The five fishing villages of the Cinque Terre region are an iconic highlight of the Italian Riviera. The roads are few and the architecture is perfectly preserved. There is a sense of romance and adventure as you explore each town whether by train, walking trail, or private boat. The views in every direction are breath taking and just begging to be photographed. The region is known for their lemon trees, seafood, and pesto, making every meal an authentic Italian seaside experience.
We chose to start our Cinque Terre vacation in Monterosso, the furthest north of the five villages. We took a two-and-a-half hour, scenic train ride from Florence and arrived just in time for a long lunch. Our friendly Airbnb hosts gave us fabulous recommendations as they have lived in the Old Town of Monterosso for decades. Their biggest tip was to not eat pizza. At all. Anywhere. “You can eat pizza anywhere but we are known for our seafood. Eat seafood.” So we dropped our bags and headed to Moretto Lady upon their recommendation. I chose mussels and, guys, they brought out a side table for the giant pot of mussels that I ordered. A side table! Besides the ten I let Adam eat, I ate all of them and had no ounce of regret. In fact I still think about those mussels. And now my mouth is watering.
We strolled around the Old Town area of Monterosso to walk off our the 50 pounds of mussels and bottle of wine from lunch. It was easy to get acquainted with the surroundings in a short, ten minute stroll as Old Town is extremely quaint. We made reservations for dinner at 9pm (as you do in Italy) and then hit the beach. One major thing to note about Monterosso is that it’s the only village with a proper strip of beach. So everyone in the Cinque Terre region, whether on holiday or a local, visits this tiny town during the summer. To say it was crowded is an understatement. We found a small area between boulders, just big enough for each of us to sit, and took it all in.
There was a washing machine in our apartment so we threw a load in before we went to the beach. It would be hard to find a dryer anywhere in this area as it’s custom to hang your laundry outside to dry in the warm breeze. Of all the things we did on our trip, Adam and I took particular joy in doing this seemingly mundane task. I jokingly (okay, so it wasn’t a joke) mentioned we should install these clothes lines at home when we returned. And then I decided it wasn’t the best idea once I took into account the difference in laundry loads from back packing and our every day lives. Maybe one day?
The waters of the Ligurian Sea are crystal clear and the most beautiful green-blue color. These orange and green umbrellas that line the sandy strip of beach in Monterosso al Mare reflect the beautiful hues of this seaside landscape. They have such a nostalgic feel as you watch children bolt from underneath them splashing and giggling in the waves.
We chose Monterosso al Mare as our starting point for the sole reason of bicycling. I found a pedestrian/cycling only pathway that was created from a historic, nineteenth century railway tunnel that follows the landscape providing beautiful ocean views. We took a three minute train ride from Monterosso to Levanto where we rented the last two bicycles at a local surf shop. And how adorable is this bike?!
We rode 1.6 miles from Levanto to Bonassola and then another mile and a half to Framura. In Framura the path literally just stops. In the summer there are hundreds of bikes locked to the fencing along the end of the path. Find a spot for your bike and take the elevator or steps down to the marina. There is no sand, no actual beach. You find your rock of choice to lay out your blanket and call it a day. Living in Wilmington, we are so used to deep, sandy beaches with more than enough room for everyone so it was an interesting experience to set up shop in a space barely large enough for both of our butts. So we took our butts to the water instead before hopping back on our trusty steads.
Our Airbnb in Monterosso was in the center of Old Town meaning there was quite the buzz in the evenings as locals and tourists sat outside indulging in aperitifs. Lucky for us we walked out of our apartment and right into the best wineshop called Enoteca da Eliseo. Eliseo and his wife, Mary, opened the shop in the late 1980’s and have been opening their doors and popping corks for people from all over the world since. It’s a warm, inviting environment where second and third glasses are encouraged.
