Exploring Cinque Terre (and what you absolutely have to eat!)
What to eat and exploring Cinque Terre! The northwest region of Italy is stunning! And the pesto is not to be missed!
This is it.
This is the last post in my series of Italy posts! It’s been exactly a year since Anees and I visited Italy (I know because Facebook has generously been sending me reminders of when we were there.)
I have to say, I kind of sort of saved the best for last! Cinque Terre is like nothing I’ve seen before. Definitely one of the most stunning places in Italy if not the entire world!
Funny story, on our way into the main station in Cinque Terre, we missed our train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore and so had another couple from Tennessee (whom we met near the tracks in slight disbelief of said missed train.) The wife and I made small talk while the guys tried to figure out when the next train would arrive. Fast forward to a few days later, we hop on a train to Milan (heading to Venice), and as we’re settling into our seats, we realize that our assigned seats were right next to theirs! What’re the odds?
Such a treat to meet fellow Americans when you’re abroad ❤
So what does Cinque Terre actually mean? Cinque Terre (pronounced Cheenk-qwah Tehrey) means ‘five lands’ and consists of 5 fishing villages in northwest Italy. Cinque Terre is located in the Liguria region. The villages are:
- Monterosso al Mare
The main activities include hiking, people watching, boating, swimming, lots of eating, and drinking and any outdoor activities!
What to Know before you go | Exploring Cinque Terre:
- Hotels and Airbnb’s have a mandatory city tax (usually in the ballpark of 3.5-7 euros depending on the city.) This is due in cash at the time of check-in (the cash thing might be for Airbnb, though, I don’t remember how we paid at the hotel, unfortunately!)
- Locals generally don’t tip. Gratuities are sometimes expected from tourists though. Try to avoid excess tipping, and you certainly do not have to calculate a percentage the way we do here in America. I suggest tipping ~1-4 Euros if you’re at a sit-down restaurant if you liked the service. Most sit down restaurants already have a built-in “dine-in” fee, so check your receipt. If they brought bread to your table, chances are they charged you for that too!
- For summer travel, I suggest booking train rides to other cities in Italy or beyond at least a month in advance. We routed our entire trip and even purchased train tickets before leaving the U.S. Trenitalia.com has an English site, and it makes it super easy to get tickets before you even leave.
- Italians don’t do coffee (or other beverages on the go) so expect a few looks if you ask for a latte or cappuccino in a takeaway cup… that’s if they have them! Most coffee shops don’t.
- Also, upwards of 10,000 steps a day should be expected! And uphill climbs while you’re visiting Cinque Terre!
- If you don’t plan on having data or a wifi hot spot (affiliate link) with you on the trip, consider downloading a map for the cities you’re going to on your Google Maps app that you can access even when you’re offline. Even though we took our hot spot with us, Anees downloaded the maps which came in handy when our hotspot was running out of juice or when we were out of range.
Words to know | Exploring Cinque Terre
My experience in Cinque Terre was that most people spoke decent enough English to communicate. But it’s always good to know a few words in case you run into a communication barrier and to thank someone in their native language is just so much more genuine!
- Ciao – Hello
- Buongiorno – Good morning
- Prego – You are welcome (sometimes they greet you this way.. as in go ahead)
- Lei Parla Inglese – Do you speak English?
- Grazie – Thank you
- Grazie Mille – Thank you so much
- Mi scusi – Excuse me
- Quanto costa – How much is this?
- Questo ha carne – Does this have meat? (super important if you’re vegetarian/pescatarian because a lot of stuff does)
TIP: If you have wifi or a hotspot (affiliate link), be sure to download the Google Translate app on your phone! It’s helpful when two people are trying to communicate in different languages!
Getting to Cinque Terre
There are several ways to get to Cinque Terre, but the easiest way to get there is by train. To get to Cinque Terre, you need to take a train from your start city (Rome, Venice, Pisa, Milan, Florence, etc.) to La Spezia. We booked a train from Florence to La Spezia, and then took the train to the village we were staying at from La Spezia. Once you get to La Spezia, you’ll notice the train that goes to the five fishing villages is very crowded, especially in the summer and fall months. The train makes a stop at all the villages, and an announcement is made at each stop.
- HEADS UP:
- If you’re traveling between villages, it’s important to know that the trains don’t run all night. Be sure to take a picture of the train schedule ahead of time, so you know when the last train heads out and you aren’t stuck in a neighboring village!
- If you can, I suggest avoiding traveling on trains between 10 am – 4 pm during peak vacation season. Trains are super packed at these times!
While you can also get to Cinque Terre by car, not all villages allow cars to enter the village and to be honest, with the number of tourists all around; I image driving would be a super big hassle even if it was allowed.
Where to stay in Cinque Terre | Exploring Cinque Terre
The village that has the most hotels and general lodging available is Monterosso al Mare. Out of all the villages, I found that this one was the most ‘commercial’ as it had a lot of restaurant options, the fanciest (and only real) beach, and more lodging.
