The Cinque Terre villages are among the most picturesque and photogenic places in Italy, apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. As the name implies, these five centenary villages were built on the rugged slopes of the Italian Riviera, in the province of La Spezia, in the Ligurian region.
In each of the Cinque Terre, you’ll find colorful and practically overlapping houses. The surrounding land is almost all cultivated with vineyards and the ports are filled with fishing boats. There are also several restaurants and trattorie serving specialties from the region, so look for dishes with seafood and the famous Ligurian sauce, the pesto!
So, do you want to know more about 1 Day In Cinque Terre: The Perfect Cinque Terre Itinerary? Keep reading!
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Brief History of Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre villages first belonged to the Republic of Genoa during the Middle Ages, with the first records mentioning the small towns dating from the 11th century. During the following centuries, the five villages developed, mainly around fishing and winery activities.
With the emergence of the city of La Spezia and the construction of a railway line that connected it to Genoa, the community began to migrate to the neighboring population centers, leaving the Cinque Terre on the verge of economic ruin.
However, from the 1960s and the 1970s, the growth of tourism in this part of the Italian Riviera brought prosperity back to the villages. The cultivation of the white grape and olive has intensified since, while the old fishermen’s huts on the beach have been restored and transformed into tourist attractions.
Today, Cinque Terre lives off mass tourism, especially in the high season (between May and October). It’s a perfect destination for a day trip from Florence, Bologna, Genoa, or Milan, but you can extend your stay by another 1 or 2 days, to fully enjoy the beauty of this National Park.
Did you know that the Cinque Terre were part of Italy’s tenth set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 21st session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Naples (Italy), between December 1st and 6th, 1997.
Nine other Italian sites were announced in the session: the 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex; the Archaeological Area of Agrigento; the Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata; the Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico), Padua; the Cathedral, Torre Civica and Piazza Grande, Modena; the Costiera Amalfitana; the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy; the Su Nuraxi di Barumini; and the Villa Romana del Casale.
Nowadays, Italy is the country in the world with the most UNESCO sites: it has fifty-eight heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit five of them:
- Cinque Terre (1997)
- Historic Centre of Florence (1982)
- Historic Centre of Rome and the Properties of the Holy See (1980) – Castel Sant’Angelo, Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- The Porticoes of Bologna (2021)
- Venice and its Lagoon (1987)
Visiting Cinque Terre
Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola e Riomaggiore are the names of the Cinque Terre villages that you’ll want to remember. There’s a trail that runs through them, called Sentiero Azzurro (“Blue Path“), in case you don’t want to travel by train. It’s the fastest trail between the villages because it passes by the sea and has four stops so that you can enjoy each one.
Between Riomaggiore and Manarola, there’s the Via dell’Amore (“Love’s Way“), a part of the pedestrian path of the Sentiero Azzurro, with panoramic views over the sea and an extension of just over a kilometer. Despite being the best-known part of the walk, it has been under construction for several years and is only expected to reopen in the spring of 2023.
To begin with, car access within the Cinque Terre villages is extremely limited. Not only are some of the streets too narrow, but the roads end before the villages – as is the case in Vernazza. Still, if you prefer to travel by car, you can find car parks at the entrance of the villages.
Therefore, my recommendation is that you use the regional train called 5Terre Express, operated by Trenitalia. This train runs between La Spezia (La Spezia Centrale station) and Levanto, and the journey between each of the Cinque Terre villages only takes 3 minutes.
A ticket with the Cinque Terre fare costs €4 (adults) or €2 (children between 4 and 12 years old). However, this ticket is only valid for a trip between La Spezia and Levanto (or vice versa), which must be taken within 75 minutes after validation and does not allow intermediate stops. It looks confusing, doesn’t it?
The best solution is to buy the Cinque Terre Treno MS Card, for sale at any of Trenitalia‘s physical ticket offices and points of sale at the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre (or online, if you prefer). You can choose the ticket for 1, 2 or 3 days, at €16, €29 and €41, respectively. There are also special daily rates for children up to 12 years old (€10), people over 70 years old (€13), and families with children up to 12 years old (€42).
With it, you’re entitled to unlimited 2nd class travel on regional trains between La Spezia and Levanto (or vice versa). This card is nominative and non-transferable, so you must write your name on it before the first validation (sometimes, an identification document is required at the time of inspection).
That being said, it’s important to note that public transportation practically stops in the center of each village, except for Corniglia. This is because Corniglia isn’t located on the coast, so you’ll have to disembark next to the beach and then climb the more than 300 steps, through the Parco Nazionale!
Cinque Terre Itinerary
Monterosso al Mare
If you’re going to visit the Cinque Terre from La Spezia, then Monterosso al Mare is the last stop, but the best village to start (in my opinion). The train ride takes less than 20 minutes, during which you can admire the great mountain slopes with the sea as far as the eye can see.
