If there’s one thing you won’t fall short of on the Italian Riviera, it’s rugged coastline and romantic little towns, but the five villages of Cinque Terre are perhaps the most iconic. The once isolated villages are a favourite amongst tourist but have somehow maintained a feeling of remote authenticity.
Nestled amongst the rugged Ligurian cliffs, Riomaggiore- the largest of the 5 Villages that make up the Cinque Terre- is easily one of my favourite spots in Liguria. The peeling pastel houses line the steep ravine that leads to a tiny harbour; terraced vineyards fill the hills above; rocky, forested cliffs slope into the Mediterranean sea - this little town is the definition of picture perfect!
We happened to visit around mid April- and I wouldn’t recommend any other time to visit (except perhaps end September). There’s significantly fewer tourist than the summer months and the weather is just right - sunny, blue skies but cool enough to enjoy being out and doing a little trekking (the hiking trails are fantastic). Ofcourse, the water around this time is wild, freezing and full of jellyfish, but in all honesty if you’re looking for calm waters and a white sand beach, you won’t find it here. To tap into the essence of the place, brace yourself for a lot of walking.
There are an obscene number of stairs here, and getting from point A to B requires going up and down several flights of large, rocky stairs. We started our morning at the harbour with a quintessential Italian breakfast - coffee and gelato. It’s a beautiful little spot and after several ‘5 more minutes! One more picture! ’ we proceeded to doing a little exploring on the narrow path along the cliff before stumbling upon a little pebble beach - the perfect picnic spot.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about town, it had cooled off enough to get into some serious walking. The neighbouring village of Manarola is usually accessible via the coastal pathway dubbed Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane), an easy 20 minute stroll, but it happened to be closed at the time, so we did the next best thing, we hiked. Route no 531 connects the two villages and while it isn't a very long trail, it certainly is a steep one and not one for the faint hearted. With stunning views of the coastline and the villages flanked on either side of the mountain we stopped for plenty of pictures (a pretext I often used to catch my breath) and we made it to Manarola’s waterfront promenade right in time to find a spot on the rocks for the sunset.
Access is a bit tricky and with no cars allowed in the villages, the best way to get here is by train or boat. There’s a direct train from Genoa, Pisa and Rome or try the ferry from Portofino or Porto Venere.
Don’t make it a day trip! This is one of those places where it’s all about slowing down and taking it all in. Give yourself 3-4 days.
Accommodation here is expensive and oversubscribed, book in advance.