying those when you dine. We got focaccia from this sweet little bakery in Riomaggiore and I got to finally try pesto focaccia!
- Ristorante Marina Piccola, Manarola: We didn’t have time to eat here but from photos it looks like they do a mean clam pasta…. delicious! Don’t miss out on seafood while you’re in the Cinqueterre as it will be fresh and super tasty.
- Ristorante Belforte, Vernazza: This wonderful lunch spot is situated right on Vernazza’s little port, overlooking the sparkling blue sea….what a place!!
- Ristorante L’ancora della Tortuga, Monterisso Sul Mare: If you’ve spent the morning lounging at the beach and fancy a bite, this place has wonderful views across the Monterosso Sul Mare bay. Expect lots of fresh seafood and delicious wine!
BEST PHOTO SPOTS IN THE CINQUETERRE
For those of you interested in getting those insta-perfect snaps, given the direction the towns are facing, the best time of day to shoot the towns is the afternoon. We woke up early on our first day to grab some shots in Riomaggiore before anyone was around and found that the sun was totally behind the mountain on which the town stands – of course, this likely wouldn’t be the case during summer when the sun rises much earlier! For the other towns the best time of the day is afternoon onwards when the sun has come up and over the front of them. Watching the sunset is a magical moment in any of them…. Buy yourself a bottle of wine, a piece of pesto focaccia and get there nice and early to grab a great spot as the sun sets…
My favourite spots for photographs were:
- Riomaggiore – Climb up to the left side of the marina (if you’re facing the sea in the middle of the marina, walk up to your left) and you’ll have a wonderful look back onto the town from there. During summer I think there is a small rocky path down into the sea that you can get a beautiful shot in front of too, or just take a drink down and enjoy the sunset from. This wasn’t open when I was there as it was too early in the season!
- Manarola – The view from Nessun Dorma is incredible. You can have lunch there or there are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the vista of the town in front of you. This is an ideal spot around lunch time. Another view I love in the town is on the little elevated piazza next to Ca de Baran. You have a lovely view looking down the winding and colourful streets of Manarola.
- Vernazza – Take the path going up towards Monterosso (all the towns are linked with a hiking path) and at some point you’ll find a little break in the path with the most incredible view of Vernazza. It is a bit of a walk to get up there so not ideal for those who aren’t the strongest walkers.
- Monterosso – Walk to the left edge of the beach to L’ancora della Tortuga and you’ll have gorgeous views back along the beach with all the colourful beach umbrellas!