An Insider Travel Guide To Cinque Terre by Tahlia Crinis
Italy is famous for many idyllic destinations but perhaps one that constantly tops the bucket list is the Cinque Terre. Located in northwest Italy, the Cinque Terre comprises five separate villages – or Five Lands – that make up a stretch of the Italian Riviera. A mere mention of the words ‘Italian Riviera’ is enough to get anyone ready to jump on a plane – are you in?!
For those familiar with the Cinque Terre, you’ll know that the destination is famous for its too-cute-to-mention villages made up of pastel houses that look like they’re tumbling down onto the waterfront. It’s a postcard-worthy view of rainbow villas set against a backdrop of blue skies and glistening water. On the beaches, you’ll often find the iconic rows of matching umbrellas housing a host of bathers who so often spend too much time in the sun. Put simply, the Cinque Terre is the kind of destination that sets high expectations (and thankfully exceeds every single one).
Now, if I’m going, to be honest, I had NO IDEA where to start before booking my trip to the Cinque Terre. Every village looks like paradise so how could I possibly be expected to choose one over another? Well, it turns out that the best way to approach it is not to choose at all. Thankfully, you can easily move between each village by train, ferry, boat (or on foot if you’re brave). If you can find a hotel that is central, then you’ve got a great base to explore a few of the villages (or all, if you’ve got the time).
I chose to stay at the Grand Hotel Portovenere which actually isn’t classified as part of the Cinque Terre but sits just south of the five main villages. Portovenere is a cute medieval fishing village that is still located on the Italian Riviera and sits on the outskirts of the Cinque Terre (right next to Riomaggiore). Portovenere turned out to be the perfect base to easily discover each village of the Cinque Terre by foot and ferry. I’d have to say we really lucked out with the hotel choice because the 5-star Grand Hotel Portovenere overlooks the marina and the finishing touches made it tough to beat (after all, who could pass up Malin + Goetz bathroom amenities)?!
You can reach Portovenere by catching a train to La Spezia (the main train station that can connect you to each village) then a short bus from the train station. Trains travel to La Spezia from all of the main cities in Italy (Rome, Venice, etc), then it’s a short train or bus from there. We caught a train from Florence to La Spezia which took just under 2 hours and provided a beautiful way to see Italy. Once you get to La Spezia, you can travel via train within a few minutes to every town of the Cinque Terre (they all have their own station).
One of the great things about the Cinque Terre is that it is smaller than you think. This means that if you stay for a few days, you’ll still feel like you’ve lived like a local. My recommendation would be to stay at least 5 days as this will give enough time to experience everything it has to offer (but if you’re pushed for time, still give it a visit)! Once stationed at a hotel of your choice, the best way to get around is by foot, ferry, or by boat. Ideally, choose a hotel that is central enough that you can get to the waterfront by walking a short distance. Just be wary of the hotels that sit too far up on the cliffs – unless you’re only there for the incredible views, you’ll be dragging up your luggage in sweltering heat or traipsing up and down constantly. Which doesn’t sound so bad – until you see some of the inclines.
Travel between each village is easy by ferry and will only cost you a few dollars (don’t do what we did and hike for 5 hours in the scorching heat just to get to the next town of Riomaggiore). The villages are typically crowded in the peak season so some people prefer to explore the Cinque Terre by boat (which can mean fewer crowds and secluded swimming spots). However, just remember that the crowds can also be what makes it fun – these bustling little villages are full of energy and good vibes.
As for what to do when you get there? Make a plan to not make a plan. Follow the cobbled paths, bask in the golden hour while sipping an Aperitivo (I would recommend drinking ample Aperol Spritz’ paired with some olives) breath in the energy, spend hours in the water, eat some ice cream and buy a souvenir from one of the local jewellery stores. Expectations will be exceeded the moment you step foot off that train.