Cinque Terre, idyllic, quaint, rustic, and perched on a rugged part of the Italian coast.
Five UNESCO protected villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore overlooking the pristine Mediterranean Sea- it’s the kind of places you have to see to believe.
Long on my list of places to visit, it wasn’t until I started planning a weekend trip to Tuscany (flying in/out of Pisa from London) that I first Google’d ‘Can you see Cinque Terre in one day?’
Everything I read said yes, you could but it would be a busy day. Rationalising I’d at least be able to fit in two of the villages, I decided my decision would be weather dependent.
If the weather looked good ahead of my trip, I’d plan on hiking/exploring Cinque Terre on the Sunday of my visit to Tuscany. If the weather didn’t look great though (rain), I’d head to Florence and wander the city. Having never been to Florence, everyone urged me to visit there instead of trying to cram Cinque Terre into one day. But, I know I’ll make a return trip to Florence soon- I want at least 2-3 days in the city, and have thought about coupling it with a return to Rome and journey to the Amalfi Coast.
Was it possible to see Cinque Terre in one day? Yes, even with leaving Pisa at 11 am. But, it was a long day, and some villages felt more rushed in my effort to at least see four of the five.
Leaving Pisa at 11, I took the train to La Spezia where I bought a Cinque Terre train and trail card, and hopped on a transfer train to my first village: Monterosso.
The Cinque Terre train and trail card will set you back €16, but covers train trips between La Spezia and all the villages, connecting journeys between the villages, as well as free wifi, usage of toilet facilities in the train stations (normally cost €1 each), and access to the trails that connect each town. Worth it, if you ask me.
Originally, I’d planned on hiking between a few of the villages, but with Extensor Tendonitis rearing its head the week before my trip, I ultimately decided to only hike between Monterosso and Vernazza. For the rest of the villages, I took the train between each stop, which only took 5 or so minutes from stop to stop once the train arrived. I noticed the trains stuck pretty close to their schedule, but it was very crowded so I found myself arriving 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled trains to get a good spot on the platform.
The only town I didn’t visit was Corniglia, which I decided to skip because my foot was hurting, and you have to climb 380+ steps from the train station to the base of the town.
All said, trying to cram the best of Cinque Terre into one day was absolutely worth it. Would I love to re-visit someday and take more time in each place? Sure, that’d be nice. But I don’t feel like I really missed out on anything, and found pockets of time to relax while wandering- like spending an hour and a half watching the sun set while sipping spritzes in Manarola.
The Five Towns of Cinque Terre
As you’re exploring Cinque Terre, you’re likely to find yourself wondering, how photogenic can one place be?
A collection of five villages, ‘Cinque Terre’ literally translates to ‘five lands’. It’s a wonderful place for hiking, eating, drinking and relaxing alongside the coast.
My only complaint is the volume of people visiting- so many tourists crowding into quaint villages (and I visited near the off-season in late September/early October). But, I’ve heard Cinque Terre is going to introduce a new ticket/fee system to help limit tourist numbers, which I’m pleased to hear. I’m grateful I got to visit Cinque Terre, but not if my visit comes at the cost of thousands of others visiting and these villages losing their magic.
Monterosso Al Mare
The largest of the towns, Monterosso is perfect for beach lovers. There’s a large stretch of sandy beach, and sun beds/umbrellas available to rent.
As the liveliest town, there’s also the greatest selection of bars and places to eat. Divided into an old town and new town, I walked through flat new town, before heading to the slightly hillier old town to explore.
Ready for lunch after wandering town and climbing some of the trails to the gorgeous viewpoints, I settled in at Pizzeria La Smorfia for one of the best pizzas I’ve had- thin, crisp, cheesy, perfection.
I could have spent more time in Monterosso, but was eager to get to my next town- Vernazza. Walking from Monterosso to Vernazza has its steep bits and narrow trail sections, but also affords some great views of the coast. It took me a little over an hour and a half to do, but I was moving at a decent pace. If I could go back in time, I’m not sure I’d do it again- my favourite views of Vernazza are only a 5-10 minute walk outside the town, and could easily be done if you arrived by train.
Vernazza is the only village with a natural harbour. Arriving in town, I stopped along the trail to take a few shots of the harbour from above, and then found myself heading down into town through steps that wound through back alleyways. The best view of Vernazza is from the mountains next to the town (which you can find via the small side streets).
Coming from the trail, soon, I came out in the midst of the town. To the right lied the harbour, bustling with activity. Kids and teens swimming, others lounging and picnic’ing on rocks- I headed out to the jetty to snap a few shots of the town from below.
Heading back to the town, I popped in and out of shops before grabbing water, a bottled spritz and catching a train to my next village.
The only town I didn’t make it to, because my foot hurt too much to climb the 380+ steps from the train stain, Corniglia is perched high upon a cliff’s edge, offering stunning views across the coastline. I’ve heard it’s the quietest of the five towns, most oft attributed to the fact it’s not seaside.
A terraced town on the side of a mountain, Manarola is unbelievably beautiful. If you arrive by train, you’ll have the choice of going right to explore the upper part of town, or left to head down to the sea. I meandered the upper town for a few minutes before heading down to the sea.
Once seaside, I marvelled at the buildings above me, and then set out to climb a bit higher along the wide path that’s easy to spot. Once at the top, I waited in line at Nessun Dorma, a cliffside eatery that’s been revered by numerous food critics for having tasty bruschetta, refreshing spritzes, and the best dining views in all of Cinque Terre.
Watching the sun set here was a real treat- pink-hued buildings situated above the sea, and watching kids dip in and out of the ocean, waves crash against rocks, and the sun sink slowly behind the horizon. I ordered the classic bruschetta and a limoncita (limoncello, prosecco and mint) as a reward for a perfect day exploring.
The easternmost village, Riomaggiore was my third stop. I knew I wanted to watch the sun set in Manarola, so I headed to Riomaggiore by train after Vernazza.
For most visiting Cinque Terre, it’s the usual starting place to hike between towns.
Tall buildings stacked around a river’s mouth, gorgeous coastal views, steep winding alleyways- Riomaggiore is absolutely stunning. The best views are down by the seafront, which is the opposite direction of town from the train station.
Post-sun set in Manarola, I hopped on an 8:10 train back to La Spezia, and then transferred to Pisa. Arriving back in the city just after 9:30, I headed to my hotel eager to sleep. It was a perfect day on the Italian cost- couldn’t have asked for a better time.
Have you ever been to Cinque Terre? Which village was your favourite to visit?