While we enjoy the Cinque Terre region of Italy with kids, its sometimes-tricky logistics and large crowds in high season can require a bit of extra planning — in-the-know advice makes all the difference! For this post, we’ve partnered with the newly launched Gigi Guides, who offer digitally based, “all-in-one” multimedia resources for planning Italy vacations. With hand-selected expertise curated by travel pros and locals, their Perfect Days series was developed to shed light on what locals around Italy like to do and see in their own backyards.
Below, three Gigi Guides experts who live in the Cinque Terre describe how they would spend a perfect day with their children in and around these beautiful Italian villages. Let their ideas inspire you!
We don’t wake up at the crack of dawn on my perfect day (what kind of perfect day would that be?), but we’re at the marina in Riomaggiore — my home for the last 12 years — early enough. We’re going to pack a lot in today, and we want to make sure we get to spend a good chunk of time on the beach. My cousin from Toronto, her two girls (4 and 9), my 2-year-old daughter and I hop onto a ferry headed for Monterosso, the Cinque Terre’s other bookend town. Riomaggiore has a beach too, but it’s a lot smaller and rocky. Monterosso’s is big and sandy, and much easier for little kids to navigate, especially when it comes to getting in and out of the water.
It’s a spectacular day, and though my daughter has done this trip a million times before, being on a boat never gets old for her. My cousin’s daughters love it too, and they crane their necks to try and spot familiar places in town from way out here on the water. Seeing each of the villages and the coastline this way takes my breath away every time — Riomaggiore’s colorful buildings spilling into the V its valley makes, the gorgeous Via dell’Amore leading to Manarola, Corniglia perched way up high on its clifftop, Vernazza’s storybook bay, and finally, Monterosso, a slice of the Riviera the way you always imagined it to be.
Soon we’re strolling down Monterosso’s boardwalk toward my favorite private beach on Fegina — facing the sea, it’s the last one on the right before you get to the parking area. We feel like splurging today and the sun is already searing hot, so we rent beach loungers and umbrellas and make ourselves a little compound in the sand, bags and books and sunblock and toys and towels strewn about to mark our territory. I sit with my daughter at the water’s edge and let the waves splash into our laps while my cousin’s kids do handstands and deep dives in the crystal-clear water in front of us. Before our beach morning is finished, we make sure to take a walk over to say hi to Monterosso’s Giant, a weather-beaten, now-armless behemoth carved into the cliffside over a hundred years ago.
My daughter is too young to do the Monterosso-to-Vernazza trail, so the two of us head over to the Old Town, where there’s a playground she loves, while the others start hiking. We hop on the ferry again and meet them at Lunch Box in Vernazza, where we grab sandwiches and freshly squeezed juices to go and picnic on the low wall overlooking the sandy mini-beach in the town’s marina. Our next stop is Corniglia, so we stroll up to the train station, popping into the little boutiques along the way for souvenirs to send back to Canada. My favorite is Bottega d’Arte Cinque Terre. My cousin and I check out artist Antonio Greco’s latest pieces, while the girls create bespoke necklaces by picking out tiny charms that describe their time in the Cinque Terre — a miniature painting of Manarola, a tiny cat, a fish pendant, a lock and key.
We have a single objective in Corniglia: Alberto Gelateria. This is the best gelato in the Cinque Terre, and the most creative. My daughter refuses to venture away from her tried-and-true Fior di Latte, and the wildest the older girls will go is the Honey Cinnamon flavor, but my cousin and I have come for Alberto’s specialty — Basil. We order it with pane carasau (Italian flatbread) and extra-virgin olive oil. You’ve never tasted ice cream like this before!
Licking our lips, we hop on the train again and get off at Manarola. It’s aperitivo time, and there’s no better place to enjoy an ice-cold Spritz or prosecco than at Nessun Dorma, nestled way up high on Punta Bonfiglio. This is the very spot where countless photographers have captured that quintessential Cinque Terre shot of Manarola, the sun bathing the town’s pastel buildings in golden light as it goes down behind us. And the best part for families with kids? There’s a perfect little playground right above the outdoor wine bar. The girls hurry there while my cousin and I sink into our chairs, ice tinkling in our glasses.
