With a population of fewer than 200 full-time residents, postage-stamp-sized Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns of the Cinque Terre. It's the middle town along the coastline and the only one without direct sea access. For this reason—and some arduous steps, which we'll discuss below—Corniglia is the least-visited and least crowded village in the Cinque Terre. Fans of Corniglia say that's where its charm lies.
Founded by a wealthy Roman landowner, Corniglia was famous for its wine, which was sold at least as far away as Pompeii, on the southern Italian peninsula. Little is known about Corniglia after the fall of Rome, but in the 13th century, it became part of the Republic of Genoa. Today, Corniglia is still famous for its wine, and the village is sought out by visitors keen to explore the Cinque Terre but stay in a quiet, less-trodden village.
Things to Do in Corniglia
Even in high season, most visitors on foot pass through Corngilia quickly as they move on to the other Cinque Terre towns closer to the sea. Corniglia is not actually that far from the water—it sits on a high piece of ground about 100 meters above the sea. From the train station, the town must be accessed either by a steep climb or via shuttle buses that wait at the station. For that reason, a lot of train passengers simply go on to the next stop—Vernazza to the north or Manarola to the south. Likewise, ferry boats stop at every other Cinque Terre village except Corniglia.
Here are a few things you shouldn't miss while visiting Corniglia:
Lardarina: If you arrive in Corniglia by train and you're feeling hardy, then set out on the Lardarina, the 33 flights of stairs (more than 380 steps in all) that switchback up the town. The steps are shallow and wide, and there are places to pause along the way. The rewards at the top are the sweeping views, the satisfaction of having done the climb, and access to what some say is the most charming of the five Cinque Terre towns. Note that if you don't want to walk up to the town, shuttle buses run all year round, though they're less frequent in the off-season.
Saint Mary's Terrace: At the end of Via Fieschi, the main drag through town, you'll reach this viewpoint, which offers glimpses of the four other Cinque Terre towns, as well as terrific panoramas of the coastline and the sea.
Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina: At Largo Taragio, the small piazza on Via Fieschi, take a peek inside this tiny chapel, the ceiling of which is painted to look like the sky. In the evening, you see residents of the town take to the piazza to visit and chat.
Chiesa di San Pietro: This parish church, dedicated to St. Peter, the patron saint of Corniglia, is the first landmark you'll reach after you summit the Lardarina. The church dates to the 1300s and is noteworthy for its Baroque interior and a rose window formed of white Carrara marble.
Beaches: "Beach" might be an overstatement when describing Corngilia's rocky bits of shoreline. But if you want to dip toes in the waters of the clear blue Ligurian Sea, you can do so at a few places. Steep stairs near the end of Via Fieschi lead down to the small town harbor with a rocky shoreline where you can swim. Further north, secluded Guvano Beach is reached through a short tunnel that starts at the foot of the Lardarina staircase. The clothing-optional crowd favors this beach. Lastly, Corniglia Beach, which is quite rocky (not pebbles—rocks), is accessed from the train station. If you can put up with the rocks, swimming here is quite good.
What to Eat and Drink in Corniglia
Dining out in sleepy Corniglia is generally a more straightforward, less costly affair compared to the rest of the Cinque Terre. Regional specialties include anchovies, which appear in virtually every possible dish except dessert, pesto, the bright green pasta sauce made with fresh basil from the Cinque Terre, and focaccia, the easy-to-eat flatbread ubiquitous with Liguria.
Also, be sure to try to specialties homegrown in Corniglia—Vernaccia di Corniglia, a dry white wine, and surprisingly delicious basil gelato, made from the fragrant green herb that grows like a weed in the hilly terrain nearby.
Where to Stay in Corniglia
There are no real hotels in Corniglia. Instead, you'll find locanda (inns with dining), affittacamere (rooms for rent, similar to Airbnb), and B&Bs. Accommodations are comfortable and straightforward, typically low on amenities but long on homespun charm. If you plan to stay in a vacation rental home or apartment, do your due diligence by looking at all the photos online and making sure of cancellation policies. If you're visiting in the summertime and want to stay cool, confirm that there's air conditioning.
How to Get to Corniglia
Corniglia has its own train station and can be reached from either La Spezia or Levanto. From La Spezia, take the local train (treno regionale) in the direction of Sestri Levante and get off at the Corniglia stop. From Levanto, take the regional train in the direction of La Spezia Centrale.
If you're planning to hike a train-hop during your stay in the Cinque Terre, purchase the Cinque Terre Card Train (Treno), which includes the use of the ecological park buses, access to all trekking paths and Wi-Fi connection, plus unlimited train travel on the Levanto-Cinque Terre-La Spezia line (regional, second-class trains only).
There is no parking or car traffic, except for limited local traffic, in Corniglia. We recommend leaving your car in La Spezia or Levanto and taking the train to the towns or better yet—starting in Riomaggiore or Monterosso al Mare and hiking to the other towns, including Corniglia.
While there is seasonal boat/ferry service to the other Cinque Terre towns, these boats don't stop in Corniglia.
The nearest airports are Genoa's Cristoforo Colombo (GOA), Pisa's Galileo Galilei (PSA) and Florence's Amerigo Vespucci Airport (FLR). The closest and largest international airport is Malpensa International (MXP) located in Milan.