Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Cinque Terre is a rugged coastline on the Italian Riviera and consists of the five beautiful hillside villages; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
The five villages are connected by hiking trails, Check out this blog by Wandering Italy excellent advice on navigating these trails (two of which require a Trekking Card. All other trails are free! There are trains running every 20 minutes between the five villages. You can also enjoy this scenic coastline by taking the ferry. We chose a day trip from Siena that would visit 3 of the 5 villages and also included a stop in Portovenere.
We were awake at dark o'clock for our tour to Cinque Terre from Siena, which also stopped to pick up some passengers in Florence. We were picked up in a mini-van and transferred to a coach just outside of Florence.
Our first stop was Manarola, the fourth village if travelling from the north-west, the second if arriving from the south-east, unless you're on a daytrip that misses Riomaggiore where the walking trails begin. Our coach parked and we walked along a fairly rough trail along the terraces of wine grapes into the village.
Manarola has a tiny harbour with a boat ramp, picturesque multicoloured houses facing the sea and a tiny piazza with many seafood restaurants.
On my next trip, I won't bother with the day trip and instead plan to do the walk through the villages with a night or two spent in each. Once again, I was reminded why I really don't like the rushed pace of programmed day trips as we had very little time to explore. However, I'm very glad to have had at least a taste of this magnificent area.
The buildings are colourful so the fishermen can see the towns through mist and fog. It was the height of summer and the entire European continent was under a heat warning. There were many people crowding every beach and swimming area.
We walked up along the hill to get a better view of the area and were really impressed with the vistas but we soon ran out of time and had to meet the group for our next stop.
This time we took the train to the second town, Vernazza. Vernazza has a natural pier with an amphitheatre shape making it maybe the most photographed village of the Cinque Terre.
In Vernazza there are only a few hotels to stay in but several B&Bs and rental apartments. The tiny port is surrounded by colourful houses and the charming piazza is lined with good restaurants and bars.
One of the attractions is Castello Doria, the ruins of a medieval fortress high on a rocky cliff overlooking the town. The cylindrical tower is the oldest part of the fortress, although many additions were made by various families and countries that held power over the Cinque Terre.
From up high the views are spectacular and well worth the climb, even in the heat.
By the time we descended, we did not have time to swim but we did enjoy a brief visit to the beach to wade up to our ankles.
One of the pathways to the beach is through a rock arch. It looked like a splendid place to spend several hours, if you choose to visit the villages separately -- which you really should.
Another train ride and our 3rd town, Monterosso. This is the largest of the five towns and has the most amenities. Many hotels are situated in the newer part, Fegina. In the old town, you will find seafood restaurants, bars and nice shops.
Monterosso has the only long and sandy beach in the area where you can rent chairs and umbrellas or maybe a kayak or paddle boat to explore the many coves around the coast.
We had almost 3 hours here... after a limoncino tasting, we went to the beach to cool off. As I mentioned earlier, the beaches were rather crowded but we thoroughly enjoyed our brief swim.
At the end of the beach, this colossus caught our eye. It was carved out of the cliff. Il Gigante was designed by Minerbi, the same fellow who designed the bronze door of Milan's Duomo. It was originally built from concrete in 1910 to decorate the seaward edge of the elegant Villa Pastine. The 14 meter high image of Neptune holding the waves at bay quickly became a symbol of the town, and was photographed and shown on postcards of the era. The Villa Pastine and Il Gigante suffered from allied bombing runs. He lost his arms, his trident, and the giant seashell he had held above his head. In 1966 the statue was greatly damaged by rough seas. Update June 2022: It’s currently under reconstruction (with scaffolding almost completely covering it).
From Monterosso we travelled by boat to Portovenere. Portovenere is a medieval fishing village situated in northern Italy, just south of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. This charming village is well worth the visit and can be reached from the Cinque Terre by boat or by bus from the train station.
Portovenere, on the Gulf of Poets, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its picturesque harbour is lined with brightly coloured houses while narrow medieval streets lined with shops lead up the hill from the ancient city gate to the castle. The old town is perfect for wandering and checking out all the local specialties.
The area is stunningly beautiful and deserves so much more than a day trip but we had simply run out of time and were in the last few days of our trip. We did not want to miss seeing the villages. Sometimes these are the hard decisions made when travelling.
All our stops were too brief and our guide was obviously pre-occupied as he spent most of the day arguing with someone on his phone, and was eager to send all of us off on our own after very perfunctory introductions to each locale. As is too common, some members of the group were late meeting the group which impacted schedules throughout the day. A better guide could have improved our experience. Our day was incredibly long and by the time we returned to Siena there were very few options to eat. It would have been better to take the trip from Genoa or Florence, or better yet, make the travel arrangements yourself and take at least a week to explore and really get to know each of the villages.
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