One Day in Cinque Terre {Italy}

2 Jun

During our trip to Europe in October of 2013, my husband Andrew and I visited London, Paris, Cinque Terre, and Rome.  Months of planning went into our trip, especially concerning what we were actually going to do while we were visiting.  There’s so much to choose from!  Because there’s an endless array sights to see and things to do, I highly recommend planning your days before you arrive.  As first-time visitors, we wanted to utilize our time to the fullest, and make sure we didn’t miss something important.  I know that some people advocate the “wander and you’ll have more fun” method, but for us, we were less stressed knowing that we didn’t need to figure-out what to do.  And our itineraries were designed with wiggle-room and down time, so that we could do some impromptu things, and not get exhausted.  I hope the following is very helpful as you’re planning your own trip!  Warning: our itineraries are very active, mostly based around walking.  Expect to be on your feet for most of the day!

Cinque Terre

When planning our trip, Andrew and I had to decide what kind of experience we wanted.  Did we want to see as much as we possibly could, not spending more than 2 nights in one place, hopping from one city to the next?  Or did we want to go at a slower pace, and experience the major “can’t miss” cities more thoroughly?  We opted for the latter, choosing to spend the majority of our time divided between London, Paris and Rome.  {General tips for traveling Europe was an earlier post}.  However, we couldn’t pass-up the opportunity to visit at least one “out-of-the-way” location, that would be unique and special.  We’re so glad we made the decision to explore Cinque Terre, where we spent 2 nights, on our way from Paris to Rome.

Cinque Terre literally means “the five lands”, which refers to the five towns it’s made-up of.  There’s Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  They’re situated on the coastline of the Mediterranean, in the Italian Riviera {just typing “Italian Riviera” makes me feel fancy}.  The towns are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so they’re wonderfully protected and maintained, but it makes them a bit less accessible then other places.


Our overnight train from Paris arrived in Milan early in the morning, and we immediately caught a train from the Milano Centrale station to Monterosso.  Monterosso is the “largest” {approx. 1,500 residents} of the towns, and the only one with a sandy beach.  We chose to stay our 2 nights in Monterosso because it seemed the most suited for tourists.  The train ride from Milan was very cool, it was awesome to zip through the Italian countryside!  It made lots of stops along the way, but when we stepped off in Monterosso we were immediately relaxed.  It was sunny, tropical, and we were in Italy…what could be better?!

The train station in Monterosso is in “New Town”, and our hotel was in “Old Town”, so we walked along the beach, then through a tunnel that cuts through the cliff side into Old Town.  It was about a 15 minute walk from the train station to the hotel, and we got to marvel at the town along the way.  Our hotel was a little bit of a hike up some steep stairs, but that’s why the view was amazing!  We stayed at Hotel Villa Steno, which was definitely a splurge.  But we dubbed our time in Cinque Terre our “vacation from vacation”, so we didn’t mind paying a bit more.  We had requested an ocean view room, and boy did they deliver!  I’ll never forget our terrace, it was like something you’d see in a movie.  We immediately grabbed a bottle of local wine from the front desk {with complimentary bread!}, and enjoyed the sun and view.  It was heaven.

That afternoon we explored Monterosso, ate food, and reveled in the fact that were lucky enough to visit this amazing part of the world.  Generally, just relaxed.  After a hectic previous 7 days in London and Paris, it was nice to unwind 🙂

Cinque Terre View

{view from our room at Hotel Villa Steno, Monterosso, Cinque Terre}


{Monterosso, Cinque Terre}


If you only have one day in Cinque Terre, plan to hike.  The trails that connect the five towns are the reason this region is famous.  They are ancient agriculture pathways that used to be the only way to get from city to city.  They wind all along the coastline and hills, so there are many routes to take.  The most popular one is the most direct route, along the ocean.  Since the hiking is the main reason you should visit Cinque Terre, make sure to go during a time of year when the trails are open.  We went in October, and most of them were open, but a few weren’t {I’ll get to that later…}.  If you go sometime in the winter, mudslides and rain may close the trails to hikers.  Here’s a trail map online, although we didn’t research the routes at all beforehand.  We just followed the advice we got that morning from the hotel front desk.  Here was our route:

Cinque Terre Map

{our hiking route through Cinque Terre}

Make sure to start bright and early!  Also eat a lot for breakfast, cause you’ll be burning off those calories in no time.  Take trail “2”, the main trail, out of Monterosso.  You won’t be able to stop taking pictures.  But believe it or not, it only gets better 🙂  Once we reached Vernazza, we wandered around, took pictures, and got a snack.  This is probably one of the most photographed Cinque Terre cities.  We also picked-up another water bottle, after realizing how stupid it was to only bring one.  You’ll go through water pretty fast!  Next, we hiked to Corniglia, where we stopped for lunch.  We ate personal pizzas and gelato.  It was amazing.  Corniglia is up on a cliff, so while it’s pretty, it’s not ocean side.

