A Guide to Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre has been on my bucket list for a number of years and up until last week, I had only been admiring it from Pinterest. It's one of those places that takes your breath away at how absolutely gorgeous it is and pictures will just never do it justice. To see it in person and experience the culture of the local villages is unreal. It's an experience like no other, so I'm more than honored and excited to share with you a guide to Cinque Terre so you can have the same, if not greater, experience that I had. Find your roundtrip flight to Cinque Terre now!
Before we headed to Cinque Terre, we looked up places to stay and came across a place that is technically in the La Spezia province. However, the La Spezia province is quite large and so our hostel was about an hour away from La Spezia Centrale and a 40 minute hike UPHILL. I was already exhausted because we had stayed the night in the airport AND the flight was just not the best (turbulence wise) so I just wanted to change and get freshened up but that seemed like an impossible task. We tried to rent scooters once we first arrived but it started hailing so we were unable to do that.... We ended up taking the train to Framura which is where our Air BnB was and began the uphill hike towards Costa (the small-er village that our place was located in).
While the views SOLD us on this place, I will say that it was a little further away than we may have liked and I would highly recommend actually staying in La Spezia - the city. We ended up going back to the scooter place the next day to rent scooters from there and explore the villages.
I will give you the place that we rented the scooter, a few places you might want to eat and some other places to see and things to do while you are visiting the Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is actually considered a national park and consists of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. In my opinion, Cinque Terre has only recently become a tourist location and while we were there - the crowds weren't too bad (May). Actually, I take that back....before 10am the crowds aren't bad, so I would suggest getting up early and getting a start on the day.
There are two areas, that we found out about, where you can rent scooters: La Spezia & Levanto. La Spezia is actually the closest one to the first village, so we took the train from Framura back to La Spezia and rented scooters.
We rented scooters from Scooter Point Srl which is about a ten minute walk from the train station. The cost of the scooters, for two whole days, was €80 - but it is SO worth it. We were advised to take a coastal ride to the city of Portovenere (which I will show you later) and it was absolutely unreal. I'm so glad we took that advice and so I'm giving it to you so that you can do the same!
Getting from La Spezia to Portovenere & the villages of Cinque Terre is actually pretty easy. Italy is really good about signage and you won't ever feel lost going from village to village. After you go to Portovenere (I suggest going there first and getting it out of the way because it's in the opposite direction of the villages) you will come across these signs that show you exactly which way to go for each village and once you past this sign you will see more as you get closer to either village you are going to.
Filling up the tank on the scooter was pretty easy as well and only cost around €5. It is a lot of driving if you are going to and from all the villages (and for us it was longer because we were staying in Framura) but it's so worth it.
The other way you can get from village to village (as I've stated previously) is by train. We only paid for the train one time which was around €5 for the trip from La Spezia to Framura and there is a Cinque Terre card you can purchase as well. However, I will be honest and say that after that first ticket - we didn't buy anymore. We found that no one was coming by to look for tickets and the train ride wasn't that long anyways so we just hopped on and hopped off (don't follow my footsteps though, be a good tourist/traveler).
*I don't recommend doing the ferry boat rides because they are somewhat expensive and everyone looked uncomfortable and like packed sardines on the boats. I will tell you another alternative to seeing the villages from the sea later in the post.*
The first village that is technically the beginning of 'Cinque Terre' is Riomaggiore. We didn't get to stay long in Riomaggiore because we had obligations in Manarola, but it is a really beautiful village and I recommend staying longer and exploring!
If you head down to the marina and walk all the way down the steps (or across the rocks like we did) you will get the BEST view/picture of Riomaggiore. I'm working on my photography skills, as of late, so I will do anything for a good angle/shot and I highly recommend this one. Riomaggiore kind of has a 'slant' to it so once you are on this level of it you can see it really well. I just love all the colors of Italian buildings and seeing Riomaggiore like this was worth it.
Manarola is the second village and the one that we spent the most time at, for obvious reasons. This is where we took the boat ride I mentioned previously and just enjoyed the overall layout of Manarola. It really is one of the most fantastic places I've ever been. Like I said at the beginning, I've been pinning Cinque Terre for years and it was always the photo of the city on top of the hill. It totally lives up to the hype and I highly, highly recommend visiting it at some point (preferably March-October because they kind of shut down for winter season).