One more quick train ride back to Riomaggiore, where we all tromp up to Bar Centrale for an early dinner. There are much nicer places to eat in town, but my cousin’s kids are not seafood lovers and an American-style burger and fries will make their week. So they order that while we order the Italian version of comfort food: lasagne for me and my daughter, and a heaping plate of carbonara for her. We talk and laugh as it gets dark. Finally it’s time to bring my little girl home and to bed so we call it a night. Tomorrow we’ll set out for Bonassola or Portovenere and create a whole new perfect day from scratch. — Kiiri Sandy
For my perfect day, I would prepare a bag for myself and my boys the night before because I like to catch the 8:21 morning train to Bonassola and beat the crowds. In Bonassola we’ll head to the Focacceria Atica Liguria da Marisa in the Piazza della Chiesa to get our morning merenda (snack) for the beach. I always pick the focaccia ai cereali (multigrain) — yum yum!
We’ll then head to my favorite private beach, Sabbiadoro, where I splurge on a full day of relaxation. I choose this one because they have a shaded park where the boys can play when they’re tired of swimming and jumping the waves. It costs around 20 euro for two sun loungers and an umbrella. For lunch we’ll grab something from their bar, usually a cheese and ham toastie.
At around 3:30p we go for ice cream and a walk around Bonassola. It always makes me feel very calm and peaceful, as there are far fewer tourists than what you find now in the Cinque Terre. At 5p we head back to the beach for our last few hours. Soon I will go up to the bar patio and order a prosecco with tons of nibbles, and I feel I am the luckiest woman in the world … I really do! The boys at this point will be playing under the bar, digging, pushing sand, whatever they are inventing, though they do keep running up onto the deck to steal my peanuts.
Essential advice for all ages from parents who have been there >
At around 7:00, we go and buy pizza from Ristorante Antica Trattoria Centro and head to the park to eat it. The boys are always excited for pizza, and I am excited knowing I don’t have to think of what to cook for them for dinner! The park is at the far end of the village, next to the tennis courts.
After a super-long day, I know that the boys are fed and I can flop into bed when we get home. We take the train at 9:21 and are at home and in bed for 10:30. And that would be a perfect summer day for us, one that we do quite often. A rare treat, on the other hand, is the Andersen Festival in Sestri Levante. Held at the beginning of June, it’s one of the most important festivals dedicated to fairy tales and theater in Italy. There are acrobats, magicians and performances of all kinds … and street food, which is my favorite thing to eat. It’s so nice just to wander around and discover what’s around the next corner. Highly recommended! — Christina Palermo
My perfect day encompasses what inspired me to move to Italy in the first place: la dolce vita. La dolce vita is the sweet life. A life where you’re removed from the hustle and bustle and the need to feel connected 24/7 to the latest technology. It’s about enjoying the moment and simply enjoying life. With that in mind, my perfect day would start with colazione at the bar with my favorite guy: my 4-year-old son, Marco. Marco has tapped into this morning breakfast ritual and we relish the time spent together (not to mention the croissants and cappuccino, though his is without the espresso).
After that we’d hike up to Riomaggiore’s sanctuary, Madonna di Montenero, where we could sit and enjoy the peace and quiet and grassy open space with beautiful views of the coastline. It’s a great place where kids can run free and parents can relax, as there’s absolutely no traffic (unless you count the monorail that carries grapes and equipment at a snail’s pace through the vineyards). We’d snack on panini made at the local alimentari in Riomaggiore and just soak up the sun. And since we’re talking about my perfect day, we’d head back down to the village, freshen up and meet friends at Fossola beach in Riomaggiore for an evening potluck picnic. At these picnics we share not only food but also laughs and make memories with good friends. Priceless.
Some of you might think that my perfect day sounds simplistic, and that’s exactly right. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in Italy is that less can be more. — Amy Inman
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