I’d heard so much about Italy’s rugged although stunning Cinque Terre coastline, hugged by centuries’ old colourful fishing villages, but nothing prepares you for its magical beauty and quaintness.
For some unknown reason, I never quite made it to Liguria until now…my 3rd visit to Italy. This region is the subject of movies, paintings, and literature. Friends and family have visited Cinque Terre, but until now, these travel stories were like myths. Finally arrived in this famous and spectacular region of Italy, I’d heard so much about throughout my life.
How to get to Cinque Terre
As a special region of Italy, it’s well-worth spending a few days here to explore everything. Decided on the Cinque Terre train as a good mode of transport to get to and from the 5 villages.
This whole area is quite expensive for train travel compared to travelling on trains in other parts of Italy, understandably so, in this famous tourist area.
Tip: The Trenitalia train timetable changed over this year for the winter as of the 13th December, with reduced times more than the previous timetable. Apparently, this was the first year the timetable changed. Even the locals were confused, angry, and put out – they were not impressed, especially with reduced services.
Cinque Terre Walks
The best way to explore and fully appreciate the wonderful 5 villages of Cinque Terre is on foot, on one of the many available walking trails. All trails are open during the summer. However, a couple of segments are closed during the winter.
I was surprised to see tourists here this time of year on the walking trails (thought we were the only crazy ones as it’s quite chilly), although probably nothing compared to what the high season would be like – awful and I can only imagine.
The train (€4 one-way ticket for 6 hours) from Deiva Marina to Riomaggiore takes about 30 minutes.
Arrived in Riomaggiore to do the walking trail to Manarola, which is only supposed to be about a 30-minute walk and an easy trail. Sadly, this trail is closed for the winter.
At the front of the train station, turn left and only walk a little before you hit the town’s square. Here you’ll see locals sitting and chatting the day away – everything slows down to a very slow winter pace. The seafront is pretty special and great for taking photos!
Hopped back on the train at Riomaggiore, for the short next stop to Manarola and where to start the walking trail to Corniglia, about a one-hour walk.
Sadly, the trail between Manarola and Corniglia was also closed…not doing too well, so decided to explore this village for a while.
As potentially the oldest of the 5, Cinque Terre villages, Manarola is quite a small village. However, still gorgeous nonetheless and in keeping with the wonderful multi-colours of other villages in this region. Ancient homes spill effortlessly down to Manarola’s beach, which stretches along the length of this lovely village until San Lorenzo – an imposing church that dates back to 1338.
Apart from a few locals stretching their legs and walking their hounds, not much happens along the beach, this time of year.
Cantina Dello Zio Bramante (Via R Birolli 110) – good coffee (€2), delicious Pesto and Cheese Bruschetta (€3.50-5). Great service and a wonderful old building. The owner’s father bought this building in 1958 when it still had massive wine barrels in the Cantina. Alas, these have been removed to make way for more seating and a different style of delectation. Gorgeous place to eat!
Really wanted to walk some of this beautiful rugged coastline today so one last try hopped on yet another train ride. This time from Manarola to the next stop of Corniglia. The wait time between trains is about 1.5 hours this time of year, so be prepared for a wait and factor this in your day if you’re hoping to walk some trails.
Before stretching the old legs and taking off on the long-awaited walk, decided to explore some of Corniglia’s gorgeous surrounds. This whole area really is magical and something straight out of postcard imagery.
I’d read on TripAdvisor many reviewers whining about the many steps when you hop off at Corniglia’s train station but it really isn’t too bad. The steps are not too steep and the views along the way are suburb – why would anyone complain!
Walk from Corniglia to Varnazza
From Corniglia, the walking trail (trek) is supposed to take about 1.5 hours along the weathered coastline. However, as we take many photos along the way, it took over 2 hours…but what’s the hurry? You don’t want to rush through this region.
Gorgeous olive groves, vineyards, small cottages, azure blue Med Sea, and stunning scenery awaits you on this walk snaking around Italy’s famous coastline.
As you descend the rugged cliff and down the many stone steps, the small village of Vernazza founded in 1000 AD, unfolds. Built in the 15th century as a lookout tower to protect the village from pirates, Doria Castle still stands majestically at the furthermost point of Vernazza. Dotted with numerous multi-coloured ancient buildings stretching down to the tiny harbour, it’s all so breathtaking and picturesque; just like a timeless Renaissance painting! Sadly, with cloudy, drizzly, and dull weather, the famous colours are not as vibrant as if the sun was out, which is a huge shame…still, it’s wonderful to be here!
A little expensive for food here and I’d hate to see what prices are like in the summer – assuming these are winter prices.
- Cinque Terre Gelataria – Via Roma 13 – excellent gelatos (€2.50 – for a generous double serve cone). Be warned, you may not be able to stop at just one! Also serves gourmet desserts, which looked amazing!
- Lunch Box Via Roma 34 – a mother and son tiny shop, which serves “make your own” sandwiches. Very good but can be expensive as you pay per ingredient. An an example, a warmed Focaccia with just Parma ham and cheese was €4.50. Homemade lasagne, pies, and other local delights are also on offer. No real coffee is sold (bizarre) just cold drinks.
Monterosso al Mare
Decided on making the most of our stay in this beautiful region so another day of exploring and walking Cinque Terre is a must.
The train from Deiva Marina to Monterosso al Mare (€2.40 one-way ticket for 15kms or 75 minutes) takes about 15 minutes but had to stop at Sestri Levante for a connecting train; this is the new winter timetable that not even the locals know about yet. Everyone has to change trains here now, regardless of the direction of travel.
From Monterosso’s station, walk up the road through the tunnel, then turned left to go to the town square. Gorgeous old architecture and narrow alleyways awaits on every turn.
Loads of photo opportunities of locals’ sitting and chatting, which seems to be the Italian way, very nice. Very quiet town.
The park fee for the walking trail between Monterosso al Mare and Varnazza is €7.50 in the summer. Although, as booths are closed during the winter, it’s free – another bonus for visiting during the cold. I believe other walking trails between the 5 villages cost a similar price.
A Butega de Munterussu (Via Roma 50) – Tiny almost deli/coffee hole in the wall with a few tables and chairs outside. Good coffee (€1.70) and freshly made Focaccia (€5.00) served. A few other local Italian fresh delicacies also served.
Walk from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza
This is about a 3.2km walk from the station on the red/white walking trail. It’s not easy as there are loads of steep steps going both up and down.
The walk takes you to a height of 180 metres from sea level through stunning hilly countryside, terraced vineyards and olive groves, back-dropped with calm Mediterranean azure waters – so very picturesque!
With the new winter timetable, the train (€2.70 – 20kms or 75mins) from Vernazza to Deiva Marina stopped at Levante again for a wait of about 10 minutes before picking up the connecting train. Locals were also confused at this new winter timetable, so imagine how confused tourists were with this schedule.