I’ve always had an attraction to the colourful houses tucked in and around the cliff edges in Italy. I’d already been to Amalfi Coast but had even higher expectations of Cinque Terre and it did not disappoint. Cinque Terre means five lands and set along the coast line in order are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All villages and surrounding hills are a UNESCO world heritage site.
So why colourful houses? Legend has it that the colours were for local fisherman to distinguish their houses. As much as I like this story, I’m not sure it’s true as apparently the houses weren’t painted until the late 1970s. Well, there would have been fishermen from the 70s onwards, right?
Here are some tips on things to do and see, places to eat and drink, where to stay, general tips and our travel itinerary and story about four days in Cinque Terre.
- Things to do: hire a paddle boat with a slide in Monterosso, swim in Manarola and hike between villages
- Things to see: all villages from up high and from the water
- Restaurants: Cantina Di Miky in Monterosso
- Takeaway: Fornaio for street pizza, Brigantino and La Barcaccia for pasta, Mamma Mia for fresh calamari
- Bars with a view: Pie de Ma in Riomaggiore and Nessun Dorma in Manarola
- Where to stay: Monterosso for quiet beach time before and after tourists return to their villages
- What to pack: comfortable closed in shoes for hiking
- Spending money: approximately €250 p/p for four days
How to Get There
We flew with RyanAir from London Stansted Airport to Genoa in Italy. For us, Genoa was the cheapest and closest airport to fly into for our onward journey to Monterosso. Be prepared to pay an additional £7 to sit together on RyanAir, each way. The flight itself took about two hours, and the train from the airport took another one hour and 45 minutes.
Thankfully we met a friendly local man on the flight, seated next to us. He’s lived in London for the past 40 years but flies back to Genoa around once a month to see family and friends. This time he was getting his place ready for his granddaughter to stay in. So why were we so thankful? He asked us how we were getting to Monterosso and we told him about our train booking and getting an email earlier that day about the Trenitalia strike action and confirmation it would impact our journey.
It turns out that from the airport you need to either catch a bus to the train, or walk approximately 10 minutes. So the man led us outside the airport, opened his wallet and ripped out two tickets from his book of bus tickets and handed us one each. And wouldn’t accept any money! Unfortunately the train time we had booked was 11 minutes away and the next bus wouldn’t get us there in time. The man immediately led the way for our quick and sweaty 10 minute walk in the sun. He was dressed in a long shirt and trousers which made me even more grateful!
After the final hurdle of the stairs and overpass, we made it to the platform as the train pulled in. He checked it was the right train for us then gave me a kiss on both cheeks before we quickly boarded the train. We waved and thanked him until we could no longer see him. Have you ever been following Google maps directions and thinking where the heck is it taking me? That was our walk experience between the airport and train so there is no chance we would have made it in time by ourselves. And thankfully our train was actually still operating despite the strike. We switched at Genova Brignole station and arrived at Monterosso around 6pm.
Where to Stay
Our accommodation was called Al Mare and you can find it on Booking.com. The check-in time was 6pm (there are after hours options) and we made it there about five minutes past. The accommodation name is quite confusing as Monterosso is also known as Monterosso Al Mare, given it’s the only village with a beach. Also it’s not a hotel, more like an AirBnB style beach unit. And the check-in address is not where you stay.
The man from check-in did all the admin stuff like take copies of our passports, grabbed the keys (and oddly a coffee table), introduced us to his golden retriever and led us to our accommodation. The building is along the front across from the beach and is obviously where locals live. Our room was two floors up and after the man showed us how everything worked and left, we jumped for joy as we realised we had hit the jackpot with our accommodation. That view!
The room was quite basic with a large comfortable bed, bathroom and TV. The best feature was most definitely the balcony (complete with brand new coffee table!). Well worth the €390 for three nights which includes all taxes.
Rest of Day 1 – Monterosso Old Town and Cantina Di Miky
We could have stayed on the balcony all night but instead we set off for Monterosso old town which is a short five minute walk away to find an ATM and snacks. The old town offers lots of pathways to explore between what appear at ground level to be brown and orange coloured buildings but of course are just as colourful as the other four villages.
