A walk back in time on the Italian Riviera

Cinque Terre is comprised of five quaint fishing villages connected by ancient rustic paths that hug this rugged part of the Italian Riviera coastline.  A century ago, the trails and boats were the only means of transport to and from the villages.  Today trains link the five villages offering visitors and locals more convenient access.  This area is now protected within the boundaries of a National Park ensuring the region retains its historic integrity. The lack of modern development gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy the charm and beauty of these villages that date back to the Middle Ages. Grapes are grown on terraced gardens perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea.  Lemon trees dot the hillsides in abundance.

We booked our tour through Viator which is a third party agency that offers access to tours worldwide.  The local tour company was called WalkaboutFlorence.  We would recommend both Viator in general and this tour in particular.

As we travelled 2.5 hours by bus to the starting point of the tour which would begin at the second village, Manarola, our tour guides Alex and Chris introduced themselves and offered excellent information en route such as clarifying the white mountains we saw in the distance were not covered in snow but were actually glistening with Carrera marble.  It then made sense why we saw so many yards along the highway full of huge slabs of marble ready to be cut.

We began in the second village, Manarola, where we had the opportunity to walk along some of the ancient paths along the edge of the terraced hills, overlooking the village.  We took the train to the next village, Corniglia which was perched about 100 metres above sea level.



After climbing 382 steps, or the equivalent of 33 flights of stairs, we were rewarded with spectacular views.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch on a terrace overlooking the town and the sea we returned to the train station, yes, back down those 382 steps, and on to the next town, Vernazza.



View of Corniglia from the restaurant terrace where we had lunch.
Notice the lemon tree in the foreground. 



Vernazza was the town which was greatly affected by the floods and mudslides last November.  They have made tremendous progress cleaning up the mud and the damage – mud went as high as the first story of many buildings.



It was from here that we hiked to the last town, Monterosso.  The hike was challenging as we traversed the hills following rather narrow and sometimes treacherous and slippery paths.  It was no surprise that Sonja lead the pack setting a rather quick pace.  As she pointed out, the sooner we got there the more time we would have to do some shopping and sample the local food and wine. The two hour hike only took us one hour!


In Monterosso, we discovered a lovely little shop where the shopkeeper encouraged us to sample everything in the store, including several of the wines from the region.  Sonja found many items to purchase as souvenirs.  With a half an hour to spare, we parked ourselves on a patio overlooking the sea and enjoyed a couple of glasses of the local white wine.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.

Dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea.

Back on the train, we returned to the first village, Riomaggiore where we explored for a little while before we stopped for another glass of wine on yet another beautiful patio overlooking the sea.  This time, our guides treated the group to compensate for not being able to take the boat from Monterosso due to high winds which was hardly their fault but we appreciated the gesture of goodwill nonetheless.  We did one final walk along the coast back to the train station which took us to La Spezia where we boarded our bus for the journey to Florence.

It was a long day – almost 12 hours – but well worth it.  The weather cooperated with a mixture of sun and cloud, comfortable temperatures and most importantly, no rain.  Our tour guides, Alex and Chris were knowledgeable, energetic, and very attentive to the needs of each member in the group.  They were some of the best tour guides we have encountered in our travels.  The entire tour was well organized; we would highly recommend it to anyone who is tight on time and wants to see Cinque Terre in a day.


Category: Europe, Italy
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2 Responses
  1. Angus says:

    Looks like a lot of fun. The houses seem very packed together. Are there spaces for children’s playgrounds and sports fields? We’re so used to having so much space around us in North America.

    • christina says:

      Hi Angus,

      Nope, no playgrounds or sports fields in Cinque Terre. Now that it is a National Park, it is being preserved exactly has it has been for hundreds of years. I had asked our tour guides about who still lived in the villages, and I was told that it is mainly old people now. All the young people have moved away to live a more modern life. That being said, we did see small children and young families who were definitely locals. Not sure what they do for open space and play grounds. Now that we’re in Tuscany, there are many hill towns that date back to medieval times and these towns are also all crammed in together without much space. We’ll be sharing more about our experience in Tuscany soon – still trying to catch up from our trip with my sister.
      Thanks for staying in touch,