Cinque Terre Villages : Touring Italy

Cinque Terre quite literally means “five lands” in Italian.  Dotted along the Italian coastline these pretty little centuries old fishing villages have become a super popular tourist destination over the last several years.  Each of the Cinque Terre villages has it’s own charm, and each boasts colorful cliffside houses, steep rugged terraced land and quaint little harbors filled with vibrant fishing boats bobbing along with the current.  Cinque Terre had been on my list of places I wanted to visit for quite some time, so John and I took some time to sneak away for a trip to celebrate our anniversary.

Cinque terre villages

CINQUE TERRE VILLAGES

All 5 Cinque Terre towns – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are beautiful and unique in their own right and each is definitely worth a visit. Each of these villages are steep and require some serious climbing to get around…so make sure you are in shape!

Cinque terre villages

With churches and castles dating back as far as the 1260’s, you will get lost in history wandering the alley ways of these gorgeous Cinque Terre villages.  People started inhabiting these areas in the 8th century to find milder climates and a place to escape pirate raids. You can picture those people when you are walking the same streets they did in these Cinque Terre villages.

Cinque terre villages

Cinque terre villages

HOW TO GET TO CINQUE TERRE

Cinque terre villages

While it feels remote, the Cinque Terre Villages are actually quite easy to get to.  Cruise ships dock in La Spezia, which is only a short 20 minute drive to the closest village of Manarola.  Train stations in Cinque Terre are in all the villages too, so that makes it incredibly easy to get to and from this beautiful part of the Italian coast.  The best way to travel Italy is totally up to you. There are so many options its easy to find one that suits your vacation the best. Touring Italy by car, actually touring anywhere in Europe by car, is our preferred mode of transportation.  We love the freedom it provides to make stops along our way wherever we feel looks interesting. When we started planning this trip we knew that we would be flying into Milan and making our way to Cinque Terre by car. Having visited Italy on several occasions, and driving through much of the country, we knew that tiny Italian roads can be quite an adventure…but the road into Cinque Terre from Milan was even more harrowing and panic inducing than I had guessed.  

Cinque terre villages

These coastal mountain roads are winding, narrow roads clinging to the edge of some of the steepest canyons and deep crevasses you can imagine with no guardrails or curbs preventing you from rolling off the edge of a cliff. The roads literally get smaller and smaller the further along you go, and in many places around sharp corners we ran into large vans and other vehicles whipping around in places where the road was only wide enough for one (small) car.  

The good news is, we made it…and the views were breathtaking, so that was a plus. 😉  The drive into Cinque Terre is not for the faint of heart…so keep that in mind when you are trying to decide how to get to the Cinque Terre Villages.

Cinque terre villages

If you choose to drive into Cinque Terre, don’t let the question of where to stay in Cinque Terre with a car worry you.  While you can’t actually drive into each of the villages, they all have a parking lot just outside the entrance to the village where you can park for the duration of your stay.  Rates and figuring out how to pay can be a little bit tricky. Everything is in Italian (surprise, surprise ;)) and we found the machines to be a little bit temperamental so it took us quite some time to get our parking pass.  During high season many parking lots have attendants that can help, but we were there in October, so we were on our own. Just something to be aware of if you decide to drive into Cinque Terre. Long term parking can range from 15-30 EUR per car per day.  

CINQUE TERRE HOTELS

Cinque terre villages

When we were trying to decide where to stay in Cinque Terre, we of course turned to Rick Steves…or as John affectionately refers to him “the Ricker.”  John is a devoted fan. 😉  All of the villages have lodging options, but we decided on Manarola and Alla Porta Rosa.

Cinque terre villages

Manarola is built on a rock high above sea level, which means lots and lots of walking up and down steep alley ways that lead to the sea below.  The main road through the town is lined with shops and restaurants. It is such a charming village and made for a great place to stay for a few days.  

cinque terre villages

Lodging in Cinque Terre is more traditional European, mostly small hotels and rooms in family-run guesthouses.  There are no chain hotels, so you will need to do some research to decide

  1. Which village sounds like the best place for you to park yourself
  2. What small hotels and inns look like the best fit for your party/budget.  

Since there are only small inns, Cinque Terre hotels fill up quickly and well in advance for peak tourist season, especially Cinque Terre hotels with a sea view.  If you have something particular in mind, be sure to book early.  Most booking takes place via email and requires a little bit of back and forth with time zone differences.  

