Le Cinque Terre – The Five lands of color and amore

Cinque Terre (Five Lands) in North-western Italy was the main destination in my Italy vacation this April. A place I was attracted to for a long time, but which escaped my travel plans for one reason or other.

Even writing about the ‘Five Lands’ gets me excited, and brings back the same exhilaration I had while driving the 1-2 hours north of Pisa, through the curvy and narrow road just before we reached the northern-most of the villages – Monterosso Al Mare.

When this place gets into your destination list – here are some tips to help your planning:

Start off from the nearby cities

Due to the heavy tourist flow accommodation in the Five Lands is quite expensive. So start off from Genova, La Spezia or even Pisa (our base camp was in Pisa) and reach your first village from the Five lands via train or car.

Allocate at least a couple of days

Even on a very tight schedule, it’s difficult to visit all 5 lands in one day. We did our best to visit 4 of them (all except Corniglia, which is the only village without a sea outlet) within a 11-12 hour tour, but it’s tiring, and the 4th village we visited at dusk and totally out of energy. Add to this driving back around midnight.

View from Vernazza – my favorite village from the Five ones

Use the train

Visiting all 5 villages – Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – is very convenient using the local train. Starting from Monterosso, get a return ticket that includes a stop at each of the 5 villages, and then a direct return to Monterosso. The ticket cost approx 7-8 EUR, and was absolutely convenient (the train stops almost in the center the villages, there was a train every hour or so). However, even in a low-season period the train was full, so try visiting the Five Lands outside of the peak season.

Getting around by car is a definite no-no, there are few car parks (except for Monterosso), narrow streets and huge crowds.

Monterosso – amazing view to the rest of the Five Lands

Walk the Sentiero Azzurro

Sentiero Azzurro (the Light Blue Path) connects all 5 villages, opening marvelous panoramas along the way.

Quick glimpse at Sentiero Azzurro

Walking the whole Sentiero takes 5 hours and is fairly easy. Just make sure the whole path is open, since this April the last part of it – connecting Manarola and Riomaggiore and having the romantic name Via dell’ Amore (The Path of Love) – was closed due to a recent earthquake and security measures taken to restrict persisting landslide. I took a peek at Via dell’ Amore and seeing the amazing views it offered – I know I will be back to walk it!

If the road is closed and you still want to do some hiking – there are well-marked trails with small monasteries and amazing views on the way.

Plan to get wet!

We didn’t stay at the beach, but most of us got totally soaked during this visit – mostly by sudden waves hitting us while we enjoyed the quayside or some ‘protected’ bay 🙂 Still, with plenty of sunshine despite the early spring, we took an hour or two to sunbathe and dry out a bit.

In Vernazza a sudden wave totally soaked a member of our adventurous crew 🙂

Walk the small streets

As with most smaller touristic places, the main square is where all crowds go. Have the courage to walk the truly steep streets, reach the top of hills or fortresses and – enjoy the views that open! At the top of Manarola we got a divine view of all five lands and awkward stone structures laid out for a recent festival.

Manarola – view from the top, after an adventurous uphill hike

Enjoy the postcard views in Manarola and Vernazza

If you are aiming to see exactly those views that most frequently appear on Cinque Terre postcards – then Manarola and Vernazza are your places. I liked the street labyrinth of Riomaggiore too.

Manarola – the most popular view of the most popular Cinque Terre village

Vernazza – the main street

If you ask about specific sightseeing – we did none. The best in visiting the Five Lands is the unique atmosphere of the place, the sea, the views, the colors, the Italian coffee and gelato, the lemons, the steep cliffs going down the sea, and colorful houses perched on them. Open your senses, get rid of any expectations, and enjoy.

The color and aroma of lemons is everywhere

Having visited most of Italy, I know this is my favorite spot in this country. Hope it becomes yours too!

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