Best Cinque Terre Town
Where to stay in Cinque Terre? How to choose the best place to stay?
What the five towns of Cinque Terre have in common…
They are not just seaside resorts.
This holiday experience doesn’t only offer swimming and getting a suntan, but also exploring the natural environment and walking on hilly paths in the Cinque Terre National Park, an area protected for both its marine and mountain habitats, with sea waters that won awards from ecological associations. All the five towns are within the Cinque Terre National Park, the only national park aimed at protecting an environment which is anthropized: here not only the natural, but also the man-made environment is protected, such as the terraced vineyards and the villages themselves.
Add to that the historical and art treasures, which, granted, are usual for most of Italy. But The 5 Lands have their particular flavour of them.
The five towns or villages (from west to east: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore) are linked to each other by trains, boat services and walking paths.
The longest path is the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path or Blue Trail), which in 12 km connects the two extremes of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso and Riomaggiore.
…and what makes each town different
Here in each of the next tabs are the advantages and disadvantages of staying in each of the places.
In all Cinque Terre towns you’ll find accommodation of every type, not just hotels but also vacation apartments, guesthouses, Bed&Breakfasts.
Monterosso al Mare
With over 1,400 inhabitants, Monterosso is the second-largest by population of the five Cinque Terre villages, so it’s where you’ll find more services, shops, restaurants and the like. It’s more of a small town than a village.
It has the longest, widest and most comfortable beach of the Cinque Terre, Fegina Beach, and is the only village in the 5 Terre with a seafront promenade that links the historic centre, or old town, with typical Ligurian houses and the ancient, shady, narrow alleys and arcades between tall buildings, “carruggi”, to the new residential district of Fegina.
Getting to Fegina Beach is easy and quick: once you exit Monterosso train station, proceed straight to the beach, it couldn’t be closer. On the beach you can rent boats, surfboards, catamarans, and the like.
Monterosso al Mare is the town located furthest west, the closest to Levanto, Portofino and then Genoa, and opposite the La Spezia side.
Monterosso is in the most strategic, easiest to reach location of the five towns. It stands at the foot of the ridge where the three main road directions of the area converge: the provincial road S.P. 38 which connects with Italy’s main state road, S.S. 1 aka Via Aurelia (the 700-km-long ancient Roman consular road starting from Rome and going north all the way to France); the S.P. 370 aka Litoranea delle Cinque Terre (Cinque Terre coastal road); and the road leading north-west to Levanto.
Monterosso is in the centre of a large bay, protected by a cliff, and this location affords it more space than the other Cinque Terre villages and therefore more extensive beaches. It is the only one of the five villages with bathing establishments on sandy, small pebbles beaches.
It’s also the place where you‘re more likely to arrive if you take a boat with the generic destination “to the Cinque Terre”, from Viareggio, for example.
Monterosso al Mare is where most tourists stay, as it has plenty of hotels and two car parks.
It is the busiest of Cinque Terre, and is considered its heart, since it is the starting point for many hikers.
Monterosso is divided in two: the old town, built in the 13th century behind the harbor, and the modern town, capable of accommodating a large number of tourists in its new hotels.
While not having the rural charm of the other towns, Monterosso is an ancient, medieval village with picturesque alleys and typical tower houses, historic sites, superb beaches, rocks and crystal clear waters, surrounded by hills rich in vineyards and olive groves.
Among interesting sites are the medieval Aurora sighting tower, dominating the pier, and the statue of the Giant, representing the Roman god of the sea Neptune holding a trident and an enormous shell, which belonged to a a magnificent villa’s terrace on the seashore. The 14-metre-high statue has no longer arms or shell, but its 375,000 pounds are still on the shore of Fegina Beach.
Best Loved Hotels in Monterosso
With its 800 inhabitants, Vernazza is about half the size of Riomaggiore, the largest Cinque Terre town, and as a consequence its accommodation choice is not so vast, but still more than adequate.
if you travel by car there is a practical problem, since you cannot drive in Vernazza, as streets are narrow and tortuous, and vehicle access is only reseved to residents. There is a car park outside the village with 40 places, and another one in Corniglia.
Vernazza has the Cinque Terre’s only natural harbour that for centuries has been the sole safe seaport of the area.
A very lively hamlet on a small promontory insinuating into the sea, Vernazza, encircling and nestled in its bay, next to terraced vineyards, is arguably the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre and is even part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages of Italy due to its aristocratic houses and exquisite architecture.
