The color-patterned hills bordering the sea is one of the blends of geography and architecture offered by Italy to bring even more poetry to the European summer. Located in the Ligurian region, whose capital is Genoa, the famous artistically coloured cottages built throughout the hills are part of a cluster of small villages that make up the Five Lands (or, in Italian, Cinque Terre). They are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare.
The Cinque Terre amazes and enchants for a variety of reasons: the simple and happy architecture, the hand-crafted and cosy cuisine, the colorful and themed handiwork – sold and explained by those who love what they do, with local accents and the sun burnt-skinned, relaxed-looking of the typical ‘Italian from the beach’, who sees beauty in the small details of everyday life.
If you are going by train, you will arrive by La Spezia (one hour from Genoa, and about 3.5 hours from Milan or Rome), from where trains depart periodically to all five lands. The visitor can buy the tickets individually (that costs around 4 euros each), but the tip is the daily ticket, which, for 16 euros, offers free circulation for all train stops and even allows to share highlights on social media thanks to the exclusive wifi, which works throughout the region.
There is no ideal order to explore the villages. The region is small – the train ride from La Spezia to the last land, Monterosso Al Mare, takes about 30 minutes. One tip is to take advantage of the energy in the morning to explore Riomaggiore and Manarola, the closest to La Spezia, which have the most stairs and feature the most distinctive visuals. Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare are the hottest, which calls for longer strides and perhaps lunch and dinner stops to complete the experience. Corniglia is the smallest and least visited among the villages, it is worth docking in the late afternoon for a brief walk.
Starting with Riomaggiore, you can already feel the bucolic atmosphere since arrival. On the waterfront path that leads to the mountaintop – where the view becomes most charming and complete, the tour is guided by the calm neighborhood and vibrant nature. Upon reaching the coast, the magic happens thanks to the contrast of the blue of the Ligurian sea with the matching reds, yellows and greens that balance the full extent of the Riomaggiore hills. The tip is to explore the small streets and have a breakfast to try the specialties of the Ligurian lands.
The next destination is Manarola. The train ride takes a few minutes and there is a walk around the hill to see the true postcard of Five Lands. During some times of the year, there’s a trail called Via Dell’Amore, which crosses the route between Riomaggiore and Manarola. During the summer, although there is only a portion available – about 300 meters on the second land side – the view is worth the ride, even if brief. The landscape is breath-taking.
The surroundings are very similar – handicraft shops, cosy cafes and the full clotheslines on the balconies making up the decor of the place. If hunger strikes, try the seafood cones, a popular snack in the region.
From Manarola it is also possible to take a boat trip that travels the five lands, with tour guides who tell a little about the history, culture and particularities of each one. It is an interesting option to get to know them all in a quieter yet more superficial way.
Lunch time suggestion is in the most famous and popular among the Five Lands, Vernazza. In the main square, which forms a kind of small beach, there are boats, bars, restaurants and sunbathers relaxing on the rocks. Choose one of the restaurants there, which guarantee the sea view, and let the experience surprise you. As for gastronomy, you know, the odds of getting it right in Italy are 100%. But if you want to immerse yourself in local traditions, go for anchovy, the typical Ligurian fish, or local pasta, Trofie Al Pesto – the garlic, basil and olive oil sauce comes from Genoa, the Ligurian capital. For dessert, go for gelato (of course!).
Corniglia, the smallest of them, has no access by the sea: upon arrival the tourist can take a bus or climb about 360 steps to the village. This makes her the least visited. Even so, Corniglia delights with its almost rural alleys, small-town air and particular constructions – the Gothic style of St. Peter’s Church is worth a visit.
To end the tour, the recommendation is to have dinner in the largest land of the microregion. Monterosso al Mare is quite different compared to its sisters – more modern, structured and flat (a treat to the legs after a day of uphill stairs). With a very wide coast, the seafront is very lively, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy the night facing the horizon. In addition, the city also has the upper part – where there is the statue and church of San Francisco – which offers a panoramic view of the wonderful landscape and a busy city centre.
If you decide to stay overnight, the village offers several accommodation options, and the tip is to wake up early the next day for a quick swim before saying goodbye to the colourful paradise.