A shop with a market sign outside caught our attention but inside was quite small. We were unsure of getting beers just yet as we didn’t have other prices to compare to. Turns out €2.50 for 660ml Birra Moretti was cheap. Instead we walked out with a packet of crisps and some bananas for the morning, thinking there would be shops back near our accommodation. Wrong. Although you CAN get beers, they’re around €4 for an even smaller sized beer than the ones we saw in old town. Therefore tip for those of you staying in Monterosso, buy your beers and snacks in the old town.
Thanks to a tip from a friend which is one of the ways we plan our travel activities, we chose to have dinner at Cantina Di Miky. The restaurant was literally about 10 steps from our accommodation. It was busy which is always a good sign. We were sitting next to an older American couple that ordered LOTS of food and were happy to share so we tried a fried chickpea bite-sized square. Yum! We indulged in a bottle of Begasti wine made locally in Monterosso, a bruschetta and pastas that ended up costing us around €75. Bit expensive for us but it was the perfect way to end a long day of travel, followed by falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore.
Day 2 – Riomaggiore and private sunset boat tour
It was pretty hard not to get excited about the view AGAIN this morning. And the great thing about staying in Monterosso is that you can enjoy the beach before the tourists staying in other villages arrive for their square of sand. So, we had our bananas to avoid getting hangry and went for a swim. The water was the perfect temperature and a great way to wake up for the day. It was crystal clear and we could see small fish swimming around us.
Given that we hadn’t spent much time in the old town yet, we went there for breakfast. To get there you walk through a tunnel that is used by both cars and pedestrians. A sign with ‘international breakfast’ in the old town lured us in. Between us we shared fruit and yoghurt and eggs and bacon. Total around €17 including cappuccinos. It was right next to the Wonderland Bakery, a place we kept safe in our minds for breakfast tomorrow.
On the way back to Monterosso train station we had a look at boat options along the pier. We emailed a few of them and over the next few hours managed to book a 2 hour private sunset boat tour for the afternoon. How exciting?! Cost €90 per hour (for the boat so less p/p if you have more people to split the costs with) which also includes wine, focaccia and cheese. In the meantime we got ourselves train tickets to Riomaggiore which cost €4 per person and the train journey takes 14 minutes. Riomaggiore is the furtherest village away from Monterosso, both villages at the ends of Cinque Terre.
You’ll see lots of people about with their hiking poles, ready to hike between villages. We figured it was only fair to catch the train to Riomaggiore which otherwise would have taken us around five hours to hike. We had a boat activity to get back for! Again thanks to another tip from a friend we kept a look out for Pie de Ma which is a bar and restaurant with a great view. It is right near the station and appeared closed from the top however WAS open and therefore not crowded. The views were truly stunning and if you’re a train lover you’ll enjoy watching the trains disappearing in and out of the tunnel on the cliffside. We each had a spritz (local refreshing drink made with Aperol or Campari) and shared a focaccia for around €15.
Riomaggiore is one of our favourite villages. The houses live up to the photos with their beautiful range of colours. We explored the village from bottom to top and along the way saw a church, wedding, vineyards and lots more steep climbs than the ones we were attempting. Satisfied we had seen everything, we found a different set of stairs to climb down, turned corner after corner in the backstreets until we conveniently popped out where we wanted. Right next to the shop selling calamari we spotted earlier. It was popular! For a large cone of calamari it’s €9 or you can get a smaller one for €5. Fresh and delicious! Nearby I bought a much needed hat for €15 to protect myself from the sun.
Our original plans were also to explore Manarola today, the next village over, but we needed to start heading back for our boat tour. We had a bit of time though so back in Monterosso I tried to nap while my partner went on the search for Birra Moretti (beer) and snacks at a decent price. He succeeded with 660ml beers for €2.50. The shop is called Magelleria in the old town. They even have a deli if you’re stocking up for a picnic. Apparently the owner was very excited about our multiple beer purchase, happily adding up the total price. Ooh and check out the place called Cantina del Pescatore for souvenirs but most importantly, their fresh iced lemon.
It was finally time to meet Andrea from Tiburon Boat Services. We were excited because after finding his sign on the pier we did some Facebook research and he had great reviews. Andrea was waiting there on time at 5:30pm and his face lit up when we arrived. We boarded the boat, had a quick chat about what we’d like to do for the next two hours and off we went! To balance out the boat I sat at the back and my partner sat towards the front. The boat can go fast or slow, depending on what you want to see in the time you have.
