Enjoy an Italian Vacation In Cinque Terre

by Nelda_Hoxie

Sun yourself on the beaches that make up the Italian Riviera or hike to mysterious castles built to stave off treacherous pirates.

Cinque Terre is a region of dramatic landscape and a history filled with warring Genovese families and marauding pirates. As with all Italian communities the Catholic Church and its cathedrals dominate the skyline. You can walk paths that locals have used for centuries to explore this exotic and wild landscape. When you need a day of rest the beaches of the Italian Riviera will be waiting for you. Of course when you are in Italy, the food and wine always takes center place. Fresh seafood is featured in every restaurant. Dry white wines from local vineyards will quench your thirst.

Italian vacations in Cinque Terre are rustic chic. Hiking, swimming, and al fresco dining rule the day. Bring your sneakers and hiking boots. This is high fashion in Cinque Terre. You'll find five quaint fishing villages -Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The thumbnail picture above is of the Cinque Terre Coastline. It was taken by Daniel Stockman and is available on Flickr.com

What to Expect in Cinque Terre

The picture below shows what you can expect to see when you visit any of the CinqueTerre cities. On one side of the cities there are steep hills and cliffs. Often vineyards and terraced farmlands produce grapes and olives. The ocean and beaches are on the other side - providing fishermen with their livelihood and tourists a place to play under the sun.

The houses are all painted in unique combinations of sultry earth tones. Local legends say that fisherman painted their houses different colors so they could easily spot them from sea. They would then use their binoculars to make sure that their wives were home taking care of the family.

Cinque Terre Landscape

Terraced vineyards and ocean views surround colorful buildings
A Typical Cinque Terre Village
A Typical Cinque Terre Village

Street Life is Important in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre Villages began in the Middle Ages. Their compact design created a pedestrian-friendly streetscape that still exists today. The streets are narrow and feature many different uses. Cafes and small shops share the space with homes. It's not uncommon to see laundry drying while you sip your wine. 

Bring your walking shoes and hiking boots when you visit Vernazza and all of the other cities in Cinque Terre. It's good though, you can eat all you want after a day of hiking and sightseeing. 

Vernazza Italy is the Premiere Fishing Village on the Cinque Terre Coast

Settled in 1060, the streets are for people and not cars
Vernazza Street Scene
Vernazza Street Scene

See What Rick Steves Loved About Cinque Terre

Rick Steves' Snapshot Italy's Cinque Terre

Get the Big Picture: Read about Genoa and Liguria

Smart Guide Italy: Genova & Liguria

Where is Cinque Terre?

The Italian Reviera is southeast of Genoa just around the corner from Monaco and France

Don't Forget Your Cinque Terre Card

Hiking routes in Cinque Terre are well documented and clearly marked. If you decide to hike in the region, you'll have lots of company. While it can be strenuous, it is not wilderness hiking. There are often stone steps or concrete ramps to use. Sometimes there are handrails to hold one to. This is generally the case when you are on a narrow path that overlooks the ocean. The railing is more to keep people from falling over the edge. 

The Italian government created a national park to protect the Cinque Terre environment in 1999. You now have to have a pass to use the hiking trails. It also provides access to the bus system and several cultural attractions. Most people will pay 6 euros for a daily pass. Those who want to spend more time hiking or have families with them have several economical packages to choose from. 

There is also a Cinque Terre Card Train option that allows unlimited access to the Cinque Terre train line between Levanto and La Spezia. A one day pass is 12 euros.

Hiking Paths Connect the Five Villages of Cinque Terre

Trails go past vineyards, monasteries, fortresses and the ocean
Hiking Trail from Corniglia to Vernazzo
Hiking Trail from Corniglia to Vernazzo

Cinque Terre Hiking Map

Cinque Terre (Liguria, Italy) 1:50,000 Hiking Map, laminated KOMPASS

Cinque Terre (Liguria, Italy) 1:50,000 Hiking Map, laminated KOMPASS This hiking / cycling map of Cinque Terre is printed on sturdy laminated paper which makes it waterproof and...

View on Amazon

It pays to plan ahead when you're traveling to a foreign country for hiking. Laminated maps are available that show the trails and attractions along them. This is invaluable to help you plan your trip. Some people like to hike and look at the natural beauty of a region.

