Should You Go to the Cinque Terre?

by Bianca Gignac

Post image for Should You Go to the Cinque Terre?

If you’re thinking about a trip to Italy this is a question you’ve gotta ask yourself.

Because if you use something called books and the internet then you’ve likely seen photos that have ignited your spark for an Italian vacation.

We humans travel to a place for a specific reason, to do something or to feel something. We’re also hardwired to want to see things with our own eyes — pictures alone don’t cut it.

Because I want to help you decide if you should go to the Cinque Terre I’m gonna highlight the top reasons people travel there:

  • it’s colorful, picturesque and unique
  • the small villages are built on cliffs along the ocean
  • it’s romantic and nostalgic
  • it’s a national park with a ton of walking trails

Ten years ago I met my husband in one of the Cinque Terre villages. Not only have I lived in the region like a local — but I’ve also worn different travel hats there. I’ve been a first time traveler without a clue and I’ve been a guest treated to all the best spots. Perhaps my most indulgent period of time was one summer where I spent post work afternoons being a lazy beach bum living on nothing but an Italian summertime diet: gelato, figs, campari spritz and free peanuts.

After all these years, my love affair with the Cinque Terre has evolved.

I’m no longer in a monogamous relationship with the Cinque Terre — I now share her sparkle and charms each summer with my guests on my group trips to the Cinque Terre. If you’d like to come with me someday click here to see more.

So, do I think you should travel to the Cinque Terre? Yes — absolutely.

Why you should NOT go to the Cinque Terre:

First, I wanna share a few reasons why you should NOT add the Cinque Terre to your Italy itinerary.

I wanna make it clear that the Cinque Terre isn’t a one size fits all destination (like Sienna — everyone loves Sienna). It suits a certain person, a travel style and a season — so take those into consideration. Here they are:

Don’t go to the Cinque Terre:

1) If you won’t be sleeping there (or in the area).

Why:  Because you’ll likely just be annoyed at the day trippers. You’ll miss out on the sun set, and the early morning beach session. You’ll be too rushed to explore more than two villages and you should likely save it for when you have more time.

2) If you’re traveling in crappy weather.

Why: These are beach towns and many businesses are seasonal. If you’re traveling Italy in cold weather, especially January, February and March there are better places to go (email me for a list).  I even argue that Christmas would be better spent in the city or in the mountains — not the Cinque Terre. November and early spring could be be wet and cold, but if you’re there for serious hiking then it could be the perfect time for you.

3) If you’re expecting a quiet fishing village.

Why: The Cinque Terre was off the beaten path in the 1970’s. Now it’s had forty years of tourism. As a result you’ll see menus in English, tour groups and lots of businesses catering to…tourists. You’ll find places like dive shops, kayak rentals, gift shops and restaurants with fifty types of wine on the list (you know you’re in a sleepy village when the waiter, who is also the cook, the pot washer and the owner, just brings you a glass of wine before you’ve ordered. This is not that place). Whether these are perks or drawbacks is up to you decide.

Why you SHOULD go to the Cinque Terre.

Here are a few excellent reasons to go:

1) You are traveling Italy in the warm months.

Why: You’ll get all the perks: watching the sunset while sipping wine in your sandals, swimming in the sea, going kayaking, licking gelato in the shade and all the restaurants and hotels open to serve you.

2) You like nature, walking and clean things — like air.

Why: The Cinque Terre is a protected marine park which means that big yachts can’t dock here (like in Portofino) so the water is clean to swim in. Also, it’s a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site – which means resources have been poured into trails, restrictions are applied to development (building permits are as scarce as bacon and eggs for breakfast) and the majority of the villages are restricted to pedestrian traffic only. If you live in a city but could use some old fashioned sleep and R&R – this is a great choice for you.

3) You are travelling Italy by train.

Why: If you are travelling from the north, from Milan to Florence or from France to Florence, the train stops here (or in La Spezia for your connection). Train travel is a perfectly good reason to add the Cinque Terre to your itinerary – remember that so many Tuscan hill towns that make Italy famous are not accessible by trains – which means you need to focus your itinerary plans on places you can get to by train. And these villages fit that bill.