We had opted for some snorkelling. With only two people on the boat, I must say it was kind of awkward as Andrea watched us undress and get ready for swimming. His English isn’t great so we carried on getting ready including putting on some sunscreen. He handed us a mask and snorkel and within seconds I managed to drop the snorkel into the water before clipping it onto the mask. Given we were in the middle of nowhere and the only people snorkelling in the area, instead of diving in like an adventure professional (I take a bit of time to warm up in the water!), I just watched it sink to the bottom. Which was quite far down. I apologised to Andrea and he told me not to worry as he handed me another snorkel. Can’t say we were great at it but there wasn’t a whole lot to look at if I’m honest other than large boulders. So it was a short snorkel and more of a swim before we got back onto the boat.
I do however recommend seeing the villages from the water. They are so beautiful thanks to their individual shapes and colours and I love how the villages are spread out across the coast line. It was also quiet out on the water with not too many boats. We cruised along as we sipped local wine and tried the focaccia and cheese. Andrea knows where to shop! They both tasted so good. He told us some interesting things about the villages like Corniglia is the smallest with only 100 people. He also told us his favourite village is Manarola (which eventually became our favourite) and that the first place we snorkelled used to be by the nudist beach that you can now only get to by boat or some serious trekking. Aka there was no-one there or at least that we could see. Andrea’s parting gift to us was the local tip about Il Foraoio where you can get takeaway pizza. We ate it on our balcony with the wonderful view of an empty beach. It was delicious, made with love and fresh ingredients and only cost €12. A great way for us to balance out our expensive dinner at Cantina di Miky the night before.
Sunday – Swimming in Manarola, ice-cream in Corniglia and hiking to Vernazza
Remember the Wonderland Bakery? Well that was our breakfast today. You could easily share one slice of focaccia as they’re quite large but we opted for one each! Cost is based on weight which we didn’t realise so somehow we managed to spend €10. Still cheaper than yesterday. We found a cafe nearby for some takeaway cappuccinos (cost €4 for both) and found a chair to sit on and have our breakfast while we did some serious people watching. It was very heartening to see the locals greet each other and the restaurants getting ready for their day ahead. It was a beautiful time without many tourists… yet.
We’d been in Monterosso old town a few times now but not really just soaked up the atmosphere at a Sunday stroll pace. In different areas we saw rows and rows of vines with tomatoes growing and people using chalk to draw circles and various patterns. We thought it must be some sort of craft day. Turns out it was Corpus Christi which is a religious celebration. What a day to be there! There were people bringing boxes of flowers and petals of all colours and we agreed that we needed to come back later to see the finished products.
The iced lemon drink we had yesterday was so good we got another one on our way to Monterosso train station. Tickets again were €4 each to get to Manarola. Just like Riomaggiore, we walked around both in the main area as you arrive off the train and up as high as we could go before the vineyards. The bells were chiming and it was another picturesque village in which you couldn’t take a bad photo. We saw the path to Corniglia and it was steep! Instead of taking this option we kept walking on our same path and after turning the corner, spotted what looked like a cemetery and a bar beneath it. This bar, called Nessun Dorma, became our favourite bar with a view in all of Cinque Terre.
As we were waiting at Nessun Dorma, we were advised that the only tables available were those in the sun. Yes please! It was quite hot but they had mist sprays set up to provide some relief from the heat. Soon after our arrival they found some more umbrellas and set one up above our table. The view is PERFECT. And the food! We ordered a classic bruschetta and salad to share as we weren’t feeling too hungry. We could easily just have shared the bruschetta which was only €7 and there were actually six pieces! For drinks we tried a limoncino spritz for something a bit different but realised our preference was the original spritz with either Aperol or Campari. Total cost €33.
From where we were sitting, we noticed people swimming down below in crystal clear blue water, jumping off the rocks and others sunbathing. Lucky we packed our swimmers! There’s a bathroom near the Nessun Dorma where you can get changed. After weaving through the sunbathers, we stored our backpack on some high rocks and glided into the water. This was by far our favourite swimming spot and experience. Perfect temperature, not too many people in the water (more sunbathers!) and large boulders to swim around and stand on. I’m not big on jumping from high rocks (actually think it’s quite dangerous) so we watched the others as we tried to be more adventurous than our snorkelling adventure yesterday and swim through a narrow opening between two large and tall rocks.
