📍Cinque Terre, Italy 🇮🇹
On our 2015 tour of Italy and France, Jordan and I visited Cinque Terre in the Italian region of Liguria, best known (to us) for its Pesto.
A general overview of Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, translating to "Five Lands," is made up of five towns, all connected by hiking trails for the active, and trains, for those who want to get around a bit easier. Cinque Terre, itself, is actually a national park, and becamse UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The five towns of Cinque Terre are built into the cliffs, overlooking the Ligurian Sea. They are similar to the Amalfi Coast, for those who are familiar, but Cinque Terre is in the northwestern part of Italy, easily accessible by train from Florence, Milan or Pisa.
From the southernmost town to the northernmost town, they are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. Each town has its own little charm, with a little village, and no cars to be seen. To fully grasp the magic of Cinque Terre, I fully recommend visiting all five during your stay!
Liguria claims to be the birth place of basil-based pesto, and you can tell as you are hiking. The smell of basil will just overwhelm you at times! Also, every restaurant will have some sort of pesto dish. Eat. All. Of. It. Pesto pizza. Pesto pasta. Basil Gelato. Don't think too much about it, just trust me.
Why we fell in love with Corniglia
We're a big fan of AirBnB, especially when traveling abroad, as it gives us a chance to get to know some locals and stay in the area of town we really want. We've found many times AirBnB is a great place to find real bed and breakfasts, and not just home shares, which is exactly what happened for us in Cinque Terre. We found an amazing place with just enough room for us to unpack for two nights, but most importantly, it had a rooftop kitchen and outdoor dining space for us to truly enjoy the views of Cinque Terre. Lidia, our host, was so gracious - she showed us around the town, and told us which hiking trails to take and which to avoid (although, to be honest, we weren't very sure which trail we were on, and we think we ended up on the advanced trail by accident).
Corniglia was the perfect place for us to stay for many reasons:
Corniglia is the only town of the five that does not actually sit on the water; the town itself is in the cliffs, but still very accessible to the sea (if you are able to climb a few, ok, many flights of steep stairs) if you want to go for a swim.
- Because Corniglia is not directly on the water, it is less crowded. It is smaller, and has fewer places to stay, and generally, less people even want to stop by this town because of the whole stairs situation, so it remains fairly untouched by the large amounts of tourists every day.
- You get a head start on the hiking trails. When we visited in 2015, we were not able to hike from Corniglia to Manarola because there was still damage to the hiking trails from the mudslide in 2011. You can see all the trails and check their status here. Because of this, many people started in Vernazza or Monterosso, so we really only dealt with other hikers towards the end of our hike. We also only had to go uphill a little (because we were already fairly high up, being in Corniglia). Hikers starting in Monterosso hiking towards Corniglia were in for a long day of hiking uphill mostly the entire time. Of course, many hikers choose to do the backpacking option in Cinque Terre, which would of course, start in either Monterosso or Riomaggiore. If you're interested in that option, check out this 48-hour guide to Cinque Terre!
- Corniglia is the center town, so that made it really easy for us to see all five towns in one day. I don't recommend doing that - in fact, we were super bummed to leave after only a day and a half, and really wished we had more time to explore, but we were only meandering up a little bit to Nice, so we couldn't complain too much!
- The place we stayed was so amazing, and I don't think we'll ever stay anywhere else. Because I love Lidia so much, I'll tell you that we stayed at Il Carugio, but I realize I do this at the risk of potentially exposing our best-kept secret. You're welcome.
Cinque Terre's Coolest Feature (If You're asking me)
Guvano Beach*. It's a trek to get there, but what isn't in this awesome hiking wonderland? I'm not going to take credit for finding Guvano Beach, in fact this American Girl in Florence lead us to it. But it is really a sight to be seen. After walking for what feels like half a mile through an old train tunnel (pitch black), you'll emerge on the other side - untouched land with olive trees growing freely. You'll have to climb down some rocks to get to a most beautiful beach, but it is all 100% worth it. Jordan and I spent our last morning in Cinque Terre on this little adventure, and we're so glad we did. If you can carve out a few hours, go find Guvano Beach. Seriously.
*Guvano Beach is a nude beach, just FYI
How to get to Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is very accessible by train. You want to take the train to La Spezia, then the local train to any one of the five towns. It is an easy two or three hour train ride from Florence, two hours from Milan, and a little over one hour from Pisa. You can get more detailed information about getting to Cinque Terre here, and check out the local train timetable here.