Another favorite eat spot was Ristorante Al Carugio where Adam experienced his first dish of salty, plump anchovies. It was also his last. Of course, I basically licked the plate clean and then ate all of my seafood pasta cooked in white wine and lemon juice. Oh my God, my mouth is watering again! Seriously, the food in Italy — Everything is so fresh and made with such detail and care. No matter where you choose to eat, it always feels as though you’re eating a homemade meal.
After soaking in all that Monterosso had to offer we left for Riomaggiore. It’s peeling, colorful buildings line the steep walk to a tiny, yet lively harbor. In order to get to the “pebbly” beach you must walk to the harbor and around the steep cliffs, past the ferry landing, and along a one way path cut into the rock. Before you go, however, be sure to grab a couple of chilled bottles of Aperol Spritz, find the most comfy pebbles (and by pebbles I mean giant, smooth rocks) to sun bathe, and your afternoon is set.
I chose our Airbnb in Riomaggiore solely based on the terrace that overlooked the sea. It was more expensive than our other accommodations on the trip but I could not get the thought of sipping our espressos in the morning and our wine at night with this view. To get here you had to hike up exactly one million stairs but the view was worth it. The photo above was taken from the terrace. Right?! And even then photos truly do not do it justice.
I loved drinking our espresso on the terrace in the mornings and literally watching this small village wake up. My favorite time, however, was dinner time. All around you could see families eating dinner, whether on their own verandas or inside with the doors and shutters wide open. The clinging of dishes and utensils filled the air and I found it to be such an incredibly comforting sound. A little aperitif for the ears before bed time.
You can spend an entire day in just one of these villages, so when planning your trip to Cinque Terre plan on a three or four day stay. We really wanted to hike the Via dell’ Amore, or Lovers Lane, but the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola and Corniglia were closed. So we hopped back on the train and began a day-long adventure to see the rest of the villages. First stop, Manarola. Much like the other villages, there is a bustling main street and waterfront walkway lined with fishing boats and sunbathing tourists. There is a short, uphill hike to Punta Bonfiglio, a scenic overlook with the best view of the town. At the top of this overlook there is a restaurant and bar called the Nessun Dorma with amazing food and even a little playground for the kiddos.
Corniglia, one train stop over from Manarola, is the only village in Cinque Terre without direct access to the beach. Once you get off the train, you can take a bus up the steep hill into town or you can walk an even steeper set of stairs. Of course we walked and then rewarded ourselves by indulging in a leisurely lunch filled with piles of buffalo mozzarella, bruschetta for days, and a few glasses of local vino. We were glad to have gotten our calories in since we decided to hike from Corniglia to Vernazza. A very important thing to note about that trail, is that it’s much more difficult than it’s described locally. Adam and I loved it and were completely fine but, ladies, don’t wear heels or wedges. Don’t take strollers. You would think these would be a given but we saw it all on this hike. We saw it all. Including these amazing views of Corniglia and Vernazza.
While Adam and I truly loved Florence, we were enthralled with the exquisite ruggedness of these five, quaint fishing villages. Every day life here is a little slower but filled with such richness that can only come from simple living. We’ve tried adopting a few of these characteristics in our lives at home. We leave our offices on time if not early and share a pre dinner cocktail or glass of wine as we share our days events. Even though we were already biking around town, we try walking and biking everywhere we can because if we can do it in this landscape we can do it anywhere!
Just like Florence, as much as we would love to visit this area again there are other parts of Italy we want to explore. There are other parts of the world we want to explore. We know we are lucky to have the privilege to travel to places like this as not everyone has this opportunity in their lifetime. If you can save the money (because we are highly against going into debt to travel, or doing anything) and take the time off, travel. Traveling opens your eyes and heart to other cultures, new experiences, and other humans who may live very different lives than you but still desire the things we all desire; to be known, to be loved, and to be happy. Travel and bring those experiences and those stories home with you and apply them to your own lives. Traveling is an educational experience we give ourselves that teaches us compassion and tolerance, giving us a better understanding of people and cultures that are different from our own.