4) You have a few nights to dedicate solely to this area.

Why: Let’s face a real fact: the Cinque Terre are five villages. It’s not organized around one central square like any major city — and you’ve gotta figure it out – which take time. Unless you have a local guide to dial you into the best stuff in an instant – by the time you get your bearings on a day trip you’ll be gone. So stick around and actually see the villages for what they are. I would recommend two nights but three nights is best. The trips I host to the Cinque Terre are six nights…and my guests still never want to leave.

5) You dig aesthetics, like taking photos, like daydreaming someday you’ll quit your job and sell everything and move to Italy to sell…lemons, or paintings, or lavender nosegays.

Why: You’ll have a ton of instant friends…and you might just meet an expat who has done exactly that twenty years ago.

***

Frankly, the Cinque Terre is a visual place and a sensual place.

It’s best to see it with your own eyes but if that luxury escapes you at the moment just check out these pictures taken by one of my guests.

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Next week I’ll be publishing a perfect itinerary for a four day stay in the Cinque Terre. You can steal to plan your own trip there with DIY gusto.

If you want to travel to the Cinque Terre without all the planning and hassle then consider coming to Italy with me. Yes, we’re heading to the Cinque Terre again this summer and you’re invited. Read more here.

If you have any questions about the Cinque Terre ask them in the comments below and I’ll help you out.

Love & gelato,

Bianca

Image credit: Leela Cyd.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Falkofske November 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM

Loved this story!

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Bianca Gignac November 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Hi Amy,

Thanks so much for letting me know. It’s always nice to hear.

With love,

Bianca

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Dave obrien November 3, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Been all over the world (with BA cabin crew) and never been to place so beautiful as the five villages, the food the walks the people the trains the ferries it has it all for the tourist with loads of energy. It’s five star at three star price. Love it.

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Bianca Gignac November 13, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Hi Dave,

I think you’ve made an EXCELLENT point. The Cinque Terre really is amazing value. I’m shocked at the apartments for rent for 90 euros a night: huge balconies, a sea view, 2 bedrooms, frescoed ceilings. Like, the list goes on. It’s a gem of a place and I suppose we are the lucky ones who’ve had a taste.

Thanks for your comment Dave.

Baci, Bianca

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Manjit Dhaliwal April 7, 2014 at 1:16 AM

Hi Bianca was wondering if you’d be able to give me the name of where you stayed as we are going there this summer for the first time and feeling a bit over whelmed as to where to stay and how to get there from the Amalfi coast. Although I know the train is the best bet but which town is closest to the train station? Thank you kindly,
Manjit

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Bradley Arthur December 24, 2013 at 8:42 AM

Dear Bianca,
I enjoyed reading your assessment of Cinque Terre. I’m planning a trip for my family (Wife & 2 boys ages 3 and 7 years old) in summer. My wife and I have traveled all over Italy and wanted to pick a base for 4 weeks best suited for the kids. Meaning ample swimming , beach etc. Ideally I’d like to be near the train station, yet remote and away from the tourist mania. What would you suggest? Where do the natives go in Cinque Terre? By the way we’re interested in renting a 3 bedroom home.. Thanks

Brad

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Bianca Gignac March 14, 2014 at 4:53 PM

Hi Brad,

Thank you for asking this question, because it’s a great one! If you’re wondering where the locals go, it depends what they are looking for. My husband, who is a local, would go to the beach at Bonassola — and I think you should check out Bonassola too. If you’re travelling with two children and want to relax, Bonassola has a very safe (not steep or rocky) sandy beach. (I wouldn’t call it remote, but you don’t want my remote beach suggestions with a three and a seven year old!) The village is also stroller friendly, and I’ve personally stayed there with a mob of small children and we had an amazing time. My hot tip: there are a number of private beach clubs. Some have playgrounds right inside, so do yourself a favor and splurge on membership for the day. With the ocean, food, and a playground all within 20 steps, it’s easy breezy sanity : )

Have an amazing time! Wishing you all the best,
Bianca

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Sarah E. January 20, 2014 at 4:52 AM

