Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Credit: Justine White

My brother and I were sitting in his apartment with the weekend plus a few days to spend together when he asked me where we should go for an adventure. “How about Cinque Terre?” I’ve always wanted to visit the colorful villages, and he had never been. “Yeah, why not?” So, the online search for tickets and a place to stay commenced. Ryan Air is cheap and easy for flying most places through Europe, and Airbnb is a great place to find amazing accommodation. Tickets booked, bags packed, and our first night stay chosen we were on our way.

One of the most common misconceptions about Cinque Terre is that it is one place. Granted, Cinque Terre is a national park, a protected waterway, and a UNESCO World Heritage site but it stretches across five villages. So, when looking for transportation and accommodation don’t bother searching “Cinque Terre” but rather do some research and select the village or villages you would like to stay in.

It’s certainly not a real struggle to pick a village. They’re all beautiful, charming and easily accessible by 5-20 minute train or few hour hike. My brother and I flew into Piza, bussed it to the train station then took the southern route through La Spezia to Riomaggiore. We met up with the apartment owner, obtained the keys a map and a quick overview then set out to discover and explore as many of the villages as possible in one afternoon.

Five Cinque Terre Villages

Riomaggiore, Cinque TerreCredit: Justine WhiteMonterosso, Cinque TerreCredit: Justine White

Riomaggiore is moderately sized, (in comparison to the other villages) has one main street, a pharmacy, harbor, beach, castle, church and loads of restaurants. We ran up the street and down, saw what we could, grabbed some waters and moved onto the next village.

Manarola is another single street village with a beautiful view overlooking the harbor. The harbor has some of the best deep-water swimming, and stays fairly busy during the day. From the top, the views are spectacular. Lemon trees dotting the hillside were heavy with fruit, and multicolored houses sit nestled against the hills overlooking the sea.  It’s easy to fall in love with a village, but my brother and I pressed onward and hopped the train.

Corniglia is the city farthest above the ocean. Heavy packers beware. If you decide to stay here and arrive by train you must hoof it up 365 steps to get to the center of the village. We made it to the top near the end of the day as the sun was setting, and as we were walking into town we saw a sign for ‘The BEST Mojitos’ at Er Prosu Café so obviously we had to stop for one… or two. They were the best, freshest mojitos I have ever experienced in my life. I’m not sure if it was the combination of the heat, the hike, and the magic of the view but hands down best Mojitos ever. We caught the last train back to Riomaggiore and turned in for the night.

The following morning we hopped a train to Monterosso al Mare, whichis the Northernmost and largest village.  During breakfast we made reservations for our second night, and headed over to drop our luggage. Monterosso has the largest beachfront, and a lovely promenade lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. If you’re looking for a great beach to lounge on, then Monterosso is your destination. Unfortunately most of the walking trails were closed between villages except for the path between Monterosso and Vernazza. After dropping our bags, we were headed down the trail to Vernazza. When I say down, I really mean up and down. It’s a moderately challenging hike.

The views of the ocean are majestic, and the descent into Vernazza is breathtaking. It’s a quaint little one street fishing village stacked with colorful homes against the mountainside and a perfectly picturesque harbor. We were starving after the hike, and headed up to Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre for some lunch. One of the owners was there serving up charming stories with a side of humor. He’s extremely passionate about their food, and I must admit the seafood salad I had was superb. The fruit slushie was delicious, and the coffee was spectacular. After lunch, we hopped the train back to Monterosso quickly changed and went to the harbor in Manarola for a dip.

That evening we had dinner in Monterosso at a little family owned restaurant called Ristorante Ciak. The seafood risotto was delicious and more than plenty for two. They utilize herbs and vegetables from their garden, and wine pairings are from the local Cinque Terre wineries. It’s a really special experience in local and home-grown.

If I had the opportunity to do Cinque Terre again, I would opt to stay longer and spend more time in each village. Two nights simply wasn’t enough to soak in everything that the area has to offer, but it’s long enough to get a taste and appreciation. The people are nothing short of wonderful, and the experience is one that I would highly recommend to anyone.

Cinque Terre, Italy. Why the heck not?