Cinque Terre is a collection of five towns on the western Italian coast: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Originally former fishing towns, the Cinque Terre coast has slowly transformed into a hiking and beach destination. Despite being full of visitors from all over the world, we immediately fell in love with our stay in Corniglia, Cinque Terre. As the third stop on our 9-day Italy trip, the nature of the hills and vineyards brought us restful reprise after the chaos of packed cities in Florence and Venice. We stayed in an adorable Airbnb with sea and mountain views in Cornigila. We used that as our launching point for hikes and beach trips. Below are the highlights from the 2 days we spent in Corniglia.
At first glance, it might seem a bit confusing how to select where to go in Cinque Terre and how to navigate between the towns to get the best experience. But I can promise you, once you get there you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get around!
Day 1 – Hike the Cinque Terre Trail
Morning: Hike Corniglia to Monterosso
Corniglia is the middle town of the five villages in Cinque Terre. We had the option to go north to Vernazza and Monterosso or south to Manarola and Riomaggiore.
We were pretty ambitious about our hiking goals and wanted to hike every trail between the 5 towns. In total the hike would take about 6 hours from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. We bought a Cinque Terre Card online for hiking, train and buses. It is sooo worth the €16!
Waking up super early was clutch because in mid-July the trails were super hot. Before hitting the trail to Vernazza, we grabbed some espresso and stuffed focaccia bread from the local cafe: Bar Pan e Vin. We ate here both mornings of the trip, trading off between olive and tomato stuffed bread and arugula and cheese. The focaccia was nice and salty, which was perfect because we were about to hike and sweat a ton. Another traditional baked good to the area is farinata, a chick pea flour cake.
Finding the trail to Vernazza was pretty easy. The Cinque Terre National Park keeps the trails clearly marked and well-maintained. Usually there’s a guard checking passes, but when we left around 8am, there was nobody in the hut yet.
We hiked for about 1 hour before hitting Vernazza. The views overlooking the turquoise blue water and the small village were incredible–some of my favorite during the entire trip. We paused in Vernazza and explored the town for an hour.
In Cinque Terre, we resolved to have a drink in each town we visited. Tasting all the varieties of the Italian spritz became our mission. We sipped limoncello spritz at Burgus Bar to cool off. The bartender was awesome and told us stories of the buildings construction in 1116. Not a typo! That bar is nearly 900 years old!! The whole region is! It’s mind blowing to me. Then, we explored a small rocky hidden beach on the south side of the town before grabbing (some more!) focaccia to-go as a snack.
Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso was pretty steep incline, but we completed the trail in about 2 hours. The vineyard covered hills are so beautiful and when the top of the hour strikes, you can hear bell towers all over the hillside ringing out. We hiked somewhat leisurely taking plenty of pictures and breaks for sunscreen and water. I couldn’t help but compare some of the crazy inclines to my hike in Gorges du Verdon in the south of France.
Afternoon: Beaches of Monterosso
Monterosso al Mare was exactly what I imagined when I think Italian beach town. Standing a top of the ledge of the hike, we gazed over crystal turquoise water, rocky beaches and colorful beach umbrellas in blue, orange, and green. I nearly cried.
We stopped at the first beach for a swim. The pebble beaches were HOT, and I wish I had something other than tennis shoes to walk around in, but we survived. The public beach had plenty of space to layout and we even found a somewhat shady rock crevice to leave our things. Next door, umbrellas and lawn chairs were for rent. Since we were only staying for a few hours it wasn’t worth it, but if we were in Monterosso for longer the chair would be a great idea because you get to keep it all day! The turquoise blue water was cool and refreshing. All the beaches had showers that we rinsed off in after our swim.
Refreshed and sufficiently hungry, we headed into town for a bite to eat. Since nearly every restaurant seemed to be serving the same things at the same prices we stopped at Moretto Lady, which was pretty average overall. I had pesto trofie and my boyfriend had seafood pasta–both specials to the region. We also sampled two different spritzes: Aperol and Campari. Potentially some judging bias since we drank so much Aperol in Venice, but we definitely liked it better than the Campari.
Although we didn’t eat here, the best panoramic views of Monterosso is at Hotel Porto Roca. I’ve saved it for my next trip 🙂
After lunch we picked up cappuccino at Fast Bar and explored the town. We saw the Church of St. John the Baptist–identifiable by its distinctive black and white marble stripes–and browsed through the boutiques. I always like to get a Christmas ornament for each trip I take, so I picked out a bright yellow handmade lemon as a souvenir.
After all the food and sun, we were pooped and headed back to Corniglia for a nap. The Cinque Terre train made me kinda feel like I was in Disneyland or an airport. It runs every 20 minutes and takes you up and down the track between the five towns. Even if you’re not hiking, it’s super easy to get between the towns on the train. Tickets cost €4, but if you’re planning on riding it more than once or hiking, the Cinque Terre hiking pass is definitely well worth the money.
Evening – Dinner in Manarola
Our initial plan was to train to Corniglia and then hike down to Manarola and Riomaggiore. However, Italy was experience a near triple-digit heat wave and the afternoon sun was now shining directly on the mountains. (In the morning, you’re completely in shade on the trail as the sun is on the other side). So we modified our plan and set off to explore our next town.
Manarola proved to be my favorite town to explore. When we arrived, we bought Moretti beers (check out that #ItsNotHouzie) and found a nice spot to watch the cliff diving. The town has an interesting cove filled with rocks and deep water that many people were jumping into. The divers were talented, but made me a bit nervous launching themselves off the big rocks.
Manarola had some truly spectacular sunset views. We climbed up around the ledge to the top of the town into a public park. If we had planned accordingly, it would have been the perfect place to picnic for dinner. At the top of the hill was a popular restaurant with a line out the door called Nessun Dorma.
