Things to Do in
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Cinque Terre National Park is a picturesque chain of five colorful towns connected by a hiking trail perched along the northern Italian coast. We found it to be unbelievably quaint with locals living right alongside tourists, lots of vegetation and the Mediterranean Sea lapping up along the shoreline. The Ligurian region of Italy was populated in the 11th century and is famous for its wine, pesto, and seafood…all of which we sampled!
Swimming at the public beach in Monterosso al Mare. We found a nice free spot to swim straight through the bridge from "Old Town" Monterosso . Quite rocky and very salty, but an enjoyable way to spend each afternoon. There is a section of beach where you can pay to enter and rent chairs and umbrellas closer to the train station.
Swimming in Vernazza. There is a small sandy beach here that shares its clear water with the marina but would be a good place for small kids to wade and splash.
Sunset cliffside in Manarola. When you google Cinque Terre, this is the town that comes up in images and rightfully so. There is a terraced area next to a restaurant called Nessun Dorma. There are places to sit, a small playground and plenty of viewing space.
Worth the Money
Hiking. You can purchase a hiking pass along the way or at the train station. We hiked from Monterosso through Vernazza and ended up in Cornigla. Fabulous hike with varied terrain (mostly up, up, and up) along the coastal cliffs with a wide array of vegetation including olive trees, grape vines, and cactus. Sweeping views of the sea and the surrounding towns. Monterosso to Vernazza is 3.3km with 180m elevation gain, Vernazza to Corniglia is 3.2km with 220m elevation gain. We took the train for the return trip.
Boat Trip. We took a four hour tour with Aquamarina. We traveled along the coast past all five villages learning history of the region along the way and dropped anchor in Porto Venere. We swam off the boat while bruschetta, pesto, shrimp, and swordfish were prepared for us on the boat. Tasty local wine and Prosecco flowed in abundance. Boat tours can be reserved in advance and there are an abundance of tour companies. The pier in Monterosso advertised bookings as well.
Eat Pesto. Not just any pesto, but fresh, homemade pesto from the Pesto Lab in Monterosso. They also have pesto making classes that would likely be fabulous by the samples we were able to try at their shop. We bought a jar freshly made pesto and added it to grocery store bought pasta to make a wonderful in home meal.
Eat Pizza. This is Italy, right? Our family liked the thick crust, foccacia type pizza we found througout Cinque Terra. We sampled our way around the towns and our vote for best pizza was Batti Batti' Focacceria a few steps up from the beach in Vernazza.
Stay in "Old Town" Monterosso. We found a quaint little VRBO with views of the water that was just steps from dining, shopping, the grocery store and the beach.
Tips for Visiting
There are restaurants and gelato places every 10 feet. Search out homemade gelato and look at the pizza prior to deciding to eat at a place… not all Italian pizza is equal!
Grocery store options were limited in MOnterosso although we did not venture into "New Town" to see if we had better options. If you get creative and buy some wonderful, fresh, refrigerated pesto and pasta and some fresh bread and produce you will impress yourself with a great meal.
Use your Eurail pass to ride the trains between towns and buy a trekking pass to use the trails. You do not need the full Cinque Terre card that includes trains and boats if you already have a pass and just want to hike. The shuttle boats were crowded and I would recommend a tour boat if you want a scenic tour. They do not check for a trekking pass when the stations to buy passes along the trail are closed.
Bring flip flops or water shoes to the beach. Other than Vernazza’s small beach, there is no sand, only rocks/small pebbles.
There are free water spigots in each of the towns to refill water bottles during your travels.
Bathrooms are a little harder to find but are in the train stations and some restaurants. There is a juice cafe on the route between Vernazza and Corniglia that advertised bathrooms for its customers.