Summary. Cinque Terre refers to 5 tiny villages on the Liguria Coast, namely, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cinque Terre was our favorite stop on our 2-week Northern Italy trip. These picturesque towns which date back to at least the 16th Century, have breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea, homes impossibly clinging to cliffs, gorgeous hiking through terraced vineyards, and the best Italian cuisine. We selected Manarola to stay because it is known for being more quiet and also affordable. During our visit, we were treated to a good old fashion Italian train strike, which has become a bit of a family legend.
Getting there. We traveled to Manarola via the high speed rail from Milan. The five villages of the Cinque Terre are linked by a local train that stops at each of the towns, conveniently running every twenty minutes. Trains between the towns take just 4-5 minutes. Hiking trails between the towns are beautiful but not convenient if you are just trying to get from one town to the other. Other trains pass through without stopping or stop are express trains that stop just a certain towns so you will need to pay attention to the train schedule.
Arrival. Each of the five towns are easily accessible by foot. Certain streets can have steep hills, as you can see from photos, but in general, the entirety of the towns can be explored in relatively short order and by foot.
Manarola. Manarola is where we stayed and is also our favorite. Without the glitz of Monterosso, Manarola felt more like a "locals" town and much more our style. If you like to hike, the trail between Manarola and Corniglia is a "must do," while visiting the Cinque Terre. While in Manarola, be sure to walk down to the waterfront and enjoy a glass of wine and bruschetta a restaurant in the cliffside which overlooks the main port, called Nessun Dorma. Dining in general in this town is amazing. We never ate a bad meal. Photos below our favorites: caprese, pesto pasta, and lobster pasta.
Riomaggiore. Our visit to Riomaggiore was brief so admittedly we do not have much to share. The time we were there happened to be one of the few times we experienced rain during our June trip to Italy.
Corniglia. This hilltop town does not have direct sea access like the other Cinque Terre towns but it is lovely just the same. Access to this town is by foot where you will need to climb 382 steps. With only 150 residents, this tiny town has just a few restaurants and shops, though we did enjoy a fine Gelato during our visit.
Vernazza. This fishing village has two beaches and a thriving port. During our stop in this town, we enjoyed appetizers and wine at one of the tiny restaurants tucked away in Vernazza's narrow side streets. Side note, 1 L translates to seven (!) glasses of wine. We had no idea but soon found out when we ordered a Liter here.
Monterosso. The westernmost town of the Cinque Terre is Monterosso. Of the five towns, Monterosso seemed to have the most tourists. However, with that comes more shopping, restaurants, and a beautiful beach with umbrellas and chairs to rent.
As our visit to Monterosso was at the end of the day, we did not intend on staying very long. After the sunset we headed back to the train station to head back to Manarola. At this time, we discovered a new Italian tradition: the unexpected train strike. As the train was the only way back to our Air BnB, we were definitely in a pickle. Asking around, we learned that during the strike sometimes trains will pass through but not on any particular schedule so we headed to the platform to wait. At this point it was now dark and others in a similar predicament gathered at the platform. Sometimes trains would pass through but not stop. Hours later, a train eventually stopped and the cheering crowd would hop on. As we blew by Vernazza, we quickly realized it was not the local train. As suspected, we watched Manarola pass by. Now nealy midnight, we got off at Riomaggiore and waited to see if a westbound train would take us back to Manarola. Other stranded tourists that were with us in Monterosso were now sitting with us in Riomaggiore. Eventually, another train arrived and we boarded with more cheers from the crowd. This train did stop at Manarola where we finally made it back our AirBnB, taking home with us a funny story with us.