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A Beginner’s Guide to Cinque Terre

Elise Armitage writes the travel and fashion blog What the Fab and shares her adventures on Instagram @wtfab. Below she’s dishing on a recent trip to Cinque Terre, Italy.

Magical Cinque Terre hardly looks real in photographs and it’s even more surreal in person. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cinque Terre literally translated means “five lands.” The area is made up of five charming villages that have been built over centuries into the dramatic Italian Riviera coastline. Known for its delicious seafood, pesto, and vineyard terraces, you’ll have no shortage of good food or stunning views in this beautiful part of the world.

Image Courtesy of @wtfab

Where to Stay 

Choose one of the five villages as your home base and hop around during the day to visit all of the towns. Here’s what you can expect from each, listed from south to north. 

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Riomaggiore: Riomaggiore has a more local vibe, a pebbly beach (Fossola Beach), and one main street on an incline with shops, restaurants, and bars. 

Manarola: Often considered the most picturesque of the five towns (its photo is often featured on guide books and postcards), Manarola is the second smallest of the villages and some say the most quintessentially “Cinque Terre.” You’ll have to climb some steep stairs to make it to your accommodations! 

Corniglia: Corniglia is the smallest of the towns (during the winter their population gets down to 80 people), and it is perched high up above the sea. From the train station you have to take 700 stairs to get into town. But don’t worry, there is also a bus available from the train station if you’re not into the idea of climbing all those stairs.

Vernazza: Vernazza has the only natural harbor of the five villages. It’s very beautiful, but can also get quite crowded during the day and lively at night, so be prepared for lots of tourists and bring earplugs if you stay here.

Monterosso: Monterosso is the largest and flattest village of the five villages and has a South of France vibe. It’s the easiest for a family with a stroller or small children to get around, and has a lot of hotel and restaurant options, as well as a large beach where you can rent chairs and umbrellas.

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What to Pack

The Marina in Orchid & Sunset & White Sand goes perfectly with the pastel red and orange houses on the cliffs of Riomaggiore.

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The Mesh Sidestroke in Black will make you stand out against the colorful dropoff.

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One of the striped Voyager swimsuits would look so cute against the striped Cinque Terre umbrellas and majestic coastline! Don’t forget to pack a Long All Buttoned Up Cover-Up for a chic cover-up to throw over your swimsuit while you head to a seaside lunch.

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Getting Around

There are no cars allowed in Cinque Terre, so you won’t be able to drive between towns. The easiest way to get around is by the train that runs through all five towns. They run pretty regularly (about four times every hour) in each direction, so you usually don’t need to wait long. You can purchase an unlimited Cinque Terre card at any train station so you can just hop on and off.

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Where to Eat

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Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola has amazing views overlooking the town and the ocean, and delicious seafood-focused dishes. Many locals call Billy’s their favorite restaurant for its beautiful but no-fuss atmosphere and tasty seafood pastas. 

Belforte sits inside of an old castle in Vernazza and is a very popular place to eat in Cinque Terre, which means you’ll need to make reservations in advance. Ask for a table with a view, and get the trofie (a short, twisted pasta) con pesto—Cinque Terre is known for its pesto!

Torre Aurora in Monterosso is fabulous any time of day, whether you’re having lunch with a side of ocean breeze, drinks with a view, or a romantic candlelit dinner. Perched right above the sea, the location is one of the best in Cinque Terre. Why not dine at sunset, and watch the sun sink into the ocean while enjoying their handcrafted cocktails and yummy delicacies?

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What to Do

Boat ride

A boat ride (especially a sunset one!) is an absolute must in Cinque Terre. While the views are truly beautiful from land, it isn’t until you see Cinque Terre by sea that you realize just how impossibly stunning it is. Angelo’s Boat Tours will take you around to see each of the five villages from the ocean, while serving up appetizers and drinks.

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Beach day

Monterosso is really the only town in Cinque Terre that has a “sandy” beach (although let’s face it, this is the Italian Riviera, so that just means tiny pebbles instead of large rocks). You can rent one of the iconic orange and turquoise umbrellas by the water for about 10 Euros a day. Relax, get a tan, and take in some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

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Part of Cinque Terre’s majesty is its steep cliffs, which also makes for some pretty impressive hiking. While the easiest hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore is closed (estimated to open in 2021) due to a landslide, it’s absolutely worth the effort to do one of the other hikes! You can visit the Cinque Terre tourism site for a list and map of the different hikes.

Wake up early to beat the heat, and set out on your chosen hike. While they’re all beautiful, Manarola to Corniglia is a great pick as it’s a moderate hike. You’ll hike up through the vineyard terraces and look down on Manarola, and then make your way over to the tiny town of Corniglia. You could even hike the entire 11km trail from the southern most town (Riomaggiore) all the way to the northern most (Monterosso), and it would take you about five hours, not counting time to stop and take photos (you will definitely want to stop for photos). For any hiking, you will have to wear closed-toe shoes (they’ve banned sandals on the trails) and you’ll need to buy a Cinque Terre Trekking card, which will give you access to all of the trails. You can find these at any of the small towns’ train stations. 

No matter, what you do be sure to wear your swimsuit, in case you want to jump in the gorgeous water.