Ah, the Cinque Terre. Those five idyllic fishing villages that line the rugged coast of the Italian Riviera and are famous not only for their history, but for their gorgeous snaps that pack your Instagram feeds every Summer as tourists flock in. Their popularity is warranted though, it is here that you can hike some of the most beautiful trails in Europe, wander through the back alleys of tiny towns packed full of character and charm or soak up the sunshine as you cruise along the coast on a ferry. This spectacular region is a perfect addition to any Italian trip, needing just a few days here to really explore the area.
Cinque Terre, Liguria Region, Italy
Fly from London to Pisa - approx. 2 hours.
Train from Pisa to La Spezia. From here train services runs between Levanto and La Spezia stopping at all 5 towns along the way.
Top Tip: The Italians LOVE a train strike and these trains get SUPER busy and crowded in peak season. So always check timetables ahead of time to make sure there are no cancellations and give yourself extra time when travelling with your suitcases, you will need it!
Where to stay
As a place to be based outside of the five towns themselves this is the winner. Not only is there more space and less toursits (always a win) but there is a faded elegance and resort-side charm which will set the (slow) pace of your holiday.
Additionally, this is one of the few towns along the coast with an actual beach- there is a beautiful bay perfect for days at the beach where you can actually swim, rent a lounge, go SUPing, and enjoy the Italian coastline.
You will completely love the vibes here, it's utterly charming and aesthetically pleasing in a laid back, paint-peeling, 70's style, complete with muted pinks, turquoise and cacti everywhere. Basically its IRL inspo for every design pinterest board right now.
If you want to stay IN one of the five towns, Vernazza is your best option. It’s a quaint town, centred around the seaside plaza before sloping gently up a hill. It's easy to access via the trains or ferry system (unlike some others, looking at you Corniglia) and come the evening, all the toursits disappear and it carries the slow, easy pace of the Italian lifestyle with panache.
If you are going to be doing any hikes along the Blue Trail, you will need to purchase a Cinque Terre card BEFORE embarking on your adventures. You can purchase these at the train stations and will be required to show them at the huts placed at the commencement of each walk.
€5-7 for One Trail or €10 for a Day Unlimited inclusive of trains, trails and museum access.
You really do not need a car here. So plan to either ditch the hire car and train up to the region or stay at either end of the Cinque Terre region.
This spot was recommended to us by our born & bred in Levanto Air B'n'B host as the spot she dines with her family and that local, home-cooked, honest fare is exactly what you can expect at this favoured spot - good quality, traditional, family run dining with super fresh seafood and delicious dishes abound.
Another reccommendation, this was the most up-market restaurant we came across in town and attracts similar clientele. On the menu is high quality, fresh seafood and traditional local dishes and whilst it was delicious, you can find similar fare just down the road at Da Tapulin - the draw card here is a fancier dining experience and more romantic spot - so if thats what you are chasing, reserve a spot here.
Ristorante II Falcone
For a delicious lunch on the go drop by Falcone, just a stones throw from the beach side. This restaurant displays a tempting array of foccacias and will also whip up mouth-watering and HUGE salads with fresh, healthy ingredients. If you need a break from pasta, this place will sort you out with a great veggie hit!
Il Gambero Rosso
In this smaller town with more limited restaurant options, this is hands down the best spot to eat. Come peak season, you will need to make a reservation to get in, as everyone knows its reputation! Off-the-boat fresh seafood is the recommendation here and these guys know how to prepare and serve fish! Don't miss out.
Ill Pirata delle 5 Terre
For a delicious treat, head to Ill Pirata and order one of their famous coffee granitas- they are wickedly decadent and will cool you right down after a long day of hiking! This is also one of the few places that serves breakfast in town.
Aperitivo time: In Levanto pull up at any one of the beach bars along the water front Levanto before the sun goes down, or in Vernazza claim a seaside spot at Burgus Bar Enoteca to soak up some lively local atmosphere.
