Pretty Manarola is the second-smallest of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (after Corniglia), and the second town (after Riomaggiore) that you'll encounter if you're coming up the coast from the south. The colorful houses of Manarola seem to tumble down to its small harbor on the bright blue Ligurian Sea, making it one of the most photographed of the Cinque Terre's picturesque villages.
Likely founded by the Romans, Manarola was built along a freshwater creek—its name is thought to refer to an ancient, large waterwheel (magna rota in Latin), a reproduction of which stands in the town. The current town dates to the 1300s, making it arguably the oldest of the Cinque Terre towns. Once part of the powerful Republic of Genoa, Manarola was once home to a castle and watchtower built to protect against marauding pirates. Historically and today, Manarola is known for Sciacchetrà, a sweet, highly-coveted dessert wine.
What to Do in Manarola
Off-season visitors to Manarola will find a sleepy village dependent on fishing and wine. In the spring and summer, they'll find the tiny town (population: 350) packed with tourists here to hike the trails of the Cinque Terre and photograph its famous towns and landscapes. While most people come to the region to hike, you can also just take time to soak up the stunning scenery and beautiful village life.
Here are a few things you shouldn't miss while visiting Manarola:
Tour the town: At the top of the town, you'll find the main square, Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV, the 15th-century Oratorio dei Disciplinati, and the 13th-century Church of San Lorenzo. From here, head downhill, towards the sea to discover the old waterwheel, the small harbor, and the narrow, flower-filled and cobblestoned streets and alleys of the town. At the dock, you can swim, snorkel, rent a gommone (a zodiac boat) or catch the seasonal ferry to the other Cinque Terre towns. Don't miss the Manarola scenic viewpoint, just a few minutes north of the harbor, for that classic photo of the town and seafront.
Enjoy a seaside meal or drink: Life moves at a slower pace in the Cinque Terre, so be sure to slow down long enough to appreciate it. A leisurely meal, either at lunch or dinner, on a restaurant's outdoor terrace with a view of the sea, will be one you'll savor for a lifetime.
Walk part of the Via Dell'Amore (The Way of Love): Via dell'Amore is a footpath that begins (or ends) in Manarola and leads to Riomaggiore. Cutting along the cliffs above the magnificent coastline, the path it's the shortest of all the Cinque Terre paths (an easy 15- to 30-minute journey) and is decorated with "love locks"—padlocks left by hopeful couples as a gesture of eternal love. (Note that since a 2012 rockslide, most of the Via dell'Amore has been closed for repairs, which are scheduled to be done by spring 2021. For now, just a short section of the trail is open at Manarola.)
Christmas in Manarola: If you happen to visit in December or January, Manarola's huge, illuminated nativity scene is spread across a hill above the town. Made from recycled materials, it claims to be the world's largest nativity scene. There are several vantage points for viewing the scene, as well as a trail that leads up the hill and stops in front of several of the vignettes.
What to Eat and Drink in Manarola
As in the rest of the Cinque Terre, restaurant menus are heavy on fresh fish and seafood—much of it caught that morning—and ingredients from the bounty of the Ligurian countryside. Dining can be an expensive affair—you'll often pay a premium for that seaside table—or a casual meal in a simple trattoria. Or you can hit a grocery store and buy the makings for a picnic, to enjoy along one of the hiking trails or down by the sea. However you choose to enjoy your meal, here are a few items you'll want to try in Manarola:
- Anchovies in Liguria are served marinated, lightly fried, or as an ingredient in pasta—and are so much more than the salty fish you may avoid on pizza. They're on menus everywhere and are sold as street food in the form of fritti misti—tasty paper cones filled with fried seafood.
- Pesto, that pungent, bright green pasta sauce, is made from basil, which grows like mad in the Cinque Terre, local pine nuts and olive oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino cheese. With these fresh, premium ingredients, it's like no pesto you've ever tasted elsewhere.
- Focaccia is found all over Italy, but it was supposedly invented in Genoa. The pizza-like flatbread is served simple with rosemary and olive oil or baked with fresh tomatoes, olives, and other ingredients. It's the perfect snack to power you through a challenging hike.
- Sciacchetrá is a sweet, fortified wine made from the vines growing around Manarola. Be sure to order some at the end of a meal.
Where to Stay in Manarola
Accommodations in Manarola are a mix of simple hotels and B&Bs, as well as Airbnb-type rentals—often listed as affitacamere (rooms for rent). There are no real luxury properties in the town, though many hotels and rentals are surprisingly modern. Don't expect amenities like swimming pools or fitness centers; most hotels won't offer much more than a restaurant or bar, and maybe a great view.
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 Manarola
Manarola 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 first 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).
Manarola, like all the villages of the Cinque Terre, is closed to traffic. If you're planning to drive, you'll find a few small there are several small parking lots outside the town, but these will fill up quickly in high season. 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 Manarola.
During peak summer season, the Consorzio Marittimo Turistico runs boats from La Spezia to four of the five Cinque Terre towns, including Manarola.
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.