If you’ve heard of the Cinque Terre, or five lands on the Ligurian coast of Italy, you probably think of them as sleepy, little Italian towns that are off the beaten path. But the Cinque Terre villages are no longer the undiscovered gems they were when Rick Steves introduced them to travelers in the 1990s.
Back then, most travelers came by train from Genoa or La Spezia. And there were only a few Cinque Terre hotels — most accommodations were pensions or rooms in private homes.
You can still take the train. But from spring through fall, there’s also boat service from Portovenere. And driving is an option. Most of the towns now have parking lots with shuttle service down to the village.
If you go now, you’ll no longer have the Cinque Terre to yourself, so you‘ll need to make your reservations well in advance. But you also have an easier time getting there, and you’ll enjoy better hotels and restaurants while you‘re there.
The natural beauty of the region is as spectacular as ever. Tucked into deep ravines, the villages tumble down the rugged Ligurian coast toward the sea. And the sweeping views here will literally take your breath away. Plan to spend most of your time hiking the gorgeous trail that connects the villages, and swimming in the sea.
Monterosso al Mare and Monterosso hotels.
If you’re coming from the north, Monterosso al Mare is about half an hour from the E80 freeway. It’s the most developed of the Cinque Terre towns. And it has the best beaches and the only true four-star hotel in the region. Base yourself here if you value services and convenience more than peace and quiet.
Monterosso’s pretty old town and newer section are connected by a tunnel. There are several churches worth checking out, a ruined castle, a cemetery, and a piazza with a city hall. You can rent water sports equipment, paddle boats, lounges, and umbrellas at the beach. And several cafes serve lunch if you get hungry. If you don’t want to hike to the other towns, although you really should, you can take a boat from the harbor to Vernazza, Manarola, or Riomaggiore.
The best Monterosso al Mare hotels are Hotel Porto Roca, at the start of the Blue Hiking Trail, Hotel Baia, Hotel Villa Steno, Albergo Pasquale, and Suisse Hotel Bellevue.
Vernazza offers a nice balance between access and seclusion. And it’s probably the prettiest of the villages.
With a beautiful natural harbor, a castle towering over the town, and an ocean-front piazza filled with cafes and bars, what’s not to like.
You can rent a kayak, hike up to the church, or just wander down the narrow lanes past the pastel-colored houses. In the evening, find a terrace with great views of the sea and enjoy a bottle of the local wine.
The best Vernazza hotels are La Mala, Albergo Barbara, and Gianni Franzi.
Corniglia is the least accessible of the Cinque Terra villages, so it’s a good choice if you want to get away from it all. The views here are some of the best along the coast, although the town itself is not on the water. And it’s surrounded by vineyards.
The wine they make here is very good and you shouldn’t leave without trying it. You can sample 30 different kinds at Enoteca Il Pirun, Corniglia’s wine bar. It goes really well with the specialty of the region, pesto.
Corniglia hotels have limited amenities. But Villa Cecio, which also is a good restaurant, is a good bet.
When first glimpsed from the path from Corniglia, Manarola will take your breath away. The buildings seem about to fall into the cove, which is one of the best swimming spots around.
Although the main square is new, it’s an attractive addition, and the waterfront is always jumping. One of the most appealing things to do in Manarola is to take a stroll through the surrounding vineyards and lemon groves. The views are terrific and rosemary and valerian scent the air.
Manarola hotels are some of the best in the Cinque Terre. La Torretta, Hotel Marina Piccola, and Ca d’Andrean are all very nice.
The closest town to La Spezia, Riomaggiore serves as the southern gateway to the Cinque Terre. It’s easily reached by train, boat, or car. And as a result, it’s lost some of its old world charm. But it still offers great access to Cinque Terre National Park.
You’ll find more service here, and several Riomaggiore hotels have Internet access and satellite television service. Locanda Ca dei Duxi, Villa Argentina, and La Baia di Rio are all pleasant places to stay.