We ate at this place called Paninoteca Gelateria which is right by the Marina in Manarola. You can't miss it, it has the cutest little wooden front with opened windows and a welcoming environment. Also, did I mention how cheap it was?! I got an Iced coffee, two of the sandwiches you see below, and the croissant (which was AMAZING) for a total of €6! I was so excited and couldn't believe it. It was actually the greatest place that we ate at in Manarola that we even went back twice just for those croissants!!
If you want the view that you see below, there is a clear, marked path that leads up to this area. If you leave the place where you just ate (or got gelato) you head up towards the cliffs and you will see the path. It's not steps, it's just a pathway and it has the most spectacular views of Manarola. I couldn't stop taking pictures, just because I couldn't believe I was actually there.
Before I went on the trip to Cinque Terre, I reached out to a boating company that docks out of Manarola entitled 'Enjoy Cinqueterre Boat Tours' and Daniele responded agreeing to sponsor me while in Manarola. I was super excited and couldn't wait to see Cinque Terre by boat. I chose the option that was early in the morning with the possibility of snorkeling. We met Daniele around 9:45 and headed out on the boat that you see below. (Funny thing is, I took a picture of this boat before I knew it was ours!)
Daniele was super accommodating and I couldn't say enough nice things about him if I tried. He gave us the history of Cinque Terre and each village as we passed. He took us into the marina's of a few so that we could take pictures of the villages. He even brought along water and wine if we wanted anything to drink.
There was originally supposed to be another couple with us, I believe, but they opted for the afternoon one so it was just Zach and I and honestly, we felt like royalty. We had this entire boat to ourselves, a captain and the most beautiful views in the world. *Pinch me*
I thought that we were supposed to snorkel and didn't know that the water was freezing - so when Daniele pulled up to Monterosso and was going to let us off - Zach asked if we could snorkel instead and Daniele agreed (thankfully) and took us to this secret spot where a natural waterfall met the ocean.
Boy was he right. It was FREEZING. And I don't mean like, one minute later and you will get used to it, I mean it took your breath away from you. And with each stroke you felt like dying a little. We swam from the boat to the waterfall and it felt like I was swimming a marathon. However, the crystal-clear waters and amazing scenery made up for the fact that I just couldn't breathe.
The natural waterfall is below and I couldn't get over how pretty it was. Everywhere we went and looked was just beauty all around us. I almost forgot for a second that I was in freezing cold water and unable to breathe.
Daniele was such a good sport about the entire thing as he just hung out in the boat and allowed us to swim as long as we wanted (thanks Daniele!).
I can't recommend this tour enough. It's completely relaxed but also informational at the same time. For more information and to contact Daniele about a possible boat tour - visit his website here.
We saw Vernazza by boat because we didn't have a lot of time to make it to the actual village itself. I, however, loved seeing it by boat because you got to see all the pretty colored houses and not deal with the crowds of people. I would highly recommend seeing the village though and when I go back to Cinque Terre (which I will) I will definitely visit this village, Corniglia and Monterosso which we only got to see by boat as well.
Portovenere is not hard to get to from La Spezia (where you might have rented your scooter). The guy at the scooter rental place will help you out with directions but it's really very easy. There is a wall along La Spezia leading into the next little city connecting - if you follow that wall and then just keep straight for about 30 minutes, you will make it to Portovenere. As I said previously though, Italy is really great about signage and I don't think that you will have a problem getting there as it's hard to get lost really.
Portovenere is an amazing place to visit. It has the most crystal-clear, turquoise waters I've ever seen and it's just picture perfect. I think we stopped like 30 times to take pictures from different angles and places. It is definitely where all the yachts and big boats go to dock and it has great little cafes with outdoor seating. It was one of my favorite places we visited an while it's not part of Cinque Terre, it's so close that it's a definite must-see.
There are plenty of reasons to rent a scooter and make your way between villages, but seeing these views with the Swiss alps in the background was enough for me. It made the long, winding drives with cold wing bearable. It was absolutely gorgeous and we got super lucky with the weather despite our first day disaster.
I can't say it enough, you have to visit the Cinque Terre! It's one of those experiences that I will never forget and I continue to look at pictures and be amazed that it's even a real place. The people are so nice and the views are just all around you.
I will be creating an itinerary to go along with this post so that it's a little easier for you to plan your days if you only have a short amount of time, so stay tuned!
*Thanks to Cinque Terre Boat Tours for sponsoring this post*