A bit hungry ourselves, we went back to the train station to catch the next one to Riomaggiore (we at least wanted to see all five towns, even if we didn’t hike them!). However, the next train wasn’t for 40 minutes (they slow down the frequency in the evenings), so we headed back into town to wander around.
BY CHANCE, we walked up the hill to the church and a sign for Trattoria Dal Billy caught my eye. A follower had recommended it to me and somehow I remembered it in that moment, so curiosity peaked my interest and I went to check it out.
OH MY GOD. IT WAS AMAZING.
Lodged onto the top of the hill overlooking the entire town of Manarola, the marina, and clear views of the setting sun, we couldn’t not stay. AND, they had ONE table left! It was so perfect. We sipped on delicious house wine. I had a bowl of hearty spicy pasta. I nearly cried when the sunset. It was magical. If you want to go, definitely call ahead and make a reservation. Every table in the house was full and we had to be out by 9pm for the next reservation to come in. Billy’s was a highlight of the trip for sure, and I would 100% return again!
We caught the 9:30pm train back to Corniglia well-fed, exhausted, and ready for bed.
Heads up: the trains switch to arriving every hour in the evenings with a gap between 10:30pm and 1:30am, so make sure you’re back home when they stop running!
Day 2 – Exploring Corniglia
Morning – Breakfast and a Swim
Our home base of Corniglia in Cinque Terre was the perfect place to stay. Separated from the train station by like 100 stairs, it’s a bit more remote than the other towns and more quiet in the afternoons and evenings. Still recovering from the hecticness of our other Italian destinations, we reveled in the calm of the small town. Our Airbnb was a delightful room in a hotel with amazing views of the hillside.
For breakfast, we grabbed focaccia and coffee from Bar Pan e Vin and then headed down to the water. The Corniglia marina is located at the bottom of about 100 stairs. (Everything is built into the hillside in Cinque Terre if you haven’t noticed). The Corniglia marina has no sand or pebbles, just giant rocks and a small pier.
In the morning, we had the marina entirely to ourselves. It started off shady and then gradually became more sunny as the sun rose. The water was memorizing and refreshing. Navigating the rocks was a bit tricky, but once I got in the water it was was easy to swim around. Many of the rocks are covered in barnacles and little shells and I saw several people cut themselves on it (myself included). The secluded nature of the Corniglia marina was so worth it though.
Afternoon – Exploring Corniglia
Let’s be real. All the towns in Cinque Terre are super tiny and can be walked around in less than an hour. Corniglia was no exception. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the church, the hillside vineyards and gardens, and all the panoramic views from the most unexpected places.
We lunched at La Scuna on their outdoor patio overlooking the marina and vineyards nestled onto the hillside. One highlight was sipping on spritzes with homemade liquor from the region. We tried peach and ginger, but they also had pomegranate, thyme and sciacchetrà (a local wine) on the menu. My verdict still stands: Aperol is the best.
We also went to the Corniglia marina in the afternoon. More people in the afternoon, but still relatively chill and secluded. Corniglia water didn’t have the same touristy vibe that Monterosso al Mare beaches had. We amused ourselves with watching some cliff jumpers and watching crabs scuttle over the rocks.
Evening – Sunset Dinner in Corniglia
Dinner in Corniglia was at Cecio’s. Our Airbnb was located on top of the restaurant and managed by the same people (we got a discount on the bill!). The restaurant filled up quickly by 8:30 and the views did not disappoint.
The pastel pinks, blues, and yellows of the sunset reflecting on the water and across the Corniglia hillside were incredible. The food was some of my favorite as well. I had the pesto trofie which is a potato based pasta and nearly died and went to heaven. It was cooked perfectly al dente and I had an out of body experience while eating it. First thing I do when I get back to the states is get some mailed to my house. The house wine and homemade cannolis for dessert made the evening perfect. I recommend this place 10x over! It was the perfect way to conclude our evening in Corniglia, Cinque Terre.
What to Wear When Hiking Cinque Terre
Below is a list of what we carried to the beaches in Corniglia and hiking in Cinque Terre. I’ve linked some of my favorite products:
- Good hiking shoes. Trails are rocky with steep inclines — sandals will not work. I always wear my trusty Nike Pegasus!
- Swimsuits. You can literally jump into the water at any time in any of the towns. It’s awesome.
- Water. We climbed nearly 170 flights of stairs in one day. That’s a lot of sweat. In Corniglia you can fill your water bottles up in the town fountains, but nowhere else. This water bottle stays cool in the heat.
- Sunscreen. Duh. Buy this ahead of time because it’s expensive in Europe. My favorite is Coola (def can’t find that here!).
- Towel. Rocks on the beaches are hot. Plus, you’ll want to dry off after you rinse off at the beach. Our Airbnb didn’t provide us with enough towels to take hiking, but this quick dry towel is small and would be perfect for the beach.
- Hat and sunglasses! I always like an excuse to rep Houston wherever I go in this hat.
- Cash. The smaller stores and restaurants don’t charge credit cards under €10.
Put everything into a light backpack and you’re good to go!
Of all the places in Italy we’ve been, Cinque Terre tops the list of places we want to return to. Not only did we not finish the hike, but we discovered so many other parts of the Cinque Terre park to explore! Things left on our Cinque Terre list:
- Riggamiore: It has the reputation of being the “livelier party town.” Not sure how much partying I can do after all the sun and hiking, but still sounds like the perfect excuse to return!
- 12K bike trail in Levanto
- All the other little hikes between the tens of other towns in the region (probably less crowded, and just as beautiful!)