But, if you have the opportunity (and if you book far enough in advance), you can snag a great place on Airbnb, VRBO, or Homeaway if you want to stay as the locals. We were there around this time last year and booked two months out in advance and were able to find a great Airbnb in Riomaggiore way high up. Keep in mind that staying in Riomaggiore or even Manarola has a price to pay! Dragging our suitcases up a winding staircase wasn’t all that fun, but I’d do it again for the view in a heartbeat! (See below for the view!)
Things to do and Know | Exploring Cinque Terre
You can take a ferry to the Cinque Terre villages as well! It’s a nice alternative to the train, and you get to see the villages from a completely different angle!
- The Riomaggiore harbor is a great place to watch the sunset.
- The coastal walking path from Riomaggiore to Manarola (know as Via dell’Amore) is currently closed (until 2021)
- Go kayaking! Now looking back, I wish we had done this!
- Take a pesto making class at Nessun Dorma, Manarola
- Eat here! There are a great number of restaurants with good food.
- HIKE, HIKE, HIKE. This was one of my favorites places to be. If you hike about 20 minutes (to Monterosso al Mare) just when you think you’re going to give up, you’ll run smack into a postcard view on the village. We ended up turning around and heading back to Vernazza after the hike, if it wasn’t as hot as it was that day, we would’ve done the hike to Corniglia, I hear it’s stunning!
- Go for a dip in the harbor!
- Grab a bite to eat or a drink in Piazza Marconi (this is located right off the Vernazza harbor.) If you look up, you’re sure to see the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia (and hear the tolling of the bells)
- Monterosso al Mare
- This is the beach town! You’ll want to bring your flip flops and beach towel and grab a seat under the iconic teal and orange umbrellas! During peak season, get here early as the place fills up pretty early in the day!
Where to eat | Exploring Cinque Terre
- Pizzeria & Focaccia la Cambusa
- We really liked the onion focaccia (cipolla) here!
- ADDRESS: Via Renato Birolli 114 Prima Del Mare A Destra, 19017 Manarola, Italy
- Trattoria dal Billy
- Nessun Dorma Cinque Terre – Think of this place as somewhere you’d go for happy hour! They serve drinks, and snacky items, not entire meals (although the food is so good you could certainly make a meal out of the stuff!
- HEADS UP:
- Getting here requires some serious uphill walking! It’s not for everyone, but it’s well worth it if you make it here!
- They do not take reservations; you must stand in line to get in. My suggestion would be to go at an off-time (past lunch but well before dinner.) We did that and were seated within 15 minutes!
- Also, this place is cash only!
- ADDRESS: Localita Punta Bonfiglio, 19017 Manarola, Italy
- HEADS UP:
- Panificio Rosi – We stayed in Riomaggiore, so this is where we grabbed breakfast one morning. They have focaccia and a few different pastries. Of course, we had more focaccia! There’s also a good cafe across the street that serves take out coffee if you need something warm to go with that bread!
- ADDRESS: Via Cristoforo Colombo 188 188 | in Centro, Sotto la Farmacia, 19017 Riomaggiore, Italy
- Try the seafood in a cone! When you walk into the city center, you’ll see a few different storefronts that are dedicated to fried seafood in a cone!
Monterosso al Mare
- II Frantoio – If there’s only one place you get focaccia, let this one be it! I highly recommend the tomato, and pesto focaccia is was amazing! We eat got a slice, and then went back for more because it is to die for! This place is also super budget-friendly so it’s a great place to grab a snack or a quick lunch!
- HEADS UP: They are known to sell out before the afternoon, so my suggestion would be to have an early lunch, or buy some and have it later when you’re hungry!
- ADDRESS: Via Vincenzo Gioberti 1 | Monterosso al Mare, 19016
- Pirata delle Cinque Terre
- ADDRESS: Pirata dell 5 Terre Via Gavino, 36/38 La Spezia –
- This is a great place to grab a meal late night if you’re staying in Vernazza. They stay open till about 10:30 pm.
- Ristorante Belforte – the best way to go get here is to go where the boats are tied up (and where ferries/cruises depart) and look towards the left for a staircase! That staircase will take you up to the restaurant.
- HEADS UP: This place is considered a ‘treat’ as it is pretty fancy and comes with a price tag!
- ADDRESS: Via Gerolamo Guidoni 42 | La Spezia, 19018 Vernazza, Italy
- Gelateria Vernazza
- The fig and ricotta/ pistachio gelato here is very popular! Unfortunately, they were out when we went!
- ADDRESS: Via Roma 13, 19018 Vernazza Italy
And that’s it!
I can’t believe that brings an end to my Italian adventure (for now.) Italy is definitely a stunning place to visit, whether it’s for a day or a week, or a month! I hope you found my Cinque Terre travel guide useful! Whether you’re here to browse and look at pictures or get ideas for your own trip, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and I hope it inspires you to plan a trip for yourself, whether now or in the future 🙂