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Rick Steves Pocket Italy's Cinque Terre
By Rick Steves
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $13.99 $18.99 CAD
- ebook (Enhanced Edition) $9.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 1, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
- City walks and tours: Six detailed tours and walks showcase the essential sights of each village, including Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, and more
- Rick’s strategic advice on which experiences are worth your time and money
- What to eat and where to stay: Enjoy local wine and seafood antipasti, chat with locals at a family-run trattoria, and admire views of the ocean from your hotel
- Day-by-day itineraries to help you prioritize your time
- A detailed, detachable fold-out map, plus individual village maps throughout
- Full-color, portable, and slim for exploring on the go
- Trip-planning practicalities like when to go, how to get around on public transit, basic Italian phrases, and more
The Cinque Terre at a Glance
Map: Cinque Terre Area Transport
Planning Your Time
Key to this Book
Tucked between Genoa and Pisa, in a mountainous and seductive corner of the Italian Riviera, lies the Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh)—five villages carving a good life out of difficult terrain. With a traffic-free charm—a happy result of natural isolation—the Cinque Terre offers a rugged alternative to the glitzy Riviera resorts nearby.
Each village fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity. Calloused locals and sunburned travelers enjoy the area’s unique mix of Italian culture and nature. There isn’t a Fiat or museum in sight—just sun, sea, sand (well, pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy. Choose a home base according to just how cut off you’d like to be from the outer world: resorty Monterosso, cover-girl Vernazza, hilltop Corniglia, photogenic Manarola, and amiable Riomaggiore.
The Cinque Terre is my kind of perfect, but these nearby resort towns are tempting: Levanto, Sestri Levante, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino to the north, and Porto Venere to the south, anchored by a major transit hub, La Spezia.
Planning Your Time
The ideal stay in the Cinque Terre is two or three full days; my recommended minimum stay is two nights and an uninterrupted day. Be warned: The Cinque Terre has a strange way of messing up your momentum. Staying for too short a time would be a mistake you’d likely regret.
The villages are connected by trains, boats, and trails. There’s no checklist of sights or experiences—just a hike, the towns themselves, and your fondest vacation desires. Study this book in advance to piece together your best visit, mixing hiking, swimming, trains, and boat rides.
You could spend one day hiking from town to town (taking a boat or train part of the way, or as the return trip). Spend a second day visiting any towns you’ve yet to see, comparing main streets, beaches, and focaccia.
Here’s a sample day: If you’re based in Monterosso, take a morning train to Corniglia, hike to Vernazza for lunch (where you could explore the town, hike to the grand-view cemetery, or cool off at the beach), then catch the boat to Monterosso to stroll the beach promenade. And that’s only one day out of dozens of memorable Cinque Terre combinations you can dream up.
On any evening, linger over dinner, enjoy live music at a low-key club (or summer opera in Vernazza!), try a wine tasting, or follow one of my self-guided town walks. At sunset, take a glass of your favorite beverage out to the breakwater to watch the sun slip into the Mediterranean.
With extra time, visit the towns near the Cinque Terre. If you carve out a day and an overnight for Santa Margherita Ligure, fit in an afternoon side-trip to Portofino. A day trip to Levanto (by train or a hike from Monterosso) with an excursion to Bonassola’s beach is fun. (Some travelers flip-flop this by staying in Levanto and day-tripping to the Cinque Terre.) For double the beaches, visit Sestri Levante. South of the Cinque Terre, lovely Porto Venere merits a day trip.
Market days perk up the Cinque Terre and nearby towns from around 8:00 to 13:00 on Tuesday in Vernazza, Wednesday in Levanto, Thursday in Monterosso, Friday in La Spezia and Santa Margherita Ligure, and Saturday in Sestri Levante.
Trip Tips: Make a point to get the most out of the cool, relaxed, and quiet hours early and late in the day (great times to start a coastal hike), to help you avoid the worst crowds. The vast majority of visitors to the Cinque Terre are day-trippers. Between 10:00 and 15:00—especially on weekends—masses of gawkers unload from boats, tour buses, and cruise ships, inundating the villages and changing the feel of the region. For more advice on beating the crowds, see here.
Finally, make time to wander, shop, and simply be. Stop often for gelato. Write a poem over a glass of local wine in a sun-splashed, wave-dashed village. Be open to unexpected experiences and the friendliness of the local people. As you visit places I know and love, I’m happy you’ll be meeting some of my favorite Italians.
Happy travels! Buon viaggio!
