After spending time away in a new destination no one ever wants to return home to the daily slog of work, responsibilities and the general drudgery of routine life. At the end of every trip I long to hear that our return flight has been cancelled or that work has given me an extra day off (extremely wishful thinking), just so we can spend a little bit more time away.
This was exactly how I felt when our adventures in Italy came to an end; we just did not want to leave. But it was more than that. We didn’t want to leave the Cinque Terre because it was so completely magical that it had swept us up and carried us onto a cloud of colourful pastel buildings, cute cafes filled with smiling locals, food and wine we would have been happy to dine on for the rest of our lives, all along the edge of a rugged coastline and turquoise sea so utterly gorgeous that I wanted to move there straight away.
I wasn’t expecting to love this place quite as much as I did, but we can both now say that the Cinque Terre is one of our favourite places in the world.
This region of the Italian Riviera is made up of five small villages (Cinque Terre literally means “the five lands”) that are dotted along the coastline. We based ourselves in Vernazza and spent four wonderful days exploring all that the region has to offer.
The most southern village, Riomaggiore, is as typical an Italian fishing village as you can get. The one main road, full of small restaurants where you can get your fill of seafood and Italian pasta, winds its way down to the harbour, where fishing boats line the shore and pastel coloured houses perch right on the rocky cliff edge. Even on the rainy day that we visited, the village was still incredibly charming and we climbed out onto the rocks for the best views of the village.
Manarola is the smallest of the five villages but it’s the one with the postcard perfect views. We didn’t find much to do here on a rainy day, but just walking along the cliff edge and looking out at the wonderful views was enough to keep us enchanted for a while.
Peaceful Corniglia, perched high up on the edge of the cliffs, was only a brief stop for us as our explorations in the rain had left us nice and soggy, especially after the hike up the 365 steps from the train station to the village! Because of it’s position so high above the water it’s not the best place to stay overnight, but the narrow cobblestone alleyways and the secret beach make this remote village the place to go when you want to get away from all the tourists who swarm into the other villages.
Monterosso al Mare, the most northern village with its two glorious sandy beaches, was bustling with people when we arrived – locals sitting outside cafes, children playing in the playground, people climbing rocks and swimming in the chilly sea and tourists buzzing about everywhere. It’s the largest and most populated of the villages with plenty of accommodation options and lots to do, but because of this it was our least favourite. It just didn’t have the same relaxed and friendly atmosphere that the other smaller villages had but that didn’t stop it from still being an incredibly lovely place.
The last and our favourite of the Cinque Terre villages is Vernazza. This was where we based ourselves so we obviously spent more time exploring here than we did the other villages. The one main road curves its way down past cute cafes and gelato shops, with narrow staircases that lead off to hidden restaurants and viewpoints. The main square is surrounded by the sloping green vineyards, the church and watch tower, where children played on the small sandy beach and people sat outside restaurants and along the harbour walkway looking out to sea.
It wasn’t only that we spent most of our time here that made Vernazza our favourite village, but mainly because it is just so ridiculously gorgeous and it captured our hearts as soon as we stepped off the train.
Do you love the Cinque Terre as much as we do? If you haven’t been, go plan a visit now!