Touring the Five Villages of Cinque Terre in Italy

By on Dec 23, 2014

Cinque Terre is a stretch of coastline along the Italian Riviera famous for the five villages that lie along the coast - Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. It is said that the villages were once defensive positions for the Roman Empire.

These villages were often attacked by pirates and barbaric tribes, but all the villagers had to do to escape the attacks was to run to the hills. Today, the only attacks the villages continuously experience are from the multitudes of tourists eager to see the famous location.

Although a popular Italian destination today, there once was a time when the villages of Cinque Terre were difficult to reach. The roads were hardly passable so most of the routes were through the Mediterranean Sea. Now, not only have good roads been built connecting the villages, but there are also train tracks where trains regularly travel from the villages to the city of Genova. If you’re planning to visit, here are some important tips that can help you.

How to Get There

The best way to explore the villages is by train. It’s possible to travel by car, but the downside is that most of the parking areas are far from the villages. The trains travel regularly from Genova to La Spezia and will pass by the stations at the five Cinque Terre villages. You’ll need to be aware of the times that the trains pass through each village, as you’ll be doing quite a bit of train hopping.

If you decide to travel by car, be aware that the roads seem to have been built for expert drivers. The litorenia road from La Spezia will take you through the villages. In some of the villages like Riomaggiore and Monerosso de Mare, there are covered parking areas and garages. You’ll need to suffice with uncovered parking areas in the other villages where you’ll need to park the car by the road.

What to Do

The popularity of Cinque Terre has led the Italian government to naming the region as a park. As such, you’ll need to buy passes to hike along the trails. There used to be excellent walking paths along the coast that pass through all five villages. Unfortunately, due to landslides, all of the paths have been closed. Some tourists take the chance and cross the barriers preventing entry to the paths, but doing so can be dangerous.

Most of the time, tourists come to Cinque Terre to view the amazing landscapes. However, depending on the time of year you’re visiting, you might be able to attend one of the special events held at the villages.

If you’re travelling from December to January, you’ll get to attend the world’s largest lighted nativity in Manarola. Between May and August, you’ll experience patron festivity of the 5 towns. There’s also the harvest season in September and a reenactment of the pirates attack in Vernazza during summer. If you’re not afraid of the weather, you might want to go in winter when there are frequent powerful sea storms that show the power of nature.

You can expect to be walking a lot during the day, but when the sun sets, the villages turn into exciting nightspots for travelers. The bars and restaurants start to get lively and you’ll see plenty of tourists and locals happily exchanging stories.

If you feel tired of walking the paths, you can take a swim in the sea at any of the villages. However, don’t expect long stretches of white sandy beaches at all of the villages. There are two large beaches in Monteresso. The other villages have either a small pebble beach or a harbor you can swim from. If you’re really good at open water swimming, you might want to join the 5 terre open water swimming competition that is held during the summer. If you don’t feel like competing, there are other non-competitive water events held during the same time as well.

Camping & Accommodation

One of the reasons why it’s best to take a train is that there are a number of camping grounds between the villages. You won’t even need to bring a tent with you as there are some available for rent, and these include linen.

If you’re not in the mood for camping, there are plenty of budget accommodation like guesthouses and hostels. Every village has a hostel or a guesthouse, so if you plan to spend a day or two at each village, you won’t find it difficult to find a place to spend the night.

Photos of Cinque Terre

Soure: flickr/Daniel Stockman - Village of Manarola, Cinque Terre
Soure: flickr/Bruce Tuten - Village of Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Soure: flickr/Kevin Botto - Village of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
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