The Cinque Terre
Map: The Cinque Terre
Tourist and Park Information
Arrival in the Cinque Terre
Getting Around the Cinque Terre
HIKING THE CINQUE TERRE
Map: Cinque Terre Hikes
The Main Coastal Trail (Riomaggiore-Monterosso)
▲Alternative Route—Riomaggiore-Manarola Hike via “La Beccara”
▲▲Alternative Route—Manarola-Corniglia Hike via Volastra
Extending the Coastal Trail
Alternative Routes—Monterosso-Levanto Hike via Colle di Gritta
▲Riomaggiore-Porto Venere Hike
Other Cinque Terre Walks and Hikes
This breathtakingly scenic chunk of coast was first described in medieval times as the “five lands” (cinque terre). Tiny communities grew up in the shadows of castles—lookouts for pirate raids. As the threat of pirates faded, the villages prospered, catching fish and cultivating grapes. But until the advent of tourism in this generation, the towns remained isolated. Even today, each village comes with its own traditions, a distinct dialect, and a proud heritage. Say the towns’ poetic names with an Italian accent: Monterosso, Vernazza (ver-NAHT-sah), Corniglia (cor-NEEL-yah), Manarola (mah-nah-ROH-lah), and Riomaggiore (ree-oh-mah-JOR-ay).
The Cinque Terre is now a national park, where all can enjoy the villages, hiking, swimming, boat rides, and evening romance of one of God’s great gifts to tourism. While the region is now well-discovered and can get jam-packed, I’ve never seen happier, more relaxed tourists.
This chapter focuses on how to navigate the Cinque Terre, using a mix of trains, boats, and hikes. Chapters on each of the towns follow, with all the specifics you need for your visit. For tips on eating in Italy (including local specialties), accommodations, using mobile devices, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.
Tourist and Park Information
Each town’s train station has a Cinque Terre National Marine Park information office, which generally also serves as an all-purpose town TI and gift shop. They can usually answer questions about trails (including closures), shuttle bus schedules, and so on (www.parconazionale5terre.it). For more on the region, see www.cinqueterre.it.
Useful Blogs: CinqueTerreInsider.com, written by a resident Ameri-can expat, is filled with up-to-date practicalities for visitors to this always-in-flux region. Another good site, run by caring locals, is Visit Vernazza (www.visitvernazza.org).
Arrival in the Cinque Terre
The five towns of the Cinque Terre are on a milk-run line, with trains coming through about every 30 minutes, and connecting with La Spezia and Levanto.
Most big, fast trains speed right past the Cinque Terre, although a few IC trains connect Monterosso to Milan or Pisa. Unless you’re coming from another Cinque Terre town, you’ll have to change trains at least once to reach Manarola, Corniglia, or Vernazza. Coming from the south or east, you’ll probably transfer at La Spezia’s Centrale station (not La Spezia Migliarina); see here. Coming from the north, you’ll transfer at Monterosso (see here), Levanto, Sestri Levante, or Genoa’s Piazza Principe station. Local train info tel. 0187-817-458, www.trenitalia.com.
Given the narrow roads, I wouldn’t bring a car to the Cinque Terre; you won’t need it, and parking can be a headache. But if your plans require a car, try to stay at a hotel with parking; Monterosso is your best bet (and also has parking lots in town). It’s smart to have your hotel confirmation in hand during busy times—holidays, summer, and weekends—when police at the top of town may deny entry to cars without a hotel reservation.
Each Cinque Terre town has a parking lot (great for day-trippers and overnighters) on its outskirts, with a shuttle bus into town. The rare street parking in the towns is best left for locals. Wherever you park, leave nothing of value in your car.
To reach Monterosso from A-12, take the Carrodano-Levanto exit (see here for specifics). Don’t drive to Vernazza: The road is in poor condition and parking is scarce; it’s better to park in Levanto or La Spezia and ride the train in. For Riomaggiore, Corniglia, or Manarola, leave the freeway at La Spezia and follow the road that parallels the coast (with access to each town except Monterosso).
Pickpocket Alert: At peak times, the Cinque Terre can be notoriously crowded, and pickpockets aggressively and expertly work the most congested areas. Be on guard, especially in train stations, on platforms, and while you’re on trains and boats, particularly when getting on or off with a crush of people. Wear a money belt, and keep your things zipped up and buttoned down.
Money: You’ll find ATMs and banks throughout the region.
Tours and Activities: Arbaspàa, based in Manarola, sets up wine tastings, cooking classes, fishing trips, and more (www.arbaspaa.com; see here). Cinque Terre Riviera, based in Vernazza, books vacation rentals throughout the region, Vernazza opera tickets, cooking classes, and more (www.cinqueterreriviera.com; see here). BeautifuLiguria, run by Anna Merulla, offers various excursions (www.beautifuliguria.com).
