“This is a love story,” Michael Dean says, ”but really what isn’t?― Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins
My most vivid first encounters of Cinque Terre were through the pages of Beautiful Ruins- a book I read and thoroughly enjoyed. The novel is a love story set in a tiny village along the shimmering Ligurian coastline. While the actual village in the book doesn’t exist, it did leave me with a longing desire to travel to the five pastel villages along Italy’s most beautiful coastline, popularly known as ‘Cinque Terre’ (literally five villages). It’s been almost a year but the memories are so close that I can shut my eyes and find myself back there.
Cinque Terre is a set of five fishing villages –Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, carved on steep hills along the Mediterranean coast. The villages and surrounding towns are recognized as UNESCO world Heritage site. There is a train that connects the villages but walking if possible should be your preferred mode to explore their charm. Despite of attempts to keep themselves isolated from much of modernization, these villages are indeed a victim of hordes of tourists that are drawn by their postcard-pretty views. As such, I highly recommend going in shoulder season- April/early May or late August/September would be a perfect time to visit.
Despite of the crowds, the villages are straight out of a fairytale- frozen in time and offer spectacular views of the coastline. Further, any trip to Italy for me is a culinary extravaganza. If you wander around for flavors like I do, Italy should be on top of your travel list. For my food loving soul, Cinque Terre was a delight with it’s unique flavors, fresh seafood and delightful wines.
Getting to Cinque Terre and where to stay
I traveled with my husband, sister and brother-in-law. We landed in Pisa and took a train from Pisa to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages where we rented an Airbnb, right by the sea. I would recommend staying either in Riomaggiore or Corneglia. These are charming and not as touristy. We descended down the steps from the train station and were greeted by expansive views of the azure sea, and glimpse of the pastel prettiness. Walking a bit further, we were greeted by tress loaded with lemons, limes, oranges, flowers and butterflies. Everything from that point on is etched onto my heart forever. Here’s a glimpse of my favorites from the trip to help you plan your itinerary.
Hiking from Monterosso al Mare to Riomaggiore by foot
The best way to explore Cinque Terre is by foot- hopping between villages while making necessary stopovers for pasta, pesto, lemonade, gelato and ofcourse lots and lots of photographs. The easiest trail to follow is #2 which goes all along the coast. The trail does get steep in parts but the views of coastline and lush olive groves and vineyards along the way more than compensate for same. We stayed in Riomaggiore, so we first took a train all the way north to Monterosso al Mare and then hiked back to Riomaggiore but it can be done in either direction. Also, don’t forget your bathing suit- a swim in Ligurian sea post hike would be absolutely rewarding.
Gelato in Corneglia
This tiny village perched on a hilltop was my favorite for many reasons- it was isolated compared to its sister villages being at a slight altitude, had variety of handicraft stores where you could hunt for souvenirs and the best gelatos. I will highly recommend taking a nice book and spending the day in the cafes here, soaking in beautiful sea views, and loading up on gelato and lemonade.
Fresh fish and hearty pesto while listening to the sound of waves in a seaside restaurant
Strolling the streets of these villages, you will be enticed by the distinct aromas of basil, fresh scents of lime and lemon trees, just-out-of-the-oven focaccia, and direct-from-the-ocean anchovies. The most famous specialty of this region is Pesto alla Genovese – basil leaves from genoa, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino cheeses, Vessalico garlic, sea salt and Ligurian olive oil comprise the proper recipe, all of which should be hand-crushed via mortar and pestle. The pesto is typically served over Pasta –Al Trofie, a Ligurian specialty. While you can never go wrong with food here, I will suggest having a meal by the sea side and savor the best of scenery and food at the same time. Our most memorable meal here was at Enoteca Dau Cila. All the dishes were made from locally sourced ingredients like their fish, lemons, homemade pasta and herbs etc. Located right along the harbor side, this restaurant offers spectacular food and a romantic ambience by the water. Another favorite from this trip was a dessert wine Sciacchetra, made from locally grown grapes. This smooth wine made a fine end for a lovely and unforgettable meal.
Hiking to Porto Venere from Riomogiorre
If Cinque Terre had a village zero, it would be Porto Venere. The hike to this single street town takes you by the dreamy Gulf of Poets’ to the tip of Ligurian Peninsula and ends with beautiful views of Castello Doria as you enter the town. The hike from Riomagiorre to Porto Venere is about 14 kms, takes a high path by the coast and takes you away from the crowds through beautiful towns on the way and sea-side views. The trail is not well marked, so I will suggest looking up the route upfront. I found the guide here useful:
Sailing in Porto Venere
There is an added charm sailing in the beautiful blue waters of the Ligurian Sea, while taking in the pastel hues of the sea-side villages. Sailing in Mediterranean is definitely amongst my top things to do and I will highly recommend doing so in Cinque Terre.