Visit the Cinque Terre

How to visit the Cinque Terre, slow tourism that respects the territory

Reaching the Cinque Terre is a unique experience, as important as the stay itself – it means crossing one of the most beautiful territories on the planet and one that is extremely rich in naturalistic terms. Eastern Liguria is famous for its landscapes which have inspired generations of writers, poets and painters. This guide aims at providing simple indications, to help those who want to take an unforgettable memory of their trip home with them.

The Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) are one of Liguria's most beloved tourist destinations, famous for their breathtaking landscapes, hiking trails, terraced landscapes, and colorful villages portrayed by masters such as Telemaco Signorini.

There are numerous possibilities to get to the Cinque Terre, each with its own advantages and disadvantages; what we want to do is provide you with a thorough list:

By Bicycle, for sports lovers

The routes are as demanding as they are rewarding and have considerable differences in altitude, some over 16%, and many hundreds of meters if you want to make a stop in the villages.
For this reason, one of the most popular choices is to take the scenic route (in excellent conditions) even if, on some occasions, it can be a bit crowded. Enjoying the Cinque Terre like this, from above, riding through woods, and terraces and coming across ancient churches.

One possibility: starting out in La Spezia and reaching Biassa (even by public transportation) and continuing on up to Levanto following the scenic route. There are 35 kilometers along which the difference in height is limited, up until the final descent that brings you into the village.
From there, take the cycle path which, following the abandoned track of the nineteenth-century railway, reaches Bonassola and Framura (two splendid and more secluded locations, compared to the Cinque Terre); the route has some points that are sheltered from the sun and which allow refreshment: the tunnels dug into the rock and numerous exciting glimpses from the cliff above the sea.
Once you arrive at your destination, you have two options. Returning, all the way to La Spezia, by train, or, retracing the cycle path up to its initial stage (Levanto) and boarding a boat.
In fact, a navigation service is active which, skirting the Cinque Terre and Portovenere, leads back to La Spezia. This option will give you the opportunity to get a look at the Cinque Terre from a privileged perspective, that of the sea, you can relax while the ferry takes you back to La Spezia invigorated by the sea breeze.
The navigation service, in fact, gives passengers who have a ticket the possibility of bringing their bicycle on board with them.

By car, are you really sure you want to do that?

Visiting the Cinque Terre and the surrounding areas can also be done by car, but the possibility of finding a place to park is limited, at all times of the year except wintertime. The parking spaces available are for a fee and there is a very limited number of them. We recommend this option only to those who wish to explore inland areas, such as Val di Vara, following a high-altitude itinerary that favors the wild areas and those less frequented.

However - following the scenic route (for example starting from La Spezia) - it is possible to enjoy the scenery of the Cinque Terre from above, and catch some unforgettable sunsets over a sparkling sea. Staying away from the busiest places and, in the high season, crowded with tourists. You can visit places such as Groppo and Volastra, above Riomaggiore; or San Bernardino. Besides numerous sanctuaries immersed in the Mediterranean scrub, in the olive groves, among the vineyards: Our Lady of Soviore, Our Lady of Reggio and Our Lady of Montenero; in this case, a breathtaking view is guaranteed as well as the peace and quiet accompanied only by the chirping of the cicadas.

By Train, the classic choice - pros and cons

The train is the most popular choice for those wishing to visit the Cinque Terre and reach Levanto. There are dozens of trains a day that leave from the Central Train Station of La Spezia. The coastal towns are served by the nineteenth-century line which offers unexpected glimpses of wild cliffs between one tunnel and another.
However, being the most commonly-used means of transportation, it tends to be overcrowded especially in the summertime, with the inconvenience that this can cause. You might - for example – have to stand up for the entire journey, if you haven’t reserved seats on the train. The journey, due to the crowds and the fact that a large part of the route is underground, might be a bit oppressive, in addition to the fact that using the Internet from your smartphone is difficult because there is no signal in the tunnels.
Certainly, affordability and speed are incomparable but, to reach the coast, in some cases, it will be necessary to walk along the caruggi (narrow alleyways typical in the region of Liguria) and fight through the crowds present at the train station almost every hour; moreover, the limit of architectural barriers cannot always be overcome.
However, for those who decide to travel by train, our suggestion is to choose to buy the Cinque Terre Card/Train from among all the services offered by the Railways, because, besides having the possibility of being able to move around, in second class (only on regional and fast regional trains, excluding the IC/ICN/FB trains) and without limits, among La Spezia, Levanto and the Cinque Terre, it also gives you the right to access those routes which, except during the winter period, would be subject to a fee (the one from Monterosso to Vernazza and from Vernazza to Corniglia). Furthermore, if you have this ticket, it is also possible to use the shuttle buses that serve the Park.
Buying the Cinque Terre Card/Train is simple: it can be done at the railway stations or at the tourist info points in the area or from the Trenitalia website

