Cinque Terre (Italy)

May 14, 2019

Cinque Terre is a string of medieval towns on a rugged Italian Riviera Coastline. You can visit all five villages on a single day by staying in one of them or from La Spezia, the second largest city in the Liguria region, just after Genoa.

I don’t recommend bringing a car; you pay by the hour with restricted access. Instead, buy a Cinque Terre Card Train that includes unlimited train rides and shuttle buses across all towns.

Cinque Terre is not Milan. The villages are completely vertical in some areas, the hikes are rugged, and the water's edge is rocky. You're going to want appropriate footwear and breathable clothing.

For this one-day trip, I suggest you start at Monterosso al Mare.

Monterosso al Mare

The village name is because the ruling family had red hair. “Monte dei Rossi" means “Mountain of the ginger-haired”

Originally, the village was only accessible by sea or by mule paths that connected the villages of the Cinque Terre and to Via Roma, the main road that connected all of Italy to Rome.

The mule paths are now hiking routes better know as the Cinque Terre hiking trails.

Genova and Pisa fought over for Monterosso and the other four cities that make up the Cinque Terre.

Finally, in 1254, Monterosso came under the domain of the government of Genoa.




The Church of Saint John the Baptist was constructed under the Genoese maritime republic rule between 1244 and 1307.

It is a splendid example of Ligurian Gothic architecture with its alternating black and white stripes of marble and serpentine. The church‘s facade presents a notably large “rosone” or rose window.

The bell tower was erected in the fifteenth century above an ancient medieval watchtower.











The statue of Saint Francis can be viewed as you walk the trail to the Capuchin church. The statue is nice, but what’s really gorgeous is the view below.



Constructed from 1618 from the Capuchin Friars who came in Monterosso, the Church of San Francesco contains some fine art including a Crucifixion by Antoon Van Dyck and important Italian painters from XVII and XVIII centuries.

Near the church, there is the Monastery of Capuchin Friars a very ancient structure with a great garden where Friars live.



Vernazza was founded about 1000 A.D. and like the rest of the towns, it was ruled by the Republic of Genoa starting in 1276.

On October 25, 2011, after a very dry summer, a freak rainstorm hit the Cinque Terre. Within four hours, the region got 22 inches of rain -- a third of an average year's total.

Because of the topography and the ability of the flash flooding to drain, Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia were undamaged, but two towns were devastated. Much of Monterosso and Vernazza were buried under three meters of mud and left without water, electricity, or phone connections.

Left: The Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia,
built on the rocks overlooking the sea.

The village is surrounded by very steeply-terraced olive groves which are said to produce among the finest olive oil in the country.



Nestled in the middle of the five towns, Corniglia doesn't have beaches.

An awesome challenge are the plus 370 steps from the train station to the town, 100 meters above sea level.

If you are lazy or don't like challenges, there is a bus that runs frequently between the train station and the town.

The Church of St. Peter is located in the main square of Corniglia, it is in a Baroque style, with some Gothic and Ligurian elements dating back to the 14th Century, distinguished with a Carrara white marble rose window.

Historians date the origins of this little town all the way back to the Roman Age.

It is thought that Coniglia was probably a colony of slaves who took on the name Corenila, from the slaveholder who gave them their freedom.

In this town, everything revolves around via Fieschi.



Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina

This Oratory graces the tiny Piazzetta Largo Taragio. It is an 18th century Oratory and the highlight of the interior is the ceiling above the altar which is painted to look like the sky.



Manarola is the second-smallest of the Cinque Terre towns and with claims of being the oldest one.

My favorite town in the area, Manarola is famous for its sweet Sciacchetrà wine.

The spirited locals here speak an esoteric local dialect known as Manarolese.

Because of its proximity to Riomaggiore (852m away), the village is heavily trafficked, especially by Italian school parties along with the regular tourists.

Along the main road, the boats are pulled onto dry land every time the sea is rough.

Although there is no real beach here, it has some of the best deep-water swimming around.

The tiny harbor features a boat ramp, picturesque multicolored houses facing the sea, a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants.

From December 8th till the end of January the hills are illuminated with more than 200 figures and 12.000 lamps for the biggest lighted nativity in the world.

Some of the houses on the water side of the village look as if they might slip into the sea at any moment.

Be sure to walk a few hundred meters along the small road that heads north-west from the harbor onto a small peninsula for the best 'global' view of Manarola village.



The village is all ups and downs, with steep narrow alleys leading to the sea.




In more ancient times, the bell tower was used as a post to watch for potential pirate raids.

The Church of San Lorenzo built in 1338 in Gothic Ligurian style and the defense tower.

Salate with calamari

Reservations are a requirement in Cinque Terre, especially in the summer months.


Due to space constraints, most restaurants are quite small, and the kitchen prefers to operate in waves of seatings.

You might get lucky if you turn up for sunset views and squid ink pasta at Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola -- diners occasionally don't show up for their reservations -- but you're more than likely to be turned away.


For Trattoria dal Billy, I made the reservation in person.

Most restaurants are open for lunch, then close, and open again for dinner around 7 p.m.

Hot mashed potato and octopus

My favorite restaurant in Manarola is Aristide Da, Trattoria dal Billy is good but overrated and expensive.

Trattoria dal Billy - Home made pasta with seafood

I had fond memories of the rabbit and the hot mashed potato and octopus.

Trattoria dal Billy - European Sea Bass



The last village of this trip, Riomaggiore is the largest of the five.

Like Manarola, after leaving the train you cross a tunnel from where all major attractions are walkable.

As an alternative, if you start your trip from Riomaggiore, you can reach Manarola walking on La via dell’Amore or The Way of Love (Via de l’Amùu in the Ligurian language), a pedestrian street overlooking the sea, with a run of just over one kilometer.

It provided an easy connection for young lovers who lived in the two small towns, and who were previously separated by the mountainous terrain.

On September 24, 2012, a rockslide injured four tourists and caused the trail to be shut down for repairs. There is not an official date for reopening.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta built in the XV-XVI century contains a triptych of Jesus, Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Dominic de Guzmán and is a wooden statue of Madonna.


The Church of St. John the Baptist is situated in the upper part of the historical center was built in 1340 and renovated in 1870 - 1871.

The art collection here includes a preserved painting “Preaching of John the Baptist” by artist Domenico Fiasella.





Scarce are the records about the fort rising on the hill separating the two narrow valleys.

A document of the 500s speaks of the castle and it is believed to have served as a defense in case of attacks from the sea. It is now used for exhibitions, concerts, and cultural events.

Oratorio di San Rocco is next to the fort, This small oratory was built in the 15th century in remembrance of the plague that hit the village.