I admit that while I enjoy a stroll in the sun, I also like to hike with a purpose. I like to know that there is a vineyard or monastery at the end of my hike to explore. 

Ferries, Buses and Trains are Also Available

Centuries ago fishermen started providing transportation between the Cinque Terre villages, today those fishing boats have been replaced by high-speed ferries. Not only are they convenient, they provide unique views of the region. Tourists will love seeing these quaint Italian towns from the same vantage points as the fishermen.

As is true all over Europe, trains and buses provide convenient connections to reach any of these towns. So Americans shouldn't worry about not having a car to use in this area. I found all of the staff in the local hotels to be very knowledgeable and helpful when it cam time to plan transportation strategies. 

Ferry Entering Maranolo, Italy

Convenient transportation and great sightseeing
Ferry Passengers Get a Unique View of Maranolo
Ferry Passengers Get a Unique View of...

Ristorante Belvedere in Monterosso al Mare

Al fresco dining with great views
Pasta with local olives and mussels
Pasta with local olives and mussels

From Homemade Pasta and Mussels to Squid Risotto

The owners of the Ristorante Belvedere went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We love to eat dishes made from fresh local ingredients. They suggested their homemade pasta with mussels caught off of the coast. The pesto was made with olives and tomatoes from nearby farms. The local white wine was very dry and refreshing after a day hiking above the city.

I was feeling braver than my husband and had squid risotto instead of the pasta. Two tourists at the table were raving about it and that helped me decide. It was very good and filling. Both meals came with a huge salad and we were stuffed. 

That meant we had no room for dessert, but since we had had gelato in the afternoon we didn't feel too deprived. 

St. John The Baptist Church in Riomaggiore, Italy

Even the smallest Italian village has a beautiful church
Even the smallest Italian village has a beautiful church

St. John the Baptist Church was built from 1340 to 1343. It always amazes me that people centuries ago could build so much beauty in just a few short years. The inside of the church contains a mural thought to be by Domenicp Fiasella who lived between 1589 and 1669. 

The church is open and you are free to go in and look around. I suggest taking a tour that the docent offers. We got so much more out of our visit when we knew when the different parts of the church were built and how they changed over the years. 

My first visit to Italy was 45 years ago and churches were very strict about what people wore in them. No bare arms or heads were allowed. It's much more casual now, but I always try to wear at least short sleeves and a skirt or long pants. I still wouldn't wear shorts into an Italian church out of respect for their culture. 

Belforte Tower was built to protect Vernazza from pirates

Powerful Genoa families built Belforte Tower
Powerful Genoa families built Belforte Tower

You can see how Belforte Tower dominates the Vernazza skyline even today. It was well situated to protect the the fishing village and the wealth of the powerful Genoa families who ran it. Today it give perfect views of the ocean and village to the tourists who visit it. 

Vernazza is the most northern of the five villages in Cinque Terre. It is therefore the closest to Genoa. It was founded in 1000 AD. The Republic of Genoa took it over in 1276, but it wasn't until the mid-1500's that they built Beforte Tower. Even today, Vernazza is a very small village with a local population of about 1,000 people. 

Capuchin Monastery and Convent Overlooking Monterosso

Religious architecture has always played a large role in the Italian landscape
A tranquil place to stay
A tranquil place to stay

The Capuchin Monastery was built in the early 1600s to thank two Capuchin friars who brought peace to two Genovese factions who were warring in the small village of Monterosso. It replaced a small church on a hill overlooking the village that had been dedicated to Christopher Columbus. The Capuchins were expelled during the Napoleonic rule in 1810 and did not return until 1895. 

It takes about an hour to walk from the center of Monterosso to the monstery. The view of the village and ocean is worth it. 

There is a Place to Stay in Cinque Terre for Every Budget

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Updated: 04/22/2014, Nelda_Hoxie
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sandyspider on 08/14/2014

The pasta with olives and mussels kind of scares me. But I would love to have an Italian vacation. The photos alone is so inviting along with the history.

Nelda_Hoxie on 04/22/2014

Thank you for stopping by ologsinquito. It is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors during the day and then fine dining in the evening. There is so much history to enjoy there as well.

ologsinquito on 04/22/2014

This looks like a great area to visit. I've always been amazed as well at the type of architectural wonders built in the Middle Ages.

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