The five villages that together are the Cinque Terre make for a charming and stunning destination in Italy. I find fascinating how historically they were isolated from each other despite their closeness. Then the fact the best way to reach the villages is by a beautiful train route, through the mountains, along the rugged coastline, to me, cements their appeal as a rustic Italian retreat. That said; now the question does beg to be answered: Which is the best town to stay in Cinque Terre?
I would like to answer this question for you. Read on and let's explore the unique characteristics of each town, so you can choose where you will base yourself for your visit.
The Cinque Terre villages are located on the Italian Riviera. They are a group of five villages perched along the rugged winding coastline. For those of you who need a bit of brushing up on your Geography; on the West side of Italy (at the top of the boot), South facing length of coastline.
The area is not too far from Genova (Genoa), Pisa, Florence and Venice.
The railway linking the five villages with the outside world was only opened in 1874 as a single-track railway. The second track was only added in the 1970's. There are networks of donkey tracks between all the villages which now serve as excellent opportunities for hiking. Before the railway these tracks were the only way the residents accessed each other and the outside world...
Of course, there is also the sea, but the rugged coastline makes access difficult and limited to smaller boats and good weather.
The Cinque Terre villages have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
"The Ligurian coast between Cinque Terre and Portovenere is a cultural landscape of great scenic and cultural value. The layout and disposition of the small towns and the shaping of the surrounding landscape, overcoming the disadvantages of a steep, uneven terrain, encapsulate the continuous history of human settlement in this region over the past millennium". UNESCO
This is the Easternmost Village of the Cinque Terre and closest to the town of La Speiza. Riomaggiore is the first village you meet when taking the train from La Speiza heading West and the largest of the five.
Riomaggiore is something like a Cornish village on Mediterranean steroids.
There are wonderfully colourful houses all crowded into the steep sides of the valley leading to a charming narrow harbour in a cove, with pristine azure waters. Well worth spending at least one night in this little village, the romantic sunset will make it worthwhile alone.
Check out the pictures in this Huffington Post article.
The village of Riomaggiore is a good place to have as your base from which to visit the other villages. Or as a starting point from which you continue to the other villages. Riomaggiore has lots of convenient hiking in the area as well. The Lonely Planet calls it "picture postcard perfection".
So, could this be the best town to stay in Cinque Terre for you? Just hold on a sec, while I introduce you to the rest.
Manarola is next on the train route that heads West from La Speiza.
This village is smaller than Riomaggiore yet when you see it, (particularly from the sea) the village projects a regal, grand, solid, presence.
This is due to the position of the houses, perched at the top of a tall grey cliff with the little quiet, rectangular harbour beneath it. Giving the impression of a kind of castle or fortress made up of little colourful houses.
You can read more about the village in this article about Manarola.
Manarola village is famous for the many grape vines that are grown on terraces around the village, and for wine buffs the local sweet wine will make for some fine tasting. The village also claims it is the oldest of the five Cinque Terre so for those of you who are interested in history (or wine or both!) Manarola will make a good base from which to explore the Cinque Terre.
Now, you may be wondering: "Could this be the best town to stay in Cinque Terre for me?". Maybe, but please read on, the next three towns are waiting.
Corniglia is the next stop on the train route and has a whole different character to the first two villages. Corniglia is the only village that cannot be reached by the ferry. If you arrive by train you emerge on a platform next to the seafront (how cool is that?), then climb your way up more than 300 steps to reach the village. Make sure to pack light (or take the shuttle bus)!
Corniglia itself is nestled on top of one of the peaks that make up the rugged coastline, with marvellous sea views from its eagle's nest location.
A short distance from the village dramatic high cliffs drop away to the sea. This is the smallest of the five Cinque Terre and might just be my favourite because I love peace, quiet and hiking!
We've made this far. The 4th and 5th town are also worth visiting.
Fourth stop along the train route is Vernazza, the village many people refer to as the heart of Cinque Terre.
Vernazza has a more laid-back appearance to the village of Riomaggiore with a wider "larger" natural safe harbour. There are houses built close to and along the seafront, as well as houses fanning out and up the valley sides.
Winding cobbled streets chisel their way between the homes. Out of the five towns Vernazza was the worst affected by massive flash flooding in 2011.
You can read more about the floods and the excellent hiking that can be done between the towns in this Guardian article.
Perhaps the layout of Vernazza accounts for the relaxed and easy-going atmosphere. You should definitely spend at least one night and enjoy the peace and quiet after the day trippers go home. There are restaurants and local products aplenty while a ruined castle perched up on the cliffs presides over the town. The harbour serves as a great place to freshen up by swimming in the sparkling waters.
"Vernazza is just gorgeous. Could this be the best town to stay in Cinque Terre yet?", you asked. Well, I introduce you to the last one, Monterosso.
Last but not least Monterosso is the last stop on the train route from La Speiza to all of the villages that make up the Cinque Terre.
Monterosso boasts a strip of lovely sandy beach and is popular with holiday makers wanting to enjoy the sea as well as the attractive village.
The liveliest town of the five, Monterosso symbolically acts as a stepping stone back into cosmopolitan Italy. The old village and the new village are juxtaposed together along with a lively nightlife and rustic local fare in the many restaurants.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article about the five villages of the Cinque Terre and now you have a better idea of which village will be the best village for YOU to visit in Cinque Terre.
I think my favourite has to be secluded Corniglia for its peace and quiet, but I also like romantic Riomaggiore for its romantic sunsets and the dramatic way the houses climb up the steep valley sides.
Do comment below. let me know your thoughts on Cinque Terre. Have you been yet or the Cinque Terre is still on your bucket list? Which is the best town to stay in Cinque Terre in your opinion? Let us know any tips you have about the Cinque Terre? If you have been which village was it that captured your heart?