Cinque Terre – third time’s a charm…and so are the first and second

Cinque Terre – third time’s a charm…and so are the first and second

Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the Italian Riviera, which is essentially the northern version of the Amalfi Coast. If you hadn’t figured it out already, Cinque Terre means “Five Lands”, referring to the 5 towns that make it up: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. If you think about Italy’s boot shape, Cinque Terre is right below the knee, while Positano (Amalfi’s version of Cinque Terre) is on its shin, with Rome sitting as a very rough in-between marker.

Red: Cinque Terre – Blue: Positano

None of my trips to Italy have included destinations south of Rome, so the Amalfi Coast has yet to work its way in. Cinque Terre, as I’ve mentioned, has worked its way into all three of my visits, and I have no regrets. I love Cinque Terre, which I’m sure is shared with everyone that’s ever been there. Each town has its own charm, and I appreciate that it’s not exorbitantly expensive, nor does it feel that touristy. There are plenty of good restaurants with dishes for less than €15, and plenty of places have coffee for €2-3.

The Drive

We headed out in the late morning, running into rain that was supposed to stop by the afternoon. We planned to make the 1.5-2 hour drive to La Spezia, then take the train to Cinque Terre from there. However, on the way, we made the executive decision to drive all the way to Cinque Terre. It wasn’t the plan initially because everything I’d read about driving to Cinque Terre said to avoid it due to slow, windy roads and expensive, tough-to-find parking. It wasn’t a Saturday or Sunday, so we decided to chance it, and we ended up being able to park at Riomaggiore, the “first” and southern-most town. The drive definitely did have plenty of tight curves on what felt like one-lane roads that wound up and down big hills. Depending on the type of driver you are, you’d probably either think it’s really fun or terribly scary to drive.

One of dozens of hairpins turns on the drive to Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Monterosso

Since we parked there, we started with a walk through Riomaggiore. We planned to get a coffee at a cliff side bar that Brandon, T, and I favorited last trip, but it wasn’t open yet due to the morning rain. Right as we were getting on a train to the next city up, Manarola, the clouds started to disappear and the sun came out in full force.

Riomaggiore coffee with Brandon and a blurry T, Summer 2017

Manarola has a nice little cove for swimming, with a big rock formation that’s great for cliff diving. It’s main feature, though, is the uphill cliff side path it has that provides amazing views of the main town. At the top of this path is a great little restaurant called Nessun Dorma. They serve drinks and larger bruschetta than you’re used to (think sandwich-sized bread) for very reasonable prices – I think 6 pieces of bruschetta run €6-9 depending on toppings. I’d suggest going just based on that, but I’d say their main draw is really the view. If you go, wait for a seaside table – it’s worth it. It’s my personal favorite restaurant view of anywhere I’ve been.

Manarola, Cinque Terre

To eat or not to eat, that is the question…

Somehow I’m the one not wearing sunglasses

After drinks and bruschetta, we hopped on a train up to the northern-most town of Monterosso. It’s the only one in Cinque Terre with a sandy beach, and most of the town runs along the shoreline, giving it a beach boardwalk feel.

Monterosso boardwalk – Is it still a “boardwalk” if it’s made of concrete?

Monterosso beach – Pardon the topless bather at the bottom of the picture – I hope he’s okay being in my photo

It’s also home to a great restaurant we ate at twice last visit called Restaurant Belvedere. Their signature dish is a seafood medley cooked and served in a clay vase. However, by “served”, I mean that someone brings the clay vase to your table and dumps out the seafood into a large bowl in a display that attracts the jealousy of other diners. I regretted not getting it last time, and I was going to rectify that mistake this trip, but it wasn’t meant to be. Once the clouds disappeared in the morning, our day became a very hot and sunny one, which meant everyone was exhausted by 5:00pm. We were fine with eating an early dinner, but the restaurant didn’t open until 6:30pm, and it was decided that it was too hot to wait around another 90 minutes. We headed back to Riomaggiore and grabbed dinner there before making the drive back to Florence.

Go. Here. Now.

If you haven’t been to Cinque Terre, I obviously highly recommend it. If you’re limited on time, it’s doable as a day trip, but if you stay for a while, you won’t regret it. I don’t think you can go wrong no matter which town you choose to stay in, but if you are just gonna day-trip it, I’d say Manarola and Monterosso are the must-sees.

Next up: A chill day before visiting downtown Florence.



  1. Audrey Walker
    November 1, 2018 / 8:39 pm

    Maryann and I are old buddies. I’m following your travels second hand. Would love to get your blogs firsthand. My grandson Lewis is at the University of Toronto and hopes to do something like this in the future. Thanks

    • Nicholai
      November 2, 2018 / 7:08 am

      Yes, hi Audrey! She’s mentioned you many times. 🙂 On the right-hand side of my blog, you’ll see a section that says “Subscribe for updates”. If you put your e-mail address in the box and hit “Subscribe”, you’ll get an e-mail whenever I make a new post.
      I hope Lewis does get out and explore the world. Let him know I’m happy to chat with him about my experiences at any time.
      – Nicholai

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