In Italy’s Cinque Terre, You Can Swim In The Mediterranean And Eat Endless Seafood Pasta
To say the Italian Riveria’s Cinque Terre is a dream vacation doesn’t give the place enough credit for its unbelievable scenery and salty sea air mixed with the scent of pasta, garlic and pesto. There was a time when the five fishing villages were practically undisturbed time capsules of old-fashioned Italian life. Now, the Cinque Terre is a rockstar on the European travel circuit. However, it still maintains an air of Italian paradise, even if there are more souvenir shops and English menus at restaurants.
Luckily, you can still dine on fresh focaccia made by local bakers and the catch of the day brought in on local fishing boats. And each village has its own unique offerings to tempt you into staying for a while.
Riomaggiore is the first stop for most Cinque Terre visitors, with charmingly tiny streets and alleyways. There’s a gorgeous botanical garden and some of the best spots in all five villages to watch the sun go down.
Where to swim: There’s a pebbled beach right in the town, but you can find better casual spots to leap into the water if you follow the coastline (and the locals’ lead).
What to eat: Seafood pasta at Enoteca Dau Cila or A Pie’ de Ma’
The quaint (and small) Manarola harbor will make you want to jump straight into the Mediterranean. But if you manage to leave the bright blue water, you’ll love the main street for shopping — for both souvenirs and snacks.
There’s also the hillside Punta Bonfiglio, one of the best photo ops around. There’s a playground, ruins of an old chapel and a bar in case you want to grab a nightcap.
Where to swim: Take a plunge in the harbor or jump off of some of the nearby rocks. It’s the best low-key swimming you’ll ever find.
Where to eat: Bruschetta at Nessun Dorma
The quietest village of the five is also the one with the strongest wine tradition. Since it’s set up on the cliffs, there’s no way to get into the water from the main town, but Corniglia has the only spot where you can see all five villages at once. That’s the ideal spot to grab a glass of the traditional Sciacchetrà dessert wine made in the area.
Where to swim: Below the steep cliffs, you’ll find Guvano Beach. There used to be a hiking trail leading down to the pebbled beach, but now your best bet is to head there via boat.
Where to eat: Pasta and wine at Il Pirun
You’ll want to wander all the way to the harbor and turn back toward the pastel buildings for an awe-inspiring view. Vernazza is probably the most photogenic of the villages. Up above, there’s a tower left from historic castle ruins and down below, you can dive straight from the end of the harbor pier into the amazing water.
Where to swim: There’s a pebbly beach accessible through a hole in the cliffs (although, beware, as the sign on the cliff warns, enter at your own risk).
Where to eat: Dessert at Belforte or Il Pirata
The most classic Riviera village is Monterosso. It’s almost like a resort town, with a thin stretch of beach filled with umbrellas and lounge chairs. If sunbathing is your preference, this is your spot. And if you prefer sand, this is the place to find it. The other villages have more rocky coasts.
Where to swim: There are two sides to Monterosso’s beaches. Fegina has better beaches, although many are private, so be ready to aggressively stake a claim on the public sand.
Where to eat: Seafood at Gastronomia San Martino
How To Get Around
One of the best parts of the Cinque Terre is that you can’t drive into the individual villages. Well, you can drive, but it’s way more trouble than it’s worth to find parking and navigate the tiny streets. Plus, it’s more fun to feel like the Cinque Terre villages are untouched by the irritations of mundane city life like traffic.
Instead, you can take a train from the nearby towns of La Spezia or Levanto. The train runs a route specific to the Cinque Terre, connecting the five villages. You can also take a ferry from the same neighboring towns, as well as Lerici and Portovenere.
While exploring the villages, you can take the Cinque Terre train, use a hop-on, hop-off bus, ride the ferries between them or take the breathtaking walking path that leads from Riomaggiore all the way to Monterosso.
The entire trail takes five hours to walk and it can be grueling between the Mediterranean heat and steep uphill terrain. The most popular segment of the trail, which leads from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is called Via dell’Amore. The “Lovers’ Way” is a 20-minute stroll with utterly unforgettable views.
However, due to damage from catastrophic mudslides in 2011 and a lot of tourist feet passing through the Cinque Terre every day, there’s ongoing repair work on the trails and some trails may be closed if there’s a risk of rock or mudslides. But you can always grab the train in case the walking paths are closed.
Where To Stay
Do yourself a favor and don’t be tempted to turn this Italian Riviera gem into a day trip. Yes, Italy holds enough fantastic destinations to fill a lifetime, but the Cinque Terre is special and deserves more than a rushed day. We’d suggest at least three days.
Since the villages are so small and demand is high, it can be difficult to secure the lodgings of your dreams in the Cinque Terre. You can find Airbnbs for around $75, while you can get a hostel bed for under $30, but you’ll likely pay more than $100 a night. If you’re on a budget, consider staying in La Spezia where you can find more hotels for cheaper rates.
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