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 – until finally arriving in this famous and spectacular region of Italy that I’ve 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. Deciding on the Cinque Terre train as a good mode of transport, it’s easy to travel 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 as this is an exceptional and 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 is the first year the timetable changed. Even the locals are confused, angry, and 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 although a couple of segments are closed during the winter.
I’m surprised to see tourists here this time of year on the walking trails – thought we would be the only crazy ones as it’s quite chilly. Although it’s probably nothing compared to what the high season would be like and I can only imagine how busy.
The train (€4 one-way ticket for 6 hours) from Deiva Marina to Riomaggiore takes about 30 minutes.
Arriving in Riomaggiore to do the walking trail to Manarola, which is only supposed to take around 30 minutes on this easy trail, sadly this trail is closed for the winter.
At the front of the train station, turn left and only walk a little way 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’s pace.
The seafront is pretty special and great for taking photos.
Hopping back on the train at Riomaggiore, the short next stop is to Manarola and where to start the walking trail to Corniglia – around a one-hour walk.
The trail between Manarola and Corniglia is also closed – not doing too well. So instead, decide to explore this village for a while.
As potentially the oldest of the 5 Cinque Terre villages, Manarola is quite a small village.
Although this is 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.
Only a quick stop for food again.
Cantina Dello Zio Bramante
Along Via R Birolli 110, this great restaurant serves good coffee (€2), delicious Pesto and Cheese Bruschetta (€3.50-5), and many more delights.
You’ll enjoy great service in a wonderful aged 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 anxious to walk some of this beautiful rugged coastline today, we give it one last try and hop 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 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, try to explore some of Corniglia’s gorgeous surrounds. This whole area really is magical and something straight out of postcard imagery.
On TripAdvisor loads of reviewers whine 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 around 1.5 hours along the weathered coastline. Although, as we take many photos along the way, it takes us 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 Mediterranean Sea, and stunning scenery awaits you on this walk, which snakes its way around Italy’s most 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 when the sun is 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 during the summer – assuming these are winter prices.
Cinque Terre Gelateria
On Via Roma 13, this is your go-to stop for an excellent gelato (€2.50 for a generous double serve cone). Be warned, you may not be able to stop at just one. Gourmet desserts rae also served, which look amazing.
Stop on Via Roma 34 at this mother and son’s tiny shop, which serves “make your own” sandwiches. Very good but can be expensive as you pay per ingredient. As an example, a warmed Focaccia with just Parma ham and cheese is €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
Deciding to make the most of our stay in this beautiful region, another day of exploring and walking Cinque Terre is a must.
Today the train from Deiva Marina to Monterosso al Mare (€2.40 one-way ticket for 15kms or 75 minutes) takes about 15 minutes. The train stopped at Sestri Levante for a connecting train, which is the new winter timetable that not even the locals know about yet.
Everyone changes trains here now, regardless of the direction of travel.
From Monterosso’s station, walk up the road through the tunnel, then turn left to go to the town square.
Gorgeous ancient architecture and narrow alleyways awaits your every turn.
Loads of photo opportunities of locals’ sitting and chatting, which seems to be the Italian way and very sociable in this 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.
Didn’t indulge in too much food in Monterosso al Mare, but always time for a coffee and snack.
A Butega de Munterussu
On Via Roma 50, this tiny almost deli/coffee hole in the wall with a few tables and chairs outside, is a great stop. Good coffee (€1.70) and freshly made Focaccia (€5.00) are served.
A few other local Italian fresh delicacies are 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. The walk isn’t easy as there are loads of steep steps going up and down.
This walk takes you to a height of 180 metres above sea level through stunning hilly countryside, terraced vineyards and olive groves, back-dropped with calm Mediterranean azure waters – so very picturesque!
Leaving Cinque Terre
With the new winter timetable, the train (€2.70 – 20kms or 75mins) from Vernazza to Deiva Marina stops at Levante again for a wait of about 10 minutes before picking up the connecting train. Locals are also confused with the new timetable, so imagine how confused tourists are with this schedule.