The Best Travel Guide to Cinque Terre by BestTravelBook

Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre
Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre

Visiting the Cinque Terre for a wonderful Italian Experience?

Village-hop the hidden treasure of the Italian Riviera.  The quaint villages of the Cinque Terre are carved into the cliffsides.

 

  1. An introduction and brief history to the Cinque Terre;
  2. What to See and Do in Vernazza;
  3. What to See and Do in Manarola;
  4. What to See and Do in Monterossa;
  5. What to See and Do in Riomaggiore;
  6. What to See and Do in Corniglia; and
  7. An insider guide.

Hope you enjoy it!  Carpe Diem!

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Cinque Terre’s five villages date from the early medieval period.  Monterosso, the oldest, was founded in AD 643, when beleaguered hill dwellers moved down to the coast to escape invading barbarians.  Riomaggiore came next, purportedly established in the 8th century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium.  The others are Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola.  Much of what remains in the villages today including several castles and a quintet of illustrious parish churches, dates form the late High Middle Ages.

Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre
Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre

 

Buildings aside, Cinque Terre’s unique historical feature are the steeply terraced cliffs bisected by a complicated system of fields and gardens that have been hacked, chiselled, shaped and layered over the course of nearly two millennia.  So marked are these artificial contours that some scholars have compared the extensive stone walls to the Great Wall of China in their grandeur and scope.

Manarola, Cinque Terre
Manarola, Cinque Terre

 

 

Vernazza:

Vernazza Harbour
Vernazza Harbour

With its lovely natural harbour, pastel coloured houses and seaside piazzetta Vernazza is quaint and beautiful in equal measures.   Vernazza was founded about 1000 A.D. and was ruled by the Republic of Genoa starting in 1276. The medieval castle, Belforte, was built in the mid-1500’s, primarily to protect the village from pirates.  An ideal way to arrive to this breathtaking village is by sea. The tiny port is surrounded by subtle colourful pastels and the charming piazza is lined with good restaurants and bars.  The village is surrounded by very steeply-terraced olive groves which are said to produce among the finest olive oil in the country.

Enjoy the view from the Doria Castle, built in the Middle Ages to protect the village from pirates. Another important historical structure in Vernazza is the beautiful Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia, erected in 1318 over a pre-existing building. Lined with cosy cafes, craft shops and wine bars, Vernazza’s main street Via Roma links the seaside Piazza Marconi with the railway station and hides a little jewel of a chapel: the Chapel of Santa Marta. Side streets lead to a maze of narrow and steep alleyways, where amazing sea views pop at every turn.

Should you find yourself in Vernazza or in the vicinity of the village on July 20, don’t miss the Feast of Santa Margherita, during which you can taste a lot of local specialities (white wines, pesto sauce, craft beers and enjoy a spectacular fireworks display.

About an hour’s steep uphill walk from the railway station is the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Reggio, built in the Romanesque period and surrounded by centuries-old trees. The path that leads up to this sanctuary is punctuated with the Stations of the Cross and offers breathtaking views over the bay and the green terraced hills. Vernazza’s tiny city beach is off Piazza Marconi and gets very crowded with families and children during the Summertime; a new pebble beach, created by the flood of 2011 and ideal for those who prefer a more secluded location, can be reached by walking through a rock hewn passage. You can pick Vernazza of course to hike the trail that is part of the Cinque Terre National Park and connects all five villages; from the small harbour, you can also take boat trips along the coast and visit one of the other five villages Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare.  You can also go further afield via a boat trip up to Portofino and Portovenere.

 

Vernazza:

What to See & Do in Vernazza:

What to See in Vernazza
What to See in Vernazza

 

Church of St. Margaret of Antioch:

Vernazza Church 1

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The bell tower and tiled dome of the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia are part of what makes Vernazza’s harbour so picturesque
  • No one knows when the original church on this site was built, but it could be as old as the 11th century
  • Major architectural changes were made in the 17th and 18th centuries, with more restoration work in the 20th century

 

Doria Castle Tower:

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • One of the features that makes Vernazza so picturesque from the trails on either side of it is the Doria Castle Tower that sits on the promontory overlooking the harbour
  • Built in the 11th century to help protect Vernazza from pirates, it now serves as a beautiful lookout point

 

Doria Castle Tower, Vernazza
Doria Castle Tower, Vernazza

The Harbour:

Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre
Vernazza Harbour, Cinque Terre

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Cinque Terre’s only natural harbour has breathtaking views out over the water
  • Here you can bask on a tiny beach, head off on a boat trip, or just linger over the day’s fresh catch and a glass of Italian’s finest at one of the al fresco restaurants facing the water’s edge

The Beach:

Vernazza Beach, Cinque Terre
Vernazza Beach, Cinque Terre

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Vernazza’s tiny city beach is off Piazza Marconi and gets very crowded with families and children during the summertime
  • A new pebble beach, created by the flood of 2011 and ideal for those who prefer a more secluded location, can be reached by walking through a rock hewn passage

Manarola:

Manarola is known for its pastel-shaded houses crowded impossibly up the sides of the prominent headland of rock.   The village has charm in the bucket loads and it is a photographers paradise particularly if you take a short walk past the harbour along up to Punta Bonfiglio (type in ‘Manarola Scenic Viewpoint’ into Google Map) – adjacent to Nessun Dorma restaurant.