Really, this is what the Cinque Terre is all about! The National Park Blue Trail or "Sentiero Azzuro" is a collection of four individual paths along the coast, which connect each of the five villages and offer breath-taking (literally and figuratively) views of the endless ocean panorama and beautiful coastline.
Your routes will somewhat be at the mercy of which are open at the time – some may be closed due to recent mudslides or planned reconstruction – and what your desired sweat level for the day. Some hardcore hikers will race through the hikes in one day – which takes roughly 6 hours – others (like me) will break it up into portions and enjoy checking out the towns before jumping on the train to rest sore feet!
Top tip: This isn't a casual Sunday stroll- – these are proper hikes and the paths get rocky, steep and challenging at points. So make sure you wear sunscreen, take water, pack light and wear proper shoes.
Monterosso to Vernazza
This hike begins with a heart-pounding, stitch-inducing stair climb that seems to never end. Once you reach the top and gain some control of your breath again, things start to even out and it's a pretty decent walk from here. It has some of the most beautiful views and interesting outlooks, but you will have to get over that initial ascent to start!
Length: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk.
Corniglia to Vernazza
Having done this hike in both directions I much prefer starting at Corniglia and ending at Vernazza - you get a stunning view descending into Vernazza this way and I found it had less inclines initially (if you go in the opposite direction it's a steep climb of consistent stairs up!).
Length: 4km; 1 hour 45 minutes to walk.
Levanto to Monterosso
Leave the crowds behind and head to this "wild" and rugged trail that is not part of the national park hikes. The pathways are not as well maintained, but rather are the worn down tracks of fellow hikers. The landscape is very different than the other coastal hikes, there are moments walking through woodlands and times ascending rocky, mountain patches, but it is WELL worth doing. As you near the end of the track you suddenly emerge upon a view which shows you each of the 5 towns along the coastline - which is pretty awe-inspiring! Be prepared though, it's a steep descent down from here and your quads will be shaking by the end!
Length: 6.5km; 2 hours to walk.
Top tip: As you are nearing Monterosso there are the remains of a viewing post - climb up for beautiful views!
Levanto to Bonassola
For something other than walking, you need to check out this newly opened bike trail from Levanto to Bonassola. Constructed in an old, disused railway, this path connects Levanto to the towns heading North, and is exclusively for pedestrian or cyclist use. The dark tunnel is cool and refreshing in contrast to the summer heat and is dotted with large windows along the way which give you views out to the sea and down to tiny, hidden beaches!
10km round trip. Hire a bike from any of the local bike stores in Levanto.
If you're chasing that runners high and your legs are fresh enough, follow the path along the bay at Levanto to for some sea views before heading down the same pedestrian tunnel that takes you up to Bonassola. I recommend cooling down with a dip in the ocean after!
At the main beach in Levanto you will find a team who will hire out Stand Up Paddleboards by the hour to beachgoers and fitness enthusiasts. With no experience necessary, get ready for an upper body and core workout whilst you try and stay upright paddling around the serene and calm bay.
For the yogi's - try some SUP Yoga...much more challenging than it looks!
What is a summer holiday without some saltwater healing? All along the Cinque Terre there are pockets or patches of beach where you can roll out a towel or claim a lounger to spend some time topping up your Vitamin D stores and draw upon that energy from the ocean!
Favoured soul beach spots
The main bay at Levanto.
The hidden beach through the underpass in Vernazza.
The hidden coves off the track leading from Levanto to Bossanola.
All of the trails and hikes mentioned up above also provide a prime opportunity to have a little headspace and meditative walk. Whilst you may be gasping for air at points, the scenery, immense expanse of ocean beyond the horizon and spectacular beauty of nature provide an idyllic setting to let your mind wander, reset and rest!
The Cinque Terre really is a beautiful place to unwind, relax and reconnect with nature and the ocean. You can't help but feel healthy and refreshed when visiting here and you will constantly tell everyone about your trip for years to come! There are always rumours flying around that they are planning to close the trails fully to allow the terrain to recover – so make sure you make plans to get there soon x