Like many travellers, I’ve long dreamed of visiting the Cinque Terre. Nestled against the rugged coastline of Italy, photographs of the pastel-coloured houses perched precariously close to the cliff-face are some of the most iconic visuals of Italy. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience it for myself on a stopover with Princess Cruises.
Our ship docked at 7 am and we needed to set sail at 9 pm, so our time in the Cinque Terre was somewhat limited. We were able to visit 2 villages, although if you had a few more hours you could visit the five villages. You can do so in a car, by train, or on an organised tour.
On the day our ship docked at Genoa port at 7 am and we set off towards the first village of the Cinque Terre, Manarola. As we approached the village, I was struck by how beautiful and romantic it looks – no number of photographs can do it justice. The multi-coloured houses seemed to cling onto the rugged cliffs, which drop down dramatically to the ocean below. Inside the village, the main square of Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV is the heart of Manarola, with a network of narrow, cobblestone streets leading around to various shops and cafés.
For us, the best experience in Manarola actually lay just beyond the village as we hiked to the top of the cliff. From this vantage point, the views out over the village and the ocean were absolutely stunning. I couldn’t help but feel almost overwhelmed at being in such a beautiful place that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long.
Monterosso al Mare
From Manarola, we moved on to Monterosso al Mare, which is the largest village of the Cinque Terre and one of the most visited. Like Manarola, it is stunningly picturesque, however, it also boasts a gorgeous beach, as well as a larger ‘New Town’ and ‘Old Town’. As the name suggests, Old Town is more historic, dating back from Medieval times, whereas New Town is younger, yet tastefully developed with a great selection of shops, cafés and restaurants.
As Manarola did not have a beach, we were excited to dip our toes in the water at Monterosso al Mare. As expected, the beach was stunning and very lively, with foreign and local holidaymakers enjoying the sun, sand and surf. We loved exploring the old town and especially stopping in at one of the local restaurants in order to sample local delicacies including anchovies and sweet wine.
If you have seen photographs of the Cinque Terre, chances are you have seen Riomaggiore, as it is the most photographed village out of the five. The village is filled with the beautiful pastel-coloured houses lining the maze of cobbled streets, and also has an incredibly enviable location overlooking the stunningly azure waters of the Mediterranean. It is no wonder that it is such a delight for visitors and photographers especially.
Unfortunately, due to the limited time, we did not get to visit Riomaggiore, although I had done a lot of research about what to see and do there. Aside from simply meandering through the gorgeous streets, the 14th Century church of San Giovanni Battista is a popular place to visit, with its Gothic exterior and famous wooden crucifix of Margliano. There is also a historic thirteenth-century fortress perched high atop a hill, that was constructed in order to protect the village from pirates.
While it is, of course, arguably, Vernazza is widely considered the prettiest of all of the villages of the Cinque Terre. There are no cars in the village, which adds to its picturesque charm and the feeling of being transported back in time to an era when life was much slower and simpler. Of course, Vernazza’s charm is not a secret, and it can be very crowded with visitors and is especially frantic on Wednesday, which is market day.
We did not get the chance to stop in at Vernazza, however, I enjoyed reading about its many charms. Vernazza was once the wealthiest of the five villages owing to its accessible port, which is still visible to this day. The village also has a beautiful beach near Piazza Marconi, however, it does tend to get quite busy in the summertime. Within the village, there is a great selection of restaurants, cafés, bars and shops.
The village of Corniglia is said to be as beautiful as the others, although it is far less accessible. The village cannot be reached by boat, and even those travelling by car or train will need to walk up over 300 steps to reach the village centre (although there is a bus from the train station for those with mobility issues). Those who do have the time and are able to walk up the stairs will be richly rewarded, however, as Corniglia is the quietest of all of the villages, which gives you a little more of a chance to see what regular life is like for those lucky enough to live in the Cinque Terre. Its elevated position also means you get beautiful views over the coast from the village.
As well as a number of bars, restaurants and cafés, Corniglia also has several other tourist attractions including the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Mary’s Terrace. Corniglia is also famous for its white wine, where the grapes are grown on terraces on the hillside. This wine has been produced near Corniglia for more than 700 years and is a definite must-try if you are able to visit the village.
Although we were not able to visit all of the villages of the Cinque Terre, we did get the opportunity to experience the breathtaking views and undeniable charm of the region. It’s definitely for good reason that the Cinque Terre is so popular and well-loved, and I hope to have an opportunity to explore more of it one day.
Disclaimer: This post has been created as a part of sponsored collaboration with Princess Cruises, but all opinions are 100% mine.