Visitors can enjoy a drink in a bar between the village’s cemetery and the sea. Everywhere is the scent of the lemon trees, thyme, rosemary and Mediterranean maquis; the grapevines – grown on terraces – embrace the village in a tight hug.

There are some fantastic boutiques and restaurants that line Via Renato Birolli which is the main thoroughfare from the train station down to the quaint harbour.  The local wine, called Sciacchetra, is especially renowned; references from Roman writings mention the high quality of the wine produced in the region.

 

What to See & Do in Manarola:

What to See in Manarola, Cinque Terre
What to See in Manarola, Cinque Terre

 

 

The Harbour:

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

Harbour, Manarola, Cinque Terre
Harbour, Manarola, Cinque Terre

 

  • The small rocky harbour provides one of the best panoramic positions to admire the town of Manarola.
  • The deep waters also provide an excellent swimming hole for the more adventurous swimmers and divers
  • There are also some excellent sea food restaurants on the harbour where you can sample the excellent catch-of-the-day

 

Church of San Lorenzo:

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

 

San Lorenzo Church, Manarola
San Lorenzo Church, Manarola
  • The construction on the church to the town patron saint was started in 1338, as testified by a corner stone engraving
  • Above the main entrance to this medieval church is a beautiful rose window from 1375
  • The 14th century bell tower, with its square base, was an ancient defensive building

The Bastion:

The Bastion, Manarola, Cinque Terre
The Bastion, Manarola, Cinque Terre

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The coast was often raided by Saracen, (the European medieval term for Muslims) pirates and the castle, built as protection from these raids, became the nucleus of the village.
  • Though parts are still well preserved, the remains of the bastion, dating from the 13th century is now partially incorporated into the modern buildings that cling to the coast looking out over the sea

 

Via dell’Amore:

Via dell'Amore, Manarola, Cinque Terre
Via dell’Amore, Manarola, Cinque Terre

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick

  • La via dell’Amore or The Way of Love is a pedestrian path overlooking the sea, with a length of just over one km, linking the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola, Cinque Terre, in Liguria
  • The trail’s name was inspired by the fact that it provided an easy and private meeting place for young lovers who lived in the two small towns in the mountainous terrain

Monterosso al Mare:

Monterosso al Mare dates back to the Middle Ages.  In order to protect the village from the frequent pirate attacks, a great number of fortifications were constructed at this location during the Middle Ages; remains of these fortifications can be admired in the old village, where three defensive towers still stand today.  Monterosso al Mare is divided into two sections by a tunnel of about 10 meters. The Old and the New. characterised by the typical tower homes in varying pastel shades, the town is one of the largest and it was this reason which almost kept it out of the “Cinque Terre.” It is now considered a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and makes up part of a national park.

The old part of Monterosso is dominated by the walls of the ancient fortress, the remains of Fieschi Castle and the Aurora Tower. Other prominent features are the Church of St. John the Baptist (built between 1244 and 1307) and the Capuchin Monastery (17th century), visible everywhere in the area. Like all the other Cinque Terre villages, Monterosso has brightly coloured houses and narrow alleyways; after a pleasant day spent on the beach or hiking the trails of the Cinque Terre National Park, visitors can come here and enjoy an aperitivo in the cool evening breeze or dine in one of the many delicious restaurants. On a visit to the village, don’t forget to taste the famous Monterosso anchovies and order at least a glass of Sciacchetrà, a sweet white passito wine produced in the Cinque Terre region.

