(Be sure you read the P.S.)
Originally published in May 2015 and updated April 3, 2019.
When you are in the south of France, Italy is just around the corner. A trip from France to Cinque Terre will present you with jaw-dropping sites so it is definitely worth the visit.
Cinque Terre is known for having the five (hence, “Cinque”) towns on the hillsides of the Italian Riviera and I ended my 5 1/2 week trip with a couple of nights in the region before I headed home. You’ve likely seen pictures of one of the five towns (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) and yes, the towns are STUNNING!! Your jaw drops when you look down on the towns during a hike or looking up from the ferry. I suggest you do both.
France To Cinque Terre By Train
You can easily get to one of the towns by train from France. Sure, you could drive but you’d end up just leaving your car in a town and taking the ferry or train to the other towns. One does NOT drive from town to town. The parking in each of these towns is tight, steep, and you’d have a difficult time even finding a parking spot.
In mid-May I drove to Nice and dropped off my rental car. The plan was to travel by train to Genoa where I would buy another ticket to Riomaggiore. Total travel time on the train was to be 5 hours. Of course things didn’t work out that way. They cancelled my train to Genoa but I was able to get another one. In Genoa I bought a 2nd class return ticket for 15 €. If you do this, remember to validate your ticket in the machine. My return ticket allowed me to return any time on the day I had chosen.
I finally arrived in Riomaggiore at 9 pm, absolutely exhausted but was able to get the (last) shuttle from the town that went up the (very steep) hill to my hotel (cost: 2.5 €—it was worth every cent, especially as I had luggage with me).
I had enough time to go for a seafood dinner at a restaurant (called Ristorante Ripa del Sol) around the corner from my hotel, Cinque Terre Residence. The main course (sea bass and vegetables), wine (1/2 a bottle of Chianti), and dessert (Tiramisu) were excellent–for a reasonable 36 Euros
Highlights Of My 2 Day Visit In Cinque Terre
Weather: The weather in mid to late May was hot (high 20 degrees C) and sunny.
Let me just summarize the 2 days/3 nights that I spent in Cinque Terre and share some pictures as pictures speak louder than words:
The hotel I was staying at had an excellent buffet breakfast with cereals, meats, fruit, yogurt, and various coffees. The owners were very helpful and gave me a bus ticket so that I could take the bus from Riomaggiore to Volastra. From Volastra I began my hike.
(a) Hiking from Volastra to Corniglia
The folks at the hotel I was staying at recommended the route from Volastra to Corniglia; however, they should have asked if I hiked. I have hiked but I would not call myself a “hiker”.
- The route was STRENUOUS, to say the least
- Not flat
- Up and down for 1-1/4 hours
At times I was scared of slipping; however, the views were worth it. They were breathtaking. Those phrases, “worth it” and “breathtaking” were used by fellow hikers and me constantly. I walked around Corniglia and of course, had to get some gelato. My reward for hiking.
(b) Train to Manarola (Cost: 1.8 €)
Lunch was at the highly rated “Trattoria da Billy” that another guest at my hotel had recommended. The sea bream, grilled mixed vegetables and 1/2 a bottle of Cinqueterre wine were perfect. The owner then had me try 4 different liqueurs to sample. It wasn’t a cheap meal but it was excellent (cost: 50 €).
After lunch, I walked up the hillside to get good views of Manarola. It was very steep and a bit hair-raising, but once again, worth the views. When you are in Manarola, order some take-out deep fried calamari from Mama Mia for 5 €. It’s a great deal and the calamari is fresh.
Headed back by train to Riomaggiore. The trip only takes about 3 minutes.
I bought the 1 day Cinque Terre Trail Pass for 12 € and took the train from Riomaggiore to Vernazza to begin my hike. The Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre website has lots of information.
Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso
I was advised that the best way to go is in the direction FROM Vernazza TO Monterosso. There are still lots of ups and downs and not as many tourists go in this direction. Yes, at times the narrow trail becomes crowded and yes, technically you could fall off the cliff. Just saying.
Before My Hike
I stopped at a cafe for a café latte and when the owner asked if I wanted a pastry, I said no. He immediately said I must be Canadian because we don’t eat pastries! So, of course, I ordered one. Wasn’t he good at getting customers to buy something!?
The People You Meet While Hiking
I started my hike late in the morning and met up with some Australians. They invited me to join up with them and together we hiked the 2-hour trail. It wasn’t as bad as the Day 1 hike and again, the views were stunning.
When our hike was over, I was dripping. It was about 27 degrees C. and afterward, I realized I got a sunburn. We went to a restaurant but after waiting and waiting, we decided to leave. Really bad service. That’s when the owner (?) threw my napkin at me and hit one of the Australians. She was mad we had messed up her napkins and were leaving. The rest of the locals were nice. Maybe this owner was simply fed up with all the tourists. Yet, tourist dollars do help the Cinque Terre economy. It’s a double-edged sword.
I walked around Monterosso and then took the ferry back to Riomaggiore.
Trip Advice About Cinque Terre
The Views In Cinque Terre
The views are always spectacular when you are leaving one of the towns or approaching a town—by foot or by boat. The hiking paths are at the top of the towns, so you are looking down at them and getting picture-perfect views. When you arrive by train, you are at the base of the town, by the water. Be sure to take the ferries. The one from Monterosso to Riomaggiore stops at each of the other towns.
The Food In Cinque Terre
Be prepared to enjoy fresh fish and seafood every day. I took a liking to sardines and anchovies but certainly loved the sea bass and calamari.
Crowds In Cinque Terre
Like Venice, Cinque Terre is immensely popular. So popular in fact that there has been much talk about limiting the number of tourists who are allowed into the area.
What To Bring/Wear On Your Outings
It felt like a hot summer even though it was May and to hike between the towns, I wore shorts, a sleeveless running top, and running shoes. Be sure to bring a hat, wear sunscreen and carry lots of water.
Do you need to be in shape to hike the Cinque Terre? Yes. You also need hiking, trail or running shoes. At the end of my hike to Monterosso, I was asked by an American at the end how long the hike was. I said 2 hours and that it was strenuous but the views were worth it. I added that she better have water. All she kept saying was, “You have to be kidding”. I wasn’t. Don’t think she was prepared for real hiking.
Cinque Terre has always been on my bucket list and I am fortunate that I was able to add it on to my trip to France and Spain. 5 1/2 weeks, however, is a long time and I was very happy to head home.
I almost didn’t make it home. In Italy, the hotels hang onto your passport. I forgot to pick it up the evening before I flew home and when I left at 5:45 am, no one was at the desk. When I realized at the airport shuttle stop, I ran back to the hotel, which, thankfully, was only a block away. But the door was locked and no one was there. So I frantically rang the doorbell and finally someone heard, got me my passport and I caught the shuttle bus to the airport and did not miss my flight!