Monterosso is known mainly for having the largest and best sandy beach in the Cinque Terre villages. It’s called Spiaggia di Fegina and here you’ll have to “fight” for a place if you don’t arrive early in the morning because a good beach means a crowded beach.
If you don’t want to lie on the towel – like me – you can visit the local shops and restaurants, which sell handicrafts and delicacies from the region. You’ll also realize that there’s an old town and a new town, both packed with tourist accommodations.
With regard to monuments, they’re almost all religious. In short, in the historic center of Monterosso al Mare, you can visit the Convento dei Cappuccini, the Chiesa di San Francesco, the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, and the Oratorio dei Neri. Along the way, you will see a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron of Italy.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path): 1h30′ between Monterosso and Vernazza (includes steps!)
Some say that Vernazza is the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre, but I still haven’t managed to choose my favorite one. What is certain is that, together with Manarola, it seems to be the most popular village among tourists, particularly during the day.
Just to illustrate, for those who choose to do the Sentiero Azzurro, the view from the trail over Vernazza has no price. Additionally, you can climb up to the Chiesa di Santa Margherita di Antiochia belfry at 40 meters high, to get a 360º view of the small town.
This Romanesque church from the 11th century took almost seven centuries to be completely finished, between successive extensions and reformulations of its inside. Already in 1750, the monument was covered in Baroque style and, a century later, it gained current access through the Piazza Guglielmo Marconi.
Further away from the center, but also worth visiting, is the Castello Doria, which is located at the other end of Vernazza. Very well-framed within the landscape and with the best panoramic views of the place, only a tower survived from the castle, for which it’s necessary to pay an entrance fee to visit.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path): 1h30′ between Vernazza and Corniglia (includes steps!)
382 steps are what separates you from the beautiful Corniglia… So, take a deep breath, and let’s continue this Cinque Terre itinerary!
Corniglia is, honestly, the most underrated of the Cinque Terre villages, therefore use that as an advantage! As I warned you earlier, this is the only place that was not built directly on the coast. However, its atypical location at the top of a hill means one very important thing: fewer people!
First things first, you’ll climb the Scalinata Lardarina, a staircase on the cliff that incorporates viewpoints along the way. Although the “climb” between the train station and the village is not difficult, you can opt for the shuttle bus, at an additional cost. Whether you get off at the Via Stazione or the Corniglia stop, you’re only 100 meters away from the Chiesa di San Pietro, the main church of Corniglia, in a Gothic style.
The tourist and commercial activity of the town center develops around the Largo Taragio, marked by the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina, a small chapel with a rustic appearance, with wonderful sea views at the rear. In fact, when you stroll through Corniglia, you quickly realize that it hides the best views of the Mediterranean Sea (or, more specifically, the Ligurian Sea)!
Corniglia seemed to me to be the smallest of the five villages, but still very beautiful. The surrounding vineyards produce the grapes used in the region’s most famous wine, the Vernaccia di Corniglia. You can find it in practically every restaurant and bar in the Cinque Terre villages and it is perfect to accompany a good dish of pasta con pesto or a seafood meal.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path): 1h between Corniglia and Manarola
Manarola is probably the most touristic and picturesque village in this must-visit destination in Italy. First of all, it was the place where I chose to stop for a swim – although there is no beach like in Monterosso al Mare, only rocks.
According to historians, this was the first of the Cinque Terre villages to be founded, largely due to its Chiesa di San Lorenzo, which dates from the medieval era. In the same square as the church – the Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV – there is a belfry that you can also visit.
Interestingly, to get to Manarola from the train station, you need to go through a very long tunnel, which happened to be a shelter for the inhabitants during World War II. From the information boards and signs, you find along the way, you can understand that they speak a very specific dialect, called Manarolese.
Just like Corniglia, there’s a well-known local wine, with the name of Sciacchetrà and with a seal of controlled origin. The vineyards that grow on the slopes end up generating a “sweet wine” (“vino passito”) and the word “sciacchetrà” derives from the verb “schiacciare”, which basically means “to crush”.
Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path): 0,20′ between Manarola and Riomaggiore (Via dell’Amore)
I chose to end my Cinque Terre itinerary in Riomaggiore and thank god I did it! The truth is that the sunset here is one of the most unforgettable sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life!
Firstly, when you arrive in Riomaggiore, the train leaves you next to a tunnel that takes you to the heart of the village in less than 10 minutes (just like in Manarola).
When leaving this same tunnel, go ahead and go up the stairs that will reveal the central square of the village, the Piazza Vignaioli.
From here you already have magnificent views not only of the sea but also of the colorful houses with green window shutters, so characteristic of the Cinque Terre villages’ postcards!
If you’re looking for the ideal place to take pictures or simply admire the scenery, go down to the beach. Here, you’ll find lots of moored fishing boats and local shops and restaurants, as well as most of the tourists. Oh, and one last tip! Head to the side viewpoints to get the best angles of Riomaggiore, at any time of the day!
Map of the Cinque Terre Itinerary
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