CT Hiking

{Hiking Cinque Terre}

CT Hiking 2

{Vernazza, Cinque Terre}

CT Hiking 4

{Vernazza, Cinque Terre}

CT Hiking 3

{Corniglia, Cinque Terre}

This is where things got interesting.  Trail 2, the main pathway, was closed between Corniglia and Riomaggiore.  So we had to take an alternate route, which were trails 7 & 6.  Listen…there’s a reason trail 2 is the main one–because it’s the easiest.  It rolls along the ocean, with some, but not a lot, of elevation changes.  Unlike every other trail, which takes you up into the hills.  So just be aware, that if you deviate from the main route, that you’ll be in for some real hiking.

Up we climbed.  Up and up and up.  The elevation change was astounding.  I feel like we climbed {on ancient, worn, uneven, rocky paths} for.ever.  In real time, it took about an hour and a half to get up into the hills on trail 7, which connected us to trail 6.  Number 6 is what takes you across the hills, but getting up there was pretty intense.  However, it leads you through some of the most beautiful, picturesque scenery I have ever seen.  On this route, you get to walk through the olive groves and vineyards that cover the hillsides.  I can’t describe how out-of-this-world it was, and I hope the pictures below do it justice.  Although our route was technically forced upon us, we both agreed that it ended up being our favorite portion out of all the hiking.  Plus we got to visit another town, which is not included in “the five”.  Volastra sits up in the hills, and it’s wonderfully quaint.

CT Hiking 6

{Trails 7 & 6 through Cinque Terre}

Some stuff to know about the trails: there are tons of people who will be hiking along with you.  Since we were there in October, it wasn’t too crowded, which was nice, but if you’re there during the spring and summer, I can imagine how packed the trails could get.  Cinque Terre has gotten a lot of attention in the past couple of years, so there were people from all over the world hiking, and it was fun to exchange greetings with Americans along the way {especially those wearing college gear…Go Ducks!}.  Some people might want the security of hiring a guide or going with a group, but honestly, it wouldn’t be worth the money.  The trails are marked, and even at some of the confusing points, we were quick to figure it out.  Also, you’ll pass guides along the way…just ask them in passing!  We definitely did that, simply to make sure were on the right track 🙂

CT Tourist Info

{Tourist information — halfway point!}

Also, I feel I must address the fact that we hiked in sandals.  Let’s be real–I wasn’t going to pack sneakers in my carry-on luggage for one day out of the whole trip.  Not worth it.  BUT thank goodness it was a dry, sunny, and a warm day!  Otherwise…we might’ve had to make an impromptu purchase of footwear.  While we weren’t the most equipped hikers, we did just fine.  The paths aren’t too treacherous, and we survived unscathed.  Although like I mentioned above, the pathways do tend to be uneven and rocky {but that’s what you get for hiking ancient trails}.

Finally we arrived in Manarola.  It was late afternoon at this point, so we didn’t have time to hike on to Riomaggiore {even if we’d had the time, I don’t think we would’ve had the energy}.  We found a bar by the ocean, ordered drinks, and sat.  Our reward was well worth it.  I couldn’t help but order a Negroni, apparently the only cocktail whose origin is Italy.  It was strong.  Manarola is another very photographed town, with a public swimming area.  Yes, Andrew took a dive in and swam in the Mediterranean.

CT Hiking 7

{Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy}

CT Hiking 8

{Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy}

CT pic

{Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy}

There are trains that connect all 5 of the towns, but that weekend they were on strike.  One of those things you only learn once you’re out traveling!  So we took the ferry back to Monterosso, as the sun was setting.  Again, breathtaking.  That pretty much sums up our whole day in Cinque Terre.  The food was delicious, the people were so friendly, the exercise was awesome {especially after being tourists for the previous 7 days}, and the scenery was to die for.  What more could you want?

CT sunset

{Sunset from the Cinque Terre ferry}


The next morning we hopped on our Italiarail train to Pisa, where we caught another train to the central Rome station, Roma Termini.

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