The Fabulous Five

The picture-perfect towns that comprise the Cinque Terre have to be seen to be believed with cascading vineyards, harbours filled with colourful boats and winding streets lined with pastel buildings. Running from north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. For centuries, the neighboring fishing villages have clung to the sheer cliffs on the northwest coast of Italy overlooking the clear, blue Mediterranean.

The region has been recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and is today a National Park and Protected Marine area. With few roads and access primarily granted by rail or water, the villages, although tourist hotspots, still offer a feeling of remote authenticity.

Like many visiting travelers, we started our trip in La Spezia, a small town south of the Cinque Terre. It is a cheaper alternative to staying in the villages themselves and with both the train and ferry from La Spezia serving all five villages, it couldn’t be easier to visit the region. Although most visitors get the ferry straight to the Cinque Terre, I recommend making a pit stop in Porto Venere, the first stop on the ferry route. From here, we boarded the ferry to Monterosso, the largest of the five villages and the furthest north. Getting the ferry to the furthest point allows you to take in the views and hear about the history of the region. The villages are less than five minutes apart by train so working your way back to the first village by train is the most convenient option if you’re trying to fit them all in on one day.

Monterosso

Monterosso is less vertical, and therefore less unique, so in my opinion, the least scenic of the five villages but it has two beautiful sandy beaches and a vibrant seaside promenade. Monterosso is the perfect spot for a dip and the crystal clear water is exceedingly inviting. The village is divided into two parts, with the medieval tower of Aurora marking the divide. While you’re here, visit the Church of San Giovanni Battista, located in the main square in the old town. The San Francesco Church, home to major art works, is also worth a visit. In Fegina, the new town, it’s hard to miss Il Gigante, a concrete statue of a giant, representing Neptune, the God of the sea.

Vernazza

Vernazza is the next port of call. This one-street village with a church built on the water – the Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia – has a beautiful harbour with wooden boats bobbing in the waves, a small sandy beach and a great cliffside restaurant with incredible ocean views. The Tower of the Doria Castle was built in the 15th century to protect the village from pirates and is worth the steep climb. Vernazza is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and perhaps the most characteristic of the Cinque Terre, with its sheltered port surrounded by rows of shuttered buildings in a breathtaking palette of pink and terracotta.

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Corniglia

Corniglia is the smallest of the five villages and is often ignored as it’s built high up in the cliff, 100 metres above the sea. It is the only town without access from the sea and you have to climb 365 steps to reach the centre of the little village. It’s definitely the quietest of the villages. The views are incredible so if you want to squeeze in some lunch I’d recommend making a pit stop here. Corniglia is also connected to the other villages of the Cinque Terre by well-kept footpaths, maintained by the park staff.

Manarola

Manarola will be instantly recognisable if, like me, you have excessively googled images of the Cinque Terre. Some of Cinque Terre’s most recognisable photographs are taken from a spit of land that extends to the north of the town and wraps around the cliff giving beautiful views of the little harbour and the colourful mosaic of houses. This a popular spot for watching the sunset. Manarola is also a popular swimming area despite not having any sand. The tiny harbour also features a boat ramp and boats are pulled onto dry land along the main road every time the sea is rough. If you venture to the top of this steep village make sure to visit the Church of San Lorenzo. It is a truly charming experience.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the Cinque Terre and is, in my opinion, the most impressive of the five villages. It is the most vertical and comprises one main street, a harbour, and a rocky beach along with a church, a castle and plenty of bars and restaurants – the perfect location to finish off your day.

Where to:

  • Meet
    • Hotel NH La Spezia
    • The NH La Spezia offers four spacious conference or meeting rooms, ideal for hosting business meetings, conferences, or seminars. Private rooms for business luncheons or dinners are also available upon request, as well as venues for private cocktail parties.
  • Eat
    • Al Settimo Cielo
    • Not centrally located but definitely worth the uphill climb from La Spezia. Ask for a seat by the window for spectacular views of the twinkling harbour below.
  • Sleep
    • Porto Roco
    • Located in Montorosso, Porto Roca is one of the only hotels in Cinque Terre with a pool and room service. Many of the 40 rooms have balconies overlooking the sea.
  • See
    • Corniglia
    • Although not the most accessible of the five villages, Corniglia should not be overlooked. The views are spectacular and worth the climb from the train station. For 180-degree sea views, make the added climb to the Belvedere di Santa Maria – a stunning cliffside balcony.