Today, I’m visiting my happy place. Would you like to come along?
Welcome to the Cinque Terre. It’s a special world, set apart from the regular world, where time slows down, the people are friendly, the sun always shines, and cars don’t exist.
The Cinque Terre is composed of 5 towns, each with its own character, all sitting next to the Mediterranean. Their other similarities include their car-free living, hilly terraces, pesto, wine, fruit de mare (seafood caught in the morning and served that night).
Let’s visit the first town, our home base. It’s called Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore is the southernmost town. It’s steeply vertical orientation makes it a challenge to walk, but it’s well worth the splendid vistas at every turn.
The harbor is a wild and sometimes fierce place, when the wind blows in, and daredevil rock jumpers swim in the deep waters.
Around 5:00 p.m., the locals all come out to walk the streets, sit on benches, and chat with each other. The children gather at the church to play football.
Walk down the main street, and you’ll see the several restaurants, all advertising the catch of the day, two grocery stores, jewelry and beach gear vendors, and the local fruit stand.
At the bottom of the main street, take a right, and walk the long tunnel to the train station. But we’re not taking a train. We’re walking the Via dell’Amore.
This famous walk is called lovers lane for a reason. You don’t find views like this just anywhere. For years, lovers have come here to place a padlock all along the route, a symbol of the strength of their love.
In about 20 minutes, you’re at the second town, Manarola.
Little Manarola boasts the best deep water swimming around, with easy access ladders in the harbor, and little boat traffic to get in the way.
At this point, you have a choice, continue the hike from the Via dell’Amore or take the train. I advise the train because the hike from here is pretty rough going.
Arrive at Corniglia, the town on the hill, far above the water.
To get to the town, take a small, highly packed bus that leaves the train station about every 30 minutes, or walk up the steep stairs, which will take you what seems like forever, to get an incredible view of the land below. Corniglia has a rocky beach below the train station for swimmers equipped with footwear.
Hop back on the train, and see Rick Steves’ favorite town, Vernazza (you can hear him gush about it here). It has a lot to offer, for sure. The only town with a natural harbor, there is a modest sandy beach with easy access and shallow swimming areas.
Climb to the top of the castle and look out over the ocean, or eat at the restaurant, which has you perched overlooking the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Italy.
And your final stop on this daydream will be Monterosso del Mare, the town with the incredible sandy beaches. Leave the train station and walk the strip along the water, taking a break at a gelato stand if you get tired. And keep walking until you pass through a large tunnel. On the other side, find the quieter beaches, filled with more locals and less tourists.
Keep an eye out for the “coco” vendors, selling fresh pieces of coconut to chew on while you’re basking in the sun.
And this ends our journey to the Italian Rivera. Thanks for being my travel companion.