Vernazza is home to precious architectural elements, such as loggias, arcades, portals, and buildings, like palaces, fortifications, churches, castles. The village, noble and elegant, develops along the Vernazzola stream, now covered, and is perched on the slopes of a rocky spur.
Steep and narrow streets, lined by pastel-coloured tower-houses huddled on cliffs, descend, labyrinth-like, to the main street, Via Roma, which in turn ends in the town’s small central square located right in front of the marina. Here, in Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, you can sit at the outdoor tables of the many restaurants and cafes, looking at the sea.
Although it can be reached, like the other Cinque Terre towns, by train and footpath, the best way to see Vernazza in all its spectacular beauty is by sea: the natural harbour, the spledid 14th-century Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia on the seashore and overlooking the square, and what is left of the defence system built in the Middle Ages – walls, lookout towers, the Belforte Bastion, the imposing Doria Castle of the lords of Genoa, the Dorias, impressively dominating the hamlet -, symbols of Vernazza’s past economic and military importance and role in protecting the Maritime Republic of Genoa from barbaric and Saracens’ invasions: all these can be seen together in all their glory arriving from the sea.
In Vernazza are two small beaches, both few minutes’ walk from the centre of the village. Although their size is not big, the views offered by this part of the coast are exceptionally enchanting. One beach, with sand and small pebbles, is near Piazza Marconi and the marina, next to the Church of Santa Margherita. Here, in this beach sheltered by the natural harbour, you can swim in calm shallow waters, then lie on the flat rocks along the sand and part of the pier; its added convenience is being close to the main square with its numerous bars and restaurants for snacks or meals.
The other beach, with no sand, is larger and just on the other side of the promontory. To reach it, from Piazza Marconi go through the passage under the cliff and you’ll be there.
Best Loved Hotels in Vernazza
Cinque Terre‘s smallest and most isolated hamlet, perched as it is on the top of a 100-metre-high rocky promontory, Corniglia is the only Cinque Terre town with no direct contact or access to the sea.
That also makes it the least crowded and busy. But tourist accommodation is not so plentiful as in other villages, and neither are restaurants and bars. You may like that, the place’s non-touristy quality and the way it represents a genuine, not-for-the-show past. Or you may find it a bit impractical.
Corniglia is in a central position in the Cinque Terre, with two of the other villages west of it and two east. The whole area around it is dedicated to vineyards, mostly terraced.
Its high position above the sea has pros in the form of an all-round view dominating from the top, encompassing the other four Cinque Terre villages, and cons in the 377 steps and 33 flights of the brick staircase called “Lardarina”, connecting the train station, which is at sea level, and beach to the town centre. Of course this can be an advantage too, providing opportunity for physical exercise, especially considering that this “scalinata” is surrounded by vineyards, fruit trees and other kinds of vegetation, as well as houses.
The alternative is going up the road from the station, and there is also a bus service. In addition, Corniglia is linked to Vernazza by a gorgeous walk halfway between the top of the promontory and the sea. Driving to Corniglia is not advisable due to the difficulty of the road, and you can’t reach it by sea, therefore it’s either a train trip or a walk from Manarola or Vernazza.
Corniglia has one of the most beautiful beaches of the region, Guvano Beach, and one of its most interesting and splendid buildings, the Chiesa di San Pietro, a Ligurian Gothic church dating back from at least the 11th century if not earlier and rebuilt in 1334 in local light grey stone, with a Baroque interior, on whose façade a spectacular rose window in Carrara white marble stands out. Simplicity and ornateness: a contrast of styles.
Guvano Beach is rumoured to be frequented by nudists, and also getting there requires a very difficult and arduous 15-minute trek through a tunnel from the station. There are another couple of small beaches in Corniglia. The first, the Spiaggione (literally “big beach”), is just in front of the station but is sometimes inaccessible due to high tide; the second is a lovely beach on the other side of the promontory where Corniglia rests, so from the station you must go up to the village level and then down again: a 30-minute walk.
They are both quiet, tranquil and little frequented beaches.
Corniglia’s houses are grouped around one narrow main street, Via Fieschi, going from St Peter’s Church through the main square to the panoramic terrace Belvedere di Santa Maria. In fact Corniglia itself is a terrace over the Cinque Terre. Houses line line each side of Via Fieschi street, overlooking the sea.
To sum it up: Corniglia is certainly stunning and you could either explore it during a visit or more visits, or use it as a base where to stay.