On foot, for those who want to follow the signs of history

Looking at it from above, this territory appears as a web of trails - most of which can be traveled for free.
The ones that connect Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia, in both directions, are an exception during the summertime.
From the hinterland, you can reach all the towns of the Cinque Terre, for example the trail from Casella to the top of the mountains behind Manarola and San Bernardino is very picturesque.
Some follow the trail that winds up from Portovenere (reachable by boat) to Muzzerone and then, from there, to Colle del Telegrafo (Telegraph Hill). A very challenging trail, especially if it is hot, but one that is rewarding with a unique view of the ancient abandoned quarries of Portoro and the walls loved by climbers.
This is the AV5T, (Alta Via delle Cinque Terre) - the trail from which you can then reach each location. It can also be taken from the locality of Biassa, a hamlet of La Spezia, and this allows you to avoid a large part of the steep climb, and enjoy a long walk through woods and terraced landscapes with a relatively small difference in altitude.
The entire AV5T would take over twenty hours, as it is about 60 km in length, but it is always possible to leave the top of the mountains and reach the hamlets on the coast such as: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Stay at a high altitude until you are near the village center that you wish to visit.
With the exception of Corniglia, each of the Cinque Terre villages is served by boats (it is always possible to buy your ticket before boarding), so, after an intense day of excursions, you can return to your accommodation in the company of an enjoyabe sea breeze and the amber sun that precedes sunset from the deck.
Alternative: in only a few hours, perhaps leaving around 8:00 in the morning, you can reach Riomaggiore. From Spezia to Biassa by bus and then proceed, saving your strength, joining the trail near Riomaggiore. In Riomaggiore, buy a day ticket that allows you to stop off in each one of the Cinque Terre. For example, Monterosso and, from there, go on to Vernazza via the appropriate trail (for a fee during the summer period).
Walking along the trails that lead to the Cinque Terre it is possible to see the prehistoric and lithic traces of the ancient Ligurians: the broken menhir of Monte Capri and the Masso Diavolo menhir.

Motorhomes and vans, the – adventurous – mobility of the moment

Getting around with a van or a motorhome can be a valid solution for exploring the Cinque Terre and the surrounding area. In the area, there are some equipped areas available to travelers who choose to get around in this way.
However, not all of them are accessible at all times of the year while others, during peak season, can be demanding from an economic point of view.
Here are the locations that have one or more rest areas suitable for your needs: La Spezia, Monterosso, Levanto, and Deiva Marina. Some provide electricity and are video-monitored, while others do not have any particular comforts and respond to those with a greater desire for adventure.
Whichever area you choose, it is important to consider how it is connected with the nearest inhabited area thanks to public transportation; in fact, you might encounter some difficulties getting around in the evening, in the dark, due to the reduced number of buses or a total absence of buses.
Another aspect which should not to be underestimated is being able to reach the tourist destinations and landscapes that interest you in the simplest way possible, avoiding downtime and long waits caused by any possible connections.
Among the places of interest that characterize the area of La Spezia, there is undoubtedly Palmaria Island. It can be reached by numerous ferries and it offers unique opportunities for excursions. Portovenere is a wonderful location, with its religious complex clinging to the rock and the fascinating Byron’s Cave. We remind tourists that Portovenere can be reached by car, bus, via the network of trails or by boat, but the hamlet is not served by the railway line.
In addition: the Cinque Terre; Levanto, Deiva and Moneglia are reached both by train and by an efficient navigation service which allows you to enjoy a unique experience in terms of landscape: observing the Riviera di Levante from the deck of one of the numerous boats. In this way, you will be able to enjoy the sea breeze, the sun, and the natural beauties of the UNESCO Park summarized in the vision of its coast, a coast that is unique in the world.

By ferry-boat or in your own boat, the Cinque Terre is reachable by sea

The Cinque Terre is reachable by sea. The hamlets have developed facing the horizon while their inhabitants, with an activity that has lasted for centuries, have transformed the steep rocky ridges located behind the inhabited area into terraced landscapes, hanging gardens where they can grow grapevines, olive trees and vegetables, and at the top of which there are woods or stretches of brooms, juniper, and myrtle.
If you follow the coast by boat, it is possible to thoroughly enjoy this landscape, and its uniqueness - to notice that each of the villages get closer and closer becoming enriched with more and more details. In the last three hundred years, this sea, these colorful houses that extend in height have attracted painters from all over the world. We have before our eyes their palette, very rich in shades ranging among turquoise, green, ocher, and brick red.
Nowadays, it is possible to navigate enjoying every comfort, including excellent Wi-Fi connections (something the train does not have) without missing out on taking otherwise inaccessible images home: the rock of Ferale, the Reds, the Blacks and in general having an overview of Portovenere and Palmaria, as well as the Gulf of Poets; therefore Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso as well as Levanto, Deiva and Moneglia - and resting your gaze on the numerous inhabited centers that are quite a distance from the coast, closer to the top of the mountains.
Using the navigation services makes it possible to follow the route that was once used by the leudi (the typical cargo boat of the Ligurian Riviera) which, exactly in the Cinque Terre, took on its cargo of oil and wine to carry it to the markets of Genoa or Tuscany.
Boating among the Cinque Terre, especially in the summertime, when the sea conditions are the best, adds priceless treasures to the traveler’s memory and saves him from a journey, perhaps faster, but which does not offer the same variety of panoramas: a considerable percentage of the travel time of those who travel by train, in fact, is spent in the darkness of the tunnels - cut off from the surrounding world.


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