Alla porta rossa cinque terre 2

We opted to stay at Alla Porta Rossa in the Creme Caramel apartment.  We had read lots of different reviews and decided that it would be perfect for our stay.  With sweeping views of the coastline from all sides and a large terrace (which was a must for me while we were in town) we were able to enjoy late nights on the rooftop listening to the sounds of the village.  It was wonderful! There were LOTS of stairs to climb to reach this location, which meant that every time we wanted to go somewhere it was quite a hike…and with luggage it was even more fun! But everything in these cliffside villages is a workout, so be expecting a similar experience wherever you choose to stay.

A few pictures of the room and view from the balcony at Alla Porta Rossa Creme Caramel apartment:

Alla porta rossa cinque terrre creme caramel

These twisty stairs…three flights of them…lead to the Creme Caramel apartment at the top.  This is after you’ve climbed about 1000 flights of stone steps outside. 😉  But the reward of climbing all those stairs is certainly worth it!  The views from the private terrace are incredible!!

Alla porta rossa creme caramel views

The apartment was cozy and comfortable for two.  A small bathroom, queen bed in the main living area, and a kitchen make it a comfortable place to stay for a few days.  Eclectic furnishings and decor is typical of these small hotels and adds to the charm. 

Alla porta rossa creme caramel 5

Alla porta rossa creme caramel apartment

Alla porta rossa creme caramel bathroom

A couple of other hotels that we seriously considered that you might like as well:

La Torretta Lodge

Affittacamere San Giorgio

CINQUE TERRE : WHAT TO DO

Cinque terre villages

Cinque terre 4

We arrived in Cinque Terre on a Saturday, which was perfect.  Cruise ship visitors had cleared out for the weekend and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.  Hiking Cinque Terre is a favorite activity. If you are a hiker then Cinque Terre is the perfect destination for you!  Gorgeous vineyards climb the terraced cliffs and you can hike from one village to another on a series of trails. The most popular Cinque Terre walk is on a trail known as Via Dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Unfortunately this stretch of trail has been closed since a small rockslide in 2012 injured some tourists and there continue to be political issues surrounding it’s repair and reopening.  If you are lucky enough to get to walk this stretch when it is reopened, I’d love to hear about it! There are many other hikes to enjoy and Cinque Terre walks to enjoy while you are in town though, so put on your hiking shoes!  Hiking to all the villages can take about 5 hours, not including time spent exploring each of the villages themselves. Investing in an all-day unlimited train pass between villages might be the best option if you are only in town for a short time.

Cinque terre villages

Cinque terre 10

Some of the other favorite activities in these quaint villages include:

-Exploring the centuries old churches in each village.

-Shopping (there are wonderful local artisans making all kinds of pretty things.  I brought home a few of these gorgeous handmade bowls.)

Cinque terre villages

-Eating- Don’t miss the opportunity to eat some pesto while you are in town. This region is famous for it!

-Cliff jumping, swimming and enjoying the beach

Cinque terre villages

CINQUE TERRE ITALY WEATHER

Cinque terre villages

We opted to visit Cinque Terre in October.  We were interested in smaller crowds and cooler weather.  There is more rain in the fall, and we did get some rain, but lower temps for climbing all those steep stairs and along the cliffs were definitely welcome!  Cinque Terre Italy weather can vary from highs of low 50s in the winter to the upper 80’s low 90’s in the summer months, making the best time to visit Cinque Terre late spring, summer or early fall.  Cinque Terre in March-October is ideal. We loved visiting in early October! With constant ocean breezes, it’s wise to bring a light jacket even in the summer when evening temps can be in the high 60’s.

Are you ready to visit the Cinque Terre Villages?  I hope so!  You will LOVE these colorful towns…they just ooze charm!

If you like to travel as much as we do, here are some more posts you don’t want to miss!  You can check out our entire Travel Gallery to see all of our posts and helpful info.

Things to See in Europe

Tea at the Orangery | Riding Trains in Europe | Dublin Travel Guide | Paris Museum Pass | Best Family Hotel in Rome

Things to do in Europe

Visiting Bruges | Staying Connected in Europe | Best View in Paris | Amsterdam Canal House | Borough Market

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Cinque terre villages

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