Local Guides: Andrea Bordigoni is knowledgeable and a delight (€125/half-day, €210/day, mobile 393-133-9409, firstname.lastname@example.org). Other guides are Marco Brizzi (mobile 328-694-2847, www.hi-ke.com, email@example.com) and Paola Tommarchi (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rainy Day Activities: Explore the towns, taking trains to connect them; splurge for a tasty meal; or nurse a coffee or drink at a harborfront café while watching the roiling waves. If you hike, avoid the steeper trails in the rain; rocks can be slippery.
Wi-Fi: All Cinque Terre train stations offer free Wi-Fi with a Cinque Terre park card (see here). Many cafés and bars offer free Wi-Fi to customers.
Baggage Storage: You can pay to store bags at or near the train stations in Monterosso, Vernazza, and Riomaggiore (and at these towns near the Cinque Terre—La Spezia and Santa Margherita Ligure); see specifics per destination.
Services: Every train station has a free WC, but it’s smart to bring your own toilet paper.
Taxi: Cinqueterre Taxi covers all five towns (mobile 334-776-1946 or 347-652-0837, www.cinqueterretaxi.com). The pricey 5 Terre Transfer service can come in handy if you need to connect the five towns or beyond (Luciana mobile 339-130-1183; Marzio mobile 340-356-5268).
Getting Around the Cinque Terre
Within the Cinque Terre, you can connect towns in three ways: by train, boat, or foot. Trains are the cheapest, fastest, and most frequent option. But don’t get stuck in a train rut: In calm weather, boats connect the towns nearly as frequently—and with much better scenery. (If you’re in a rush, take whichever form of transport is leaving first.) And hiking lets you enjoy more pasta.
By train, the five towns are just a few minutes apart.
Tickets: A train ride of any length between Cinque Terre towns costs a hefty €4 during peak times—whether you’re hopping one town or four. (It’s half-price after about 19:00 and before 8:30.) There may also be an all-day ticket (likely €10). You can buy tickets at train station windows or Cinque Terre park desks, but to save time in line, use the self-service machines. These have English instructions, provide schedule information, and accept US credit cards (and often also euros).
Be sure to validate your ticket before you board by stamping it in the green-and-white machines located on train platforms and in station passages. Conductors here are notorious for levying stiff fines on tourists riding with an unstamped ticket. You can buy several tickets at once and use them as you like, validating as you go. If you have a Eurail Pass, don’t use up one of your valuable travel days on the relatively cheap Cinque Terre.
Schedules: In peak season, trains generally run about twice hourly in each direction, connecting all five towns. (There can be troublesome gaps after about 19:00—check the schedule in advance.) Since the train is the Cinque Terre’s lifeline, shops, hotels, and restaurants often post the current schedule, and many hand out copies. Study the key carefully to know which departures are only for weekdays, Sundays, and so on. The most foolproof option is to stop by a train station and check the real-time TV monitors to see the next departure time.
Important Note: Any train stopping at Vernazza, Corniglia, or Manarola is going to all of the towns. Trains from Levanto, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, or La Spezia sometimes skip lesser stations, so confirm that the train will stop at the town you need.
Trains connect the towns; use the ticket machine to save time.
At the Platform: Monitors in each station clearly show departure times in each direction (and, if they’re late—in ritardo—how many minutes behind they are; SOPP means “cancelled”). On the monitors, northbound trains are marked for (per) Levanto, Genova, or Sestri Levante; southbound trains are marked for La Spezia. To be sure you get on the right train, it helps to know your train’s number and final destination. Northbound trains use the tracks closest to the water; southbound trains use the tracks on the mountain side.
Assuming you’re on vacation, accept the unpredictability of Cinque Terre trains. They’re often late—unless you are, too, in which case they’re on time. Relax while you wait. Buy an ice cream or cup of coffee at a station bar, and scout the platform you need in advance. This is easy in Monterosso, with its fine café-with-a-view on track #1 (northbound), and in Vernazza, where you can hang out at the Blue Marlin Bar with a prepaid drink and dash when the train pulls in.
Getting Off: Know your stop. As the train leaves the town just before your destination, go to the door and get ready to slip out before the mobs flood in. A word to the wise for novice tourists, who often miss their stop: The stations are small and the trains are long, so (especially in Vernazza) you might have to get off deep in a tunnel. Also, the doors don’t open automatically—you may have to open the handle of the door yourself (push the green button, twist the black handle, or lift up the red one).
From Easter through October, a daily boat service connects Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore, Porto Venere, and beyond. Though they can be very crowded, these boats provide a scenic way to get from town to town.
In peaceful weather, boats can be more reliable than trains. But because the boats nose in and tourists have to gingerly disembark onto little more than a plank, even just a small chop can cancel some or all of the stops.
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 2020
- Page Count
- 200 pages
- Rick Steves