Italy's Cinque Terre is a marvelous tourist destination featuring five seaside villages at the foot of terraced hills that fall steeply toward the sea. Cinque Terre is a place to enjoy fabulous vistas by hiking amongst the vineyards and olive groves above the villages and then relaxing with a glass of wine afterward.
Cinque Terre can get crowded with tourists who come to enjoy the little villages, especially in the summer. Plan ahead if you want to stay in the Cinque Terre, especially with an advance hotel or vacation apartment reservation, and have an idea of what you want to experience. It's also a beautiful place to visit in the offseason.
The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre, from north to south are:
- Monterosso al Mare
Levanto is the next town north of the Cinque Terre. Portovenere, to the south, is also a well known Italian tourist resort town.
You can get to Cinque Terre in several ways but keep in mind that many of the little villages do not allow cars.
- Train: There is a train line that runs from Genoa (130 km to the north) through the Cinque Terre, to Pisa and on to Rome and is the easiest way to get to the villages. From Genoa (Genova), take the local train toward La Spezia and get off at your destination, or take the express directly to La Spezia and the local back to your Cinque Terra destination. Expect the regional trains to be very crowded. Standing in the aisles at La Spezia until the first stop in the Cinque Terre is the norm from spring through fall. Rail Europe offers great money-saving train passes for 3, 4, 5 or more days of unlimited train travel in Italy.
- Plane: The nearest airports are the Cristoforo Colombo International Airport (GOA) in Genoa and the Galileo Galilei International airport (PSA) in Pisa.
- Boat: The Consorzio Marittimo Turistico runs summer boats from La Spezia to the Cinque Terre as well as excursions along the coast.
- Car: While it is possible to approach Cinque Terre's 5 villages by car, it isn't recommended by travelers who've tried it. The roads are winding, many villages do not allow cars and parking fees outside of town can get pricey. As in Venice, there is no use for a car once you're there. There is daily parking in Riomaggiore and Monterosso if you arrive early in the day. You can, however, drive easily to the ridge above the villages and end up in a town like Volastra, and walk or use public transport to the five coastal villages of the Cinque Terre. Great views and great food await in Volastra and Groppo so it is a good option if you are intent on driving.
- Tour: If you want to visit the Cinque Terre for a day from Florence without all the hassles of dealing with the trains, there are bus tours that depart from and return to your Florence hotel.
Where to Stay
While there are quite a few hotels in the Cinque Terre, the area is extremely popular, especially during the tourist season, so book early. Monterosso has the most lodging opportunities.
Vacation rentals are also popular along the Ligurian coast for those traveling with families or wishing to stay longer and have a "slow travel" experience along the way.
The Cinque Terre Card
In order to maintain the tourist and weather-ravaged trails and environment around the Cinque Terre, the National Park of the Cinque Terre started to require a ticket in order to walk on the Via Dell'amore, the first part of the Cinque Terre trail. That is just one benefit of the card, which includes the use of ecological Park buses, access to all trekking paths and even Wi-fi internet connection. The Cinque Terre Card is one way to simplify your travel within the Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre Maps and Resources
Local tourist offices are fairly easy to find. They should be your first stop.
- Cinque Terre Tourism Offices - Main villages and area towns have tourist offices where you can obtain maps and information, the Cinque Terre Card and get assistance with reservations.
- Cinque Terra Hiking - The terraced, coastal villages of Cinque Terra offer some of the most scenic hiking trails in Italy. There is an extensive network of footpaths that connect each of the five villages to one another. There are easy trails and more difficult trails for the experienced hiker.
- Cinque Terre: Hiking the Blue Trail - The Blue trail is the easiest, the most well-known, and the most popular path. The 12 km path is divided into four sections and connects all the five villages of the Cinque Terre.
- Cinque Terre Climate and Weather - The climate is, for the most part, mild and sunny with small temperature variations. Hikers can complain of the heat in the summer when the trail is out in the open. The mountains shelter the area from the northern winds.
Portovenere makes an interesting destination. There are hiking trails from there and boats leave for the Cinque Terre frequently in the summer.
The Gulf of Poets is the gulf around La Spezia. If you're looking to get away from the throngs of tourists in the Cinque Terre, this is the place.
Tuscany's Lunigiana region is just to the east. More than 100 small castles dot the Lunigiana landscape, which is composed of three valleys cut by rivers. There are hiking trails in the woods and along the ridge tops.
And, of course, there's beautiful Tuscany. Tuscany is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Art is everywhere; the landscapes are gorgeous (and diverse!) and the food and wine are superb.
When to Visit
Visit the Cinque Terre in fall. You'll see the vines turn color and see people setting out nets under the olive trees in anticipation of the harvest. You might think October and November could be iffy times to visit, and there's a chance of that, but if you keep your travel plans flexible, you can see some incredible things along this stretch of coastline.