Best Loved Hotels in Corniglia
Manarola is also on a promontory high on the sea, but not as high as Corniglia’s, and is the second-smallest hamlet of the five, after Corniglia.
The colourful tower-houses in Genoese architectural style, pink, red, yellow and orange, rise from the sea up a gorge between two dark rocky spurs, protecting a small harbour. Above the houses, bright green are the terraced vineyards. Below the houses, the turquoise blue of the sea.
At dusk or night, among colours and lights, it appears like a nativity scene. The village looks like it’s been fused into the rocks.
Manarola too has breathtaking views embracing the Cinque Terre.
Surrounded by olive groves as well as vines, Manarola has a history as an important farming town and is the greatest wine producer of the Cinque Terre. The famous Sciacchetra’ comes mosty from here. You may take that into consideration if you are a wine lover.
As far as visitor accommodation, shops, pubs and restaurants are concerned, Manarola has more choice than Corniglia but, especially off season, not as much as the rest of the Cinque Terre.
For beaches or swimming, you must love rocks as there’s not much in the way of sandy lidos in Manarola. You can trek 3 km to Corniglia’s Spiaggione, hoping for low tide. Manarola’s views, history, picturesqueness and spectacularity may compensate you for that, of course, but then all other Cinque Terre towns have those too.
Best Loved Hotels in Manarola
The largest of the five towns with over 1,500 inhabitants and the furthest east, closest to the main city of the province, La Spezia, as well as to Portovenere, Lerici and the Bay of Poets, Riomaggiore is the place for you if you like localities that have preserved their original, historic characteristics, and if you love nature, wilderness and walking.
Having said that, Riomaggiore does have two very beautiful beaches, with the bonus of being not much frequented. One is in the village itself, 5 minutes’ walk from the train station, and is a gradually descending pebble beach.
The other is the Canneto Beach (Spiaggia del Canneto). Only reachable by boat, it possesses a wild fascination and has very few people. It’s surrounded by tall rocks, and there are small freshwater falls descending from the cliff, a natural shower and cooling delight in the summer.
Despite Riomaggiore’s old-worldly quaintness, in the town centre, particularly the main street Via Colombo, you can find shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and other entertainment.
Riomaggiore dates back from the 1200s and probably even before, therefore historic and art gems are also present: castles, sanctuaries, towers, churches.
Like all the Cinque Terre region, Riomaggiore is squeezed between the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, and the Appennine Mountains range just behind it, which almost touches the water.
But this ancient village’s peculiarity is to be enclosed between two steep terraced hills descending to the sea in cliffs. The narrowness and tightness of the valley of the stream Rio Major around which it has grown (and after which it is named) has caused Riomaggiore to develop mostly vertically, and its variously coloured houses have the Genoese tower˗like architecture typical of the Cinque Terre. Buildings tend to have two entrances: the front one opens on the street and the back one offered an emergency escape from the Muslim Saracens attacking the populated centres of the Mediterranean in times past.
Inside the village, alleys, vaults, stairways and dark corners alternate light and shade in mesmerising fashion. The marina is surrounded by rows of medieval houses, resting their foundations on the stone arches of the old wine warehouses which climb the slope up to the castle dominating the town. Here is the point of departure for underwater excursions in the clear sea of the Marine Reserve.
The town is divided in two by a tunnel: on one side is the ancient village with the harbour, pier and marina, on the other the train station with its 1800s’ district and the start of the renowned Via dell’Amore (Love Way), a footpath carved in the rock few yards from the sea, leading to Manarola, the nearest village, and offering breathtaking views over the Cinque Terre coast. The Via dell’Amore is at the moment closed, and, although it should be soon reopened, the exact date has not yet been confimed.
From Riomaggiore you can climb the hill paths of the Sanctuary of Montenero, an exceptional vantage point where on clear days the Tuscan islands and Corsica emerge on the horizon from the sea.
You’ll find in Riomaggiore plenty of different accommodation, luxury, medium-range, budget and cheap, the latter especially in the “affittacamere” (literally “rent˗a˗room”) and “locande”, that are more like guesthouses. Aparthotels, apartments and holiday homes are plentiful among the choices.
Some hotels are in historic buildings, or amid vegetation, vineyards and fruit orchards, or high on the cliffs. Many hotels have parking.
Parking is a very precious commodity in Cinque Terre. The towns are connected by road, but parking is very limited and, due to the lack of space in a region where the mountains end on the seashore, most of it is reserved to residents and, if you do find space, you’ll have to park your car outside the village, unless of course you find accommodation with private parking.