Hi Bianca,
My fiance and I are planning for our honeymoon to be in Italy, we’re traveling mid March and staying for 2 weeks.
We want to go to Cinque Terre for 2-4 nights and I was wondering if you had tips for us other than what you mentioned before. Which village should we stay at? Will the weather be bad? Will towns be fully functioning, given it won’t be season?
Of course, if you have tips in general about Italy, that would also help… Rome, Florence, Naples and Amalfi Coast (Sorrento and Positano), Sicily (Palermo) are the other places we are looking into. Getting to them all might be difficult given we’re there for only 2 weeks… so any tips/suggestions you might have will be helpful.
Thanks

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Bianca Gignac March 14, 2014 at 5:10 PM

Hi Sarah,

Congratulations on your wedding! Italy, of course, is an incredible place for a honeymoon. March can be rainy in this part of Italy, but if you don’t mind the spring showers, then enjoy! Many places will still be closed, as this is the north of Italy and the season doesn’t really get geared up until the middle of spring.

My best advice for people traveling to Italy — is to slow down. The beauty of travel is in the seeing and feeling, not in rushing or being over scheduled (we already do that at home). That’s just a personal travel style, but I think generally people try to see “everything.” And everything is too exhausting : ) For two weeks, decide how many times you would like to check in and check out of a hotel. For example, if the answer is four, then that will narrow down your home bases. Remember, Italy is compact, so you can still day trip to many places without actually sleeping in them all. I hope that helps!

When you’re in Italy, in love, you already have the perfect trip. All the rest is just a bonus round.

Love,
Bianca

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Chris January 22, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Hi, Bianca
I´m going to Itay mid february (a few days from now), don´t you really recomend Cinq Terre in Feb? I´ve never went and i´m already in love with the region… Can you give me some advice?
Tks a lot :)

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Bianca Gignac March 14, 2014 at 5:15 PM

Hi Chris,

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to answer your comment in time for your trip. Generally speaking, February is cold and rainy. What can be lovely is hiking on the trails if it’s not raining (if there’s heavy rain, skip them), as you’ll have them virtually to yourself and a couple other die-hards. Of course, getting cozied up in a restaurant for the day can be a fun local pastime as well.

I hope your trip was fab,
Bianca

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Anna February 7, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Hi Bianca,
I enjoyed reading your Cinque Terre itinerary . My 22 yr old daughter did a day trip there last year while she spent her summer ‘ studying” in italy :) and her photos were breathtaking ! My husband and I are flying into Pisa , late Sept , early Oct this year and want to spend 3 nights in one of the villages . We planned on renting a car at the Pisa airport , but I’m reading on line that may not be the best thing to do . We plan on coming to Cinque terre first and then spending two weeks traveling through Tuscany by car , maybe have two locations to stay at so we can really enjoy the area and small towns . I understand Italian having grown up with parents from Isernia . I speak their dialect . Can we drive from the Pisa airport to a village where we can park a car and stay for 2-3 nights or should we go back to the airport and rent a car when we leave Cinque Terre .

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Dani Davis February 11, 2014 at 8:32 AM

Hello!

I am currently planning a trip around Europe and Cinque Terre sparked my interest. However, we would be hitting the villages March 31 into the first week of April. Do you recommend that we come, or skip it? We are really into hiking, but do not want to miss out on seasonal restaurants and horrible weather. Thanks in advance!

Dani

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Terrill February 23, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Hello,
I am planning a trip for next week in Italy, and I love the idea of hiking along small, coastal towns. This is why I was drawn to Cinque Terre. However, you said you don’t recommend going during the winter (it would be the first week in March) and you said I could email you for a list of other ideas. Please let me know if you have any recommendations for this travel time.
Thank you,
Terrill

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Terrill February 23, 2014 at 10:40 AM

whoops! this the correct email address to reply on:)

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Kelly March 12, 2014 at 8:05 PM

Hi from Vancouver Bianca,
We will be able to stay for three nights starting 10th of May. Still too early for Cinque Terre? Hope not. Weather cannot be any worse than the B.C. coast.