What to See & Do in Monterosso:

What to See in Monterossa
What to See in Monterossa

 

 

Church of St. John the Baptist:

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

Church of St. John the Baptist, Monterossa
Church of St. John the Baptist, Monterossa
  • The church was built between 1244 and 1307 in Ligurian Gothic style. The beautiful façade is decorated with white and green marble
  • The bell tower crowned by merlons was originally a medieval defensive tower with a rectangular plant in green stone
  • Two plaques on the side of the building show the high-water marks during floods in 1966 and 2011.
  • There are also photographs inside the church that reveal the damages from the flooding in October 2011

 

Aurora Tower:

Aurora Tower, Monterossa
Aurora Tower, Monterossa

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Represents what is remaining of the many watch towers that guarded Monterosso and the surrounding area from the pirates
  • Nowadays, Elia Bellingeri, the young owner of Aurora Tower, has brought to life a unique restaurant
  • The restaurant boasts breathtaking view over Monterosso’s Gulf, without spoiling the beauty of Aurora’s ancient tower and taking care of every single detail from interior designing to the choice of menus

Sanctuary Soviore:

Santuario di Nostra Signora di Soviore
Santuario di Nostra Signora di Soviore

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • If you take a steep climb you are rewarded by fabulous views at the Sanctuary Soviore (450 meters above sea level)
  • Better still you can obtain refreshments in the sanctuary which you sure will need after the climb

 

Convento dei Cappuccini:

San Francesco Convento Frati Cappuccini Monterosso al Mare Cinque Terre
Convento di Cappuccini, Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Monterosso’s convent complex is set on the hill that divides the old town from the newer Fegina quarter
  • The striped church, the Chiesa di San Francesco, dates from 1623 and has a painting attributed to Van Dyck (Crocifissione) to the left of the altar
  • The convent celebrated 400 years of its foundation in 2018
  • It overlooks the Bay of Monterosso and offers sublime views

 

Riomaggiore:

 

Riomaggiore is known for its colourful stone houses that seem stacked on top of one another, and its harbour filled with traditional fishing boats.  Riomaggiore is a wonderful place to enjoy fabulous vistas and slowing down to the pace of Italian village life. Stroll along the main street of the village that leads down to the sea, where a small marina framed by lovely pastel houses is filled with brightly hued fishing boats.

 

What to See & Do in Riomaggiore:

What to See in Riomaggiore
What to See in Riomaggiore

 

Riomaggiore Castle:

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

Castello di Riomaggiore
Castello di Riomaggiore
  • Built in 1260 by the Marquises of Turcotti, lords of Ripalta, it was completed by the Genoese in the 15th – 16th century after the dominion of Niccolò Fieschi

 

The Oratory of Saint Rocco:

The Oratory of Saint Rocco Riomaggiore

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The oratory of Saint Rocco stands next to the castle and was built in 1480 as a tribute to the Saint for bringing an end to the plague that had decimated the population of Riomaggiore
  • The small building has simple architectural forms. The effigy of Saint Rocco, showing the signs of the plague, and that of Saint Sebastian, shot with arrows, are carved on the architrave of the entrance door

 

Riomaggiore Harbour:

Riomaggiore Harbour
Riomaggiore Harbour

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Riomaggiore harbour is a best seen at sunset when all the tall pastel shaded buildings glow like a rainbow. The view from the sea is truly unbeatable
  • There is a picturesque botanical garden or the golden pebbly beach

 

Sanctuary of Madonna di Montenero:

Sanctuary of Madonna di Montenero
Sanctuary of Madonna di Montenero

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Enjoy spectacular views from the Sanctuary of Madonna di Montenero which is a steep climb out of Riomaggiore

 

Corniglia:

The village of Corniglia differs significantly from the others of the Cinque Terre due to its elevated position with respect to the sea.  To reach it you have to go up the ‘Lardarina’, a long brick staircase consisting of 33 ramps for a total of 382 steps.  If you conquer the steep slope you will be awarded with magnificent panoramic views over the Cinque Terre, particularly towards Manarola.

Like the other Cinque Terre villages, Corniglia is characterised by burst of colour, with the characteristic tower-houses (Case-Torri) painted in bright shades of yellow, pink and peach. Corniglia sits on its rocky perch with fantastic views of the surrounding hills and the sea below.

What to See & Do in Corniglia:

 

What to See in Corniglia
What to See in Corniglia

 

Church of St. Peter:

Chiesa di San Pietro Corniglia
Chiesa di San Pietro Corniglia

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Located in the main square of Corniglia, it is in a Baroque style, with some Gothic and Ligurian elements dating back to the 14th Century

 

 

Saint Mary’s Terrace:

Corniglia
Corniglia

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • This panoramic point is reachable by foot following Via Fieschi
  • You can enjoy wonderful views of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore

 

Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina:

Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina
Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • This Oratory graces the tiny piazzetta Largo Taragio.
  • It is an 18th century Oratory and the highlight of the interior is the ceiling above the altar which is painted to look like the sky

 

Lardarina:

Lardarina
Lardarina

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Take a break whilst walking the 382 steps of the Lardarina on you’re way up to Corniglia – the panoramic views south of Corniglia towards Manarola are fantastic

 

 

 

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