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  • Writer's pictureErin Paulsen

Cinque Terre

The Jewels in the Crown of the Ligurian Coast

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is one of everybody’s top Italian dream destinations. It consists of 5 small towns perched right upon the cliff sides of the Northwestern Italian coast. The colorful homes and the breathtaking views over the Mediterranean Sea call to more than 1 million visitors a year. This is an impressive feat, as the towns are really quite small, and the infrastructure between them consists of one single train line.

My sister, Brynn, had been on one of her yearly Europe trips, and it was time for her to come meet up with me in Italy, where I had been living. She boarded a train from across the border in France, while I hopped on a train from Milan, and we met at the station in Genoa.

There are multiple trains a day that head from Genoa down the coast to the Cinque Terre, so we decided to spend a couple of hours walking around Genoa before we got back on the train.

Back on the Train

Downtown Genoa is relatively small, and the pedestrian lanes veer out into tiny alleyways that block out all sunlight, leaving this historic, coastal town unexpectedly dark. The food, I must mention, is some of my favorite from the Italian cuisines. Fresh focaccia, trofie al pesto, and various other fresh dishes completely covered in olive oil.

As the afternoon started to pass, we made our way back to the station and boarded the next train headed south.

The 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The hostel we booked was just outside of the last town, Riomaggiore, perched upon one of the hills that house these famous towns.

View from our room on the hilltops, Riomaggiore

The first morning we decided to do one of the small hikes between the towns, and hopped back on the train over to Corniglia. Almost immediately out of the station you begin your ascent up the hill and along the winding path that leads you to Vernazza. The trail was lined with fresh blueberries and blackberries and we stopped pretty frequently to gather and snack on handfuls of the wild fruits while gazing out at the sea.

This trail was one of the shorter ones and took maybe an hour or so to complete. As you reach Vernazza you are greeted with one of the most stunning panoramas Italy has to offer. The tightly packed, colorful little town juts out into the sea and calls you down from the hills to wander aimlessly through her streets.

It was midday by the time we arrived and we decided to head straight to the water to cool ourselves down. Each of the towns has small beach access, and a few of them mix the beach with the harbor. You are allowed to relax on the piers and swim near the dock so long as no boats are coming. As they do pull in, however, you have to gather your things and yourself and move out of the way. When the boat leaves again you can resume your swimming.

We found a place for lunch and obviously indulged in my favorite Ligurian dish, Pesto, and a few glasses of fresh Ligurian white wine.

Vernazza from above

After an espresso or two we headed to the far side of Vernazza, climbing up ever more hills, and took a few photos of the town from above. I know you have all seen pictures of Cinque Terre, and although they almost do the place justice, there is absolutely nothing in the world quite like standing there on the Italian coast, overlooking the amazing architectural feats that are these little towns. The sun warms your skin, the breeze plays in your hair, and the air smells of wine, bread and the sea.

Time spent under the sun in Manarola

The second day we headed to Manarola and found one of few spots near the water to lie out and relax in the sun. The perfect Italian day consists of espresso, brioche, relaxing in the sun, a little swim, more sun, a spritz or two before lunch, a pizza or two for lunch, more sun, another espresso, a few more dips in the sea, and then off to refresh yourself for the evening. This was basically our day in Manarola. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our third and final day in Cinque Terre was spent wandering around Riomaggiore, climbing some of the rocky cliffs to take in the epic views, and visiting the Northern most town, Monterosso al Mare. We found a little more time for the beach, and a lot more time for focaccia.

Riomaggiore, the last of the 5 towns

The sea near Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre is not all luxury. There will be a lot of hiking, from town to town and within each town itself. But don’t get me wrong. Every uphill step is worth the stunning scenery and the breathtaking views that this little gem on the Italian coast has to offer.

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