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Sonya March 13, 2014 at 6:05 PM

Hi Bianca,
Unfortunately we only have 2 nights to spare to visit La Cinque Terre from 15 July 2014. Where do you suggest we try to book our accommodation in Vernazza. Do you have a day tour from there. After reading your Beginners Guide to La Cinque Terre I decided not to come for a day visit from Florence and instead spend 2 nights there. Unfortunately we don’t have more time as have to fly back to Australia from Milan.
Thanking you in advance
Sonya

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Lize March 22, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Hi Bianca
Lovely article!
We will be skiing in Val Gardena in the first week of March 2015 till Sat 7 March and have a week afterwards to spend somewhere in northern Italy (till Fri 13 March).
We were considering spending a few days in Cinque Terra and fly out from Genoa or Florence on Friday 13th. We love nature and hiking and the outdoors, and don’t mine roughing it a bit. But you mentioned that it might not be the best place to go at that time of the year and that you can recommend other places.
Would love to hear your suggestions.
Lize

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Jackie Faust March 26, 2014 at 6:10 PM

My husband and I are visiting my son in Milan. We will travel to Cinque Terre for two nights (3 days) and are wondering if you can offer an itinerary for that? Many thanks, Jackie

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Jackie Faust March 26, 2014 at 6:12 PM

I forgot to mention the dates, April 14-16, 2014. We are planning on heading out to Lucca after that but can be flexible on the date to leave. We wanted to see Tuscany and have until the 17th when we need to meet up with a friend in Venice. Thank you in advance for your suggestions. Jackie

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CC Curtis March 30, 2014 at 11:36 AM

Your suggestions and ideas are amazing! We are planning a 24 day trip in September/October of travel through Italy and I think your words are going to be my bible for the next few months. Venice, Florence, a drive to Pisa, only to catch a train into the Cinque Terre for three days and two nights, Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast… Cooking lessons in Florence reserved; any other personal touches you might add. We are staying in Vernazza at a small rental apartment right near the castle. We are enjoying your ideas so we think anything you might add to our trip would be perfection!!

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Norma, March 30, 2014 at 6:55 PM

We plan on being in Cinque Terra the first week of May. What is you experience weather wise?
Please advise, Thanks

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Kimberly March 31, 2014 at 11:41 AM

Hi Bianca,

I’ll be traveling from Milan to Cinque Terre to Florence, which you said is easy to do by train. Do I need to book my train tickets way in advance, or will the prices stay relatively the same if I book it a day before? I don’t want the prices to go way up or sell out.

Thanks,
Kimberly

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donna April 4, 2014 at 8:40 AM

Hi Bianca,

Great Article!

I am planning to go to Cinque Terre this may for 10 to 12 nights, is this too long? i am 60yrs old female, i am very athletic and climbing the stairs is not a problem for me but will i find people my age?

Thanks
Donna

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Frank April 12, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Hello,

I will be going to Cinque Terre for two nights. I will be driving in from Parma. Since I’m using a car, I think Monte Rosso is my best option. From there I can just take the train to explore the other towns.

Do you have any other suggestions for someone driving into cinque terre… Where to leave the car? Thank

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Aleena April 15, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Hi Bianca,
Thank you for this website it has been so helpful! I do have a question for you. My husband and I will be getting off a cruise ship in Venice on November 15th. I want to head to Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome. Do you have a suggestion on which order to see them in and how to go about travelling to each?

Thank you so much!
Aleena

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Jane Brown April 15, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Hi Bianca,
Wow what an informative site you have. My husband and I are planning to spend a month in Italy March/April. We love walking/hiking and are too bothered about weather (we are not made of sugar). We plan to see Rome, Venice, Florence, do a cycling tour in Tuscany (unless you have a better recommendation) and will meet up with friends for a week of walking. We looked at the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre for that part, but after reading your blog, I was wondering if you would recommend either or do you have another suggestion. We are fit, love adventure and love getting off the beaten track. I can’t wait to explore Italy. Do you have any suggestions of what we could do?
Regards, Jane

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