Cinque Terre: An Off-The-Beaten-Path that Got Too Famous

The family friendly beach of Manarola

Tucked in the strip of the Mediterranean coastal line of the Italian Riviera, five enchanting fishing villages are located. They are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, which all five are part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monterosso, the resort town

Due to its topography, Cinque Terre used to be quite isolated. But in 1870, train access was built to connect these Ligurian gems with the outside world. Cinque Terre is located between Genoa and Florence. It takes about three hours train ride from Florence and about one hour from Genoa. Visitors will need to change to the local train in La Spezia. This local train will stop in all five villages. There are public busses, but the train is considered as the most efficient way to get to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The second option is by public ferry boats running from La Spezia to all four villages except Corniglia.

The five villages are also connected with popular picturesque hiking trails, known as Sentiero Azzuro (the Blue Trail). The trail length is about 12 km from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. The trails take you through the narrow paths with vineyards, cliffs, forests, and sea views; linking all five villages. A trekking pass is required upon the entry of the hiking trails. The pass costs from EU7.5 (one-day pass) to EU14.5 (two-day pass). There are also the combined train and trekking passes, which cost from EU16-41.

Each village of the Cinque Terre offers its own unique experience for the visitors. Riomaggiore, which is the southernmost village of all five, is the best place to catch a sunset. It is also the postcard of Cinque Terre. The second village, Manarola, is famous for its pesto tradition where visitors can take classes to experience the making of this regional specialty sauce. Visitors can also try focaccia, a local specialty of bread with simple toppings, such as olives and cheese. Manarola also has a good kid-friendly beach, making it a nice spot for families. Corniglia is the only village that is not located by the sea. It is a hilltop town surrounded by vineyards. Corniglia is famous for its local wine. Visitors can climb the medieval Doria Tower and enjoy the stunning view of mountain and sea from Vernazza. This village is a great spot for lunch as it has this beautiful piazza (town square) with many choices of restaurants. Monterosso, the northernmost village, is a resort town. It has a vast sandy beach with sunbeds and umbrellas. It is also the biggest village out of all five.

Cinque Terre was used to be an off-the-beaten-path destination. But nowadays, it has been attracting massive visitors from around the world. Mass tourism, such as cruises, brings thousands of day-tripper visitors from La Spezia to Cinque Terre almost all year long. With almost 2.5 million visitors per year, during high season, every corner of the villages is packed with tourists. The narrow trekking paths of the Sentiero Azzuro are also crowded which may be affecting the whole visitors’ experience. Safety concerns were also emerging due to this overcrowded condition.

Post COVID-19, the destination is re-open for visitors starting June 3rd, 2020. 

Text and photos: GART

Trekking path of Sentiero Azzuro