Cinque Terre – 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

There are a few topics that Rachel and I have been afraid to write about since we began blogging, and this is one of them. The reason we have been afraid to write about these topics is because we had such an amazing time in these places that we know there is absolutely no way to do them justice! If you follow many travel blogs or spend much time looking for amazing locations to visit, I am sure that Cinque Terre has popped up in one place or another. Based on our experience, it totally lived up to the hype.

In case you somehow haven’t heard of Cinque Terre before, it is a series of five picturesque villages located on the shores of the Mediterranean on Italy’s West coast. Each of these villages are connected by a series of trails which follow the coast. It is a photographers/hikers/travellers/foodie’s/human’s paradise. It is simple to access by train and was the highlight of our trip to Italy!

Because there is no way to do a location like this justice in one post, I will begin by writing a typical list of what you should be aware of when visiting Cinque Terre and will have to write follow up posts at a later time.

Each town is different and worth exploring.

Cinque Terre is unlike anywhere that we had ever been before. The weather was beautiful and we had a great time meandering through towns and taking breaks before continuing our trek. There are plenty of meal options and souvenir shops but the true appeal is the villages themselves. Buildings are built literally right into the surrounding cliffs (the wall of the bathroom in our apartment was a huge stone where the mountain met the building). The lack of space has led to some unique architectural choices and fascinating streets. Each town is truly beautiful.

There are a lot of trails!

One of Cinque Terre’s claims to fame is that you can hike the trail from Monterosso in the North to Riomaggiore in the South. Unfortunately, when we visited Italy the trail along the coast was closed in numerous locations due to landslides in years past. Fortunately there are many other trails! If the coastal trails are open when you visit, we still recommend considering taking some of the mountain paths. They offer stunning views and bring you up through the terraces formed over centuries of agriculture.

The trails are easy to follow so don’t be afraid to explore.

Spend the night.

When we visited, we realized that the majority of visitors come as a day trip. This can be done if all you want to do is wander through a couple of towns but won’t give you enough time to explore any trails or experience the peace that comes at night when everyone leaves. The towns themselves are truly a unique experience and offered some of the best meals we had while in Italy (despite making an embarrassing ordering mistake).

If you plan to spend the night, skip the hotels. Hotels are very limited and are mostly located in Monterosso which we found to be the least charming of the five towns. We stayed in a vacation rental in Vernazza which we will get around to reviewing so stay tuned.

On our first night we decided to make the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso so we could cut that portion of the hike off the list for the next day. We planned to hike there and back before dinner but greatly underestimated how long it would take. The sun was getting low by the time we arrived so we skipped the hike back.

The hikes can be challenging so plan accordingly.

Because the coastal trail was closed, we had the pleasure of following the mountain trails between each village. These trails are well established but are quite technical in places and you spend most of your time going up up up or down down down. The elevation gains are crazy here. The mountain trails also make it difficult to hike both ways in a day. It could be done but if you want to enjoy some time in the towns along the way, consider taking the train back when you reach the end. If hiking isn’t your thing, stick to the coastal trails or take the train which runs from town to town.

We visited in late September which was actually perfect timing in our opinions. It was probably still hot for a lot of people but not nearly as busy as some other people found it in the midst of summer. Still, climbing all those stairs in that heat gets hard.

Water is easy to come by.

At least when it gets hot, you can rest assured that there will be a place to fill water bottles in each of the villages. A history of aqueducts has resulted in water availability becoming a part of Italian culture and that is found even in these small towns. It may have been because we spent the day climbing mountains, but the tap water in Cinque Terre is actually delicious. Possibly the best tap water I have ever had. So pack enough water to get between towns and just fill up before you make the trek to the next.

Definitely make sure you make time to visit Cinque Terre!

-Ried

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