We caught the train to Corniglia and had the opportunity to dry off as we walked up what felt like millions of stairs to the actual village. Good workout! It was definitely the smallest village and there was not a lot to do. Somehow we hadn’t eaten any gelato yet so went into one of the many gelato shops that looked like it had the flavours we wanted. It was cheaper than we thought, €5 for two scoops EACH in waffle cones. It was one of those typical beach holiday happy moments on a hot day as we quickly ate them before they melted.
The views here are not as good as the others, though you can see Manarola from up high. On our way up to a higher point, we saw a group of three local guys kicking around a soccer ball. The rule was obviously for the ball not to hit the ground and they were good! Before hiking to Vernazza, we stopped in at a bar for a Birra Moretti, bathroom break and opportunity to change our shoes and put on some sunscreen. Overall I would say you only need about 1 hour in Corniglia unless we missed something.
The hike itself is rewarding. There are stretches of uphill that test your physical fitness but it levels out for most of it and the views are like your cheer squad to motivate you along. Along the way you get a great view of Corniglia and Manarola. On the 1 hour and 5 minute hike which is the second shortest hike between the villages, we passed between 10 and 20 people. I was just reading somewhere that you are supposed to pay for a Cinque Terre card to use the trekking trails and other services like the shuttle buses. The price for 1 day is €7.50. Oops! We didn’t realise.
Walking into Vernazza from the hiking trail is like sliding down towards a painting of the sun reflecting on the water surrounded by colourful houses that lead out to the watch tower (otherwise known as Castle Doria). All the villages are very beautiful from up high. Once we reached the bottom we had a look around before resting on a bar stool with a beer at Burgus.
Just as we were about to explore Vernazza a bit more, the Corpus Christi celebration started. There were people dressed in religious gowns singing and people throwing flowers into the air and along the path as others walked along behind them. At this point we remembered that we wanted to see what Monterosso looked like after the preparations this morning and made our way to the train station. Overall I was surprised not to like Vernazza as much as the other villages. Yes it’s pretty but it was so full of tourists.
As the train was arriving in Monterosso we saw a similar procession going on. We were exhausted and didn’t even bother going back into old town to see the flower arrangements. Our excuse to ourselves was that they would probably have been kicked around by now and patterns no longer recognisable. Instead we got some takeaway pasta from Briganto and another lot from La Barcaccia (next door to Briganto) for around €10 each. Where did we eat it? On the balcony of course!
Monday – Breakfast with the locals, paddle boat hire and a final spritz
Last day NO! We didn’t want it to be over but instead of moping around we went straight to breakfast to fuel up for the day. Barretto along the front was popular with the locals and we had bacon and eggs and coffees for around €15. I haven’t mentioned yet but their bacon and eggs are quite different to an English breakfast. The eggs are scrambled and more of an orange colour and the bacon is American style strips but not as crispy. Still good.
With our swimmers already on we made a beeline for the yellow paddle boats on the shore. They have a slide which was the most exciting feature for our inner big kids. No-one was out on the water yet and there were only a handful of swimmers. Cost to hire the paddle boat is €18 per hour. After 45 minutes of fun cycling along, steering ourselves towards different areas of water, spotting fish and sliding in every now and then, we returned the paddle boat. They only charged us €15 and were extremely friendly guys! You pay upon return based on how long you have the paddle boat for.
Next: picking up a souvenir. My partner loves collecting magnets so we checked out the shops along the beachfront. Just like the snorkel, my partner dropped and broke a magnet which despite us both trying to catch it before it hit the ground in what felt like slow motion, we failed. The shop owner was so friendly and told us not to worry about it so of course we bought a magnet there and told him to keep the change.
It was time to pick up our bags and check out before 11am so that’s what we did. Conveniently you can just leave the keys in the room and pull the door shut. So with a bit of time to spare but with bags in tow, we settled in at the bar in Monterosso train station for one last spritz. It was big! It took me the full 45 minutes or so to finish it before we boarded our train. Our journey back to Genoa airport was the same as our journey a few days ago. We even confidently did the walk between the train and the airport thanks to our local friend. He was actually going to be at the airport today to greet his granddaughter but unfortunately we didn’t see him.
So, if you’re looking for a holiday filled with beaches and crystal clear water, colourful villages to explore, pizza, pasta and views that take your breath away, then add Cinque Terre to your travel bucket list. Because we all need to relax sometimes!