The Cinque Terre, or “Five Villages,” is a popular destination within the Italian Riviera. The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre National Park are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each is unique in its experience.
The village of Monterosso is a favorite of ours and boasts variety with two towns, an old town and a newer, more modern resort town; it also has the only sandy beach of the Cinque Terre. Next you’ll arrive in Vernazza, the most popular of the villages and the most expensive in which to find accommodations. The middle village, Corniglia, is the smallest and the only village not on the water; instead, this quiet village is tucked into the mountain, surrounded by vineyards and terraces. To reach Corniglia from the train station, you zigzag up a flight of 382 steps. Manarola is next; its colorful buildings seem to tumble into the sea, creating a perfect backdrop to some of the most well-known photos of this area. Rounding out the five is Riomaggiore, home to a rocky beach perfect for grabbing a bite and having a picnic.
Whichever village you choose, whether for a day or a week, these little gems all are wonderful to explore with kids.
There are many trails of varying difficulty all throughout the Cinque Terre region. It’s a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with many beautiful vistas. The easiest and best-known walk is Via dell’Amore, “Lover’s Lane,” a short 20-minute stroll from Riomaggiore into Manarola. Unfortunately, this and several other hiking trails were badly damaged in a devastating flood in 2011. Most have been re-opened, but it’s recommended to visit the Parco Nazionale website for current information.
The Cinque Terre, Individually Guided Tours page from Trekguyd is another good resource. During our most recent trip to Italy in spring 2014, we hiked from Vernazza to Corniglia, a moderate hike of about 90 minutes. This hike offers multiple stunning views of Vernazza, Corniglia and the staggering coastline of the Cinque Terre. You can easily make a day out of visiting Castello Doria (tip #8 below), enjoying your hike and then having a late lunch at Il Pirun (Via Fieschi, 115) once you arrive in Corniglia. Don’t forget to bring water, sunscreen and snacks for the little ones!
If you’re not up for the trail hikes, walking the many streets in the villages can provide hours of investigative fun. Venturing off the main drag and climbing through the maze of tightly snuggled buildings offers unique experiences around every corner. There are many beautiful churches, cemeteries, vineyards, and colorful old buildings to meander through, so put those walking shoes on and enjoy.
There is so much to explore here that you won’t want to spend precious outdoor time sitting in a ristorante. Instead, enjoy some amazing grab-and-go specialties. First stop: Vernazza, for possibly the best focaccia in the area (maybe anywhere). You’ll find Batti Batti on your right at the end of Via Visconti closest to Piazza Marconi. Grab a focaccia and head to the rocks on the piazza to eat and enjoy the view.
The next stop is Riomaggiore for a cone of fried veggies and seafood at Il Pescato Cucinato (Via Colombo 199). We were lucky enough to have a kitty greet us at the door. Willing to try everything? Get a Misto, a mix of veggies, calamari, anchovies and other fish. Or you can just get what you know you love. Take a couple of these on a walk around town or down to the rocks on the water. Mangia!
Although all the villages but Corniglia have water access, only Monterosso has a true sandy beach, Lungomare di Fegina. If you go during the summer season, it will be full of people and lined with brightly colored umbrellas. Take a walk to the northern end of the beach to see Il Gigante, a 14-meter statue of Neptune that was built in 1910. Unfortunately, he lost his arms during WWII, but is still quite impressive. Heading in the opposite direction, you’ll see a 16th-century lookout tower. Below it is a “Nazi Pillbox,” a low concrete bunker where gunners hid. From here, continue around the point to arrive in the old town of Monterosso.
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There’s no shortage of cats in Cinque Terre. We’re a family of cat people, so this is always great fun for us. Kind of like playing “I spot a Punch Buggy” on a road trip, you can do “I spot a kitty” while visiting the Ligurian coast.
Sicilian twin brothers Massimo and Gianluca, a.k.a. the Cannoli Brothers, run Il Pirata in Vernazza (via Gavino, 36). They bring authentic Sicilian pastry to the Cinque Terre. This is a great place to be entertained by these two silly brothers while sipping on fresh-squeezed blood orange juice or cappuccino and catching up with loved ones back home thanks to complimentary WIFI. We made it a daily ritual to stop in, catch up online, have a truly amazing cannoli and talk to the brothers. If you crave a quick, savory bite, the bruschetta is excellent.
Aside from hiking the trails, the best way to see the landscape is by ferry. They run from every village except Corniglia. It’s not the fastest way to get around, taking from 10-15 minutes between villages, and it’s not the cheapest route either. However, the ferries certainly provide a way to see the coast from another breathtaking perspective.
Built in the 15th century to protect Vernazza from pirates, Castello Doria cannot be missed. Maybe you’ve already eyed it while sitting on the rocks in Piazza Marconi eating focaccia. Its cylindrical tower, the Belforte, rises high above the marina in Vernazza. Views from the top are incredible and the entry fee is just 1.50 € per person.
If you’re here during summer and the beach in Monterosso is too crowded for you, try taking the train north to Levanto or Bonossola. These neighboring towns also have lovely sandy beaches and, usually, fewer tourists. If you still need to release a little energy afterward, you can walk from one town to the other in 30 to 40 minutes through the tunnel of a former railway and then along the coast. In addition, Levanto has an array of unique shops just off the water, worth strolling around with the family.
When flying into Milan or Florence, a train ride from either is the easiest way to arrive in the region. From Milan you will go through (and possibly change trains in) Levanto; from Florence, you will change trains in La Spezia on your way into the Cinque Terre. Once there, regional trains run the short distance between the coastal villages frequently; you’ll just want to know when the last train leaves if you plan to stay later in the evening. There are also walking paths, some more strenuous than others, between the villages, as well as ferries for a view from the ocean.
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The Sharkey Family: We are a homeschooling family, which for us is about trust, family connection, freedom and learning from life experiences. We like to say our home base is in St. Petersburg, Florida, but we live in the world and travel as often as possible, embracing new friends, adventures and soaking up everything we can from this wonderful life’s journey together. Follow Tanya at Perfectly Flawed Woman.
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