Ten tips for enjoying the Cinque Terre

Hi Frugalistas!

The Cinque Terre is a very special part of Italy – laid back, casual and relaxing, it is a great place to have a holiday from your trip.  While many people visit the Cinque Terre for its reknowned hiking trails, there is plenty to offer any traveller looking to experience this different part of Italy.  Here are my top tips for enjoying the Cinque Terre:

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1.  Don’t worry if you don’t get to do everything

The Cinque Terre is relaxed.  It’s not the sort of place to race around with a checklist of sites and “must do” activities.  Resist the temptation to set a cracking pace.  Relax, breathe, rest, absorb and enjoy.  Spend time seeking out and enjoying the little things – watching the ferries chugging from town to town, seagulls wheeling against the blue sky, or just enjoy the view.

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2.  Relax and accept that not everything will work

Trains between the towns will be late, buses up to the hilltop towns in the hinterland will not be running, or the ferries will be cancelled because of the weather.  Expect loos at the train stations to be closed for refurbishment, restaurants to be closed unexpectedly.  It’s OK though, it’s the Cinque Terre, take a chill pill, get with the dolce vita, relax and enjoy where you are.

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3.  Eat local

While I advocate this no matter where I am, in the Cinque Terre it is a must.  Carnivores need to forget the red meat – fresh local seafood rules here – and is cheap!  Great local wines (especially the whites) are a definite to try and definitely don’t miss the chance to try the local dessert wine of the Cinque Terre, sciacchetra (shar-cat-TRA) – delicious!  Other local treats to try:  pesto (yes, it is a Ligurian treat, so eat away!), walnuts (delicious as a pasta sauce) and limoncello (lee-mon-chello) a strong lemon flavored after dinner drink.  For more details on eating local in the Cinque Terre, see here.

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4.  Don’t expect five star luxury

If you want 5 star luxury head to Portofino.  The Cinque Terre is homely, small family hotel territory (there are a few bigger 4 starts in Monterosso if you are desperate.)  Private rooms (camere) to rent abound.  The almost no-English speaking owner of my hotel (a modest 13 room 3 star) made my morning cappuccino.  His daughter manned the desk.  Their dog was the star of the breakfast room each morning.  That’s the spirit of the Cinque Terre.

5.  Pay attention when on the train

Local trains in the Cinque are long.  Platforms are short.  At many of the stations the train will stop and you will still be in one of the many tunnels.  Pay attention, and if the train stops, and your town is the next scheduled stop, get off.  Listen carefully to English language announcements at the stations.  At some stations the platforms are actually shorter than the trains – the train doors will only open in the middle carriages, so listen, and congregate with all the other tourists in the middle of the train.  Trains don’t run that frequently, so missing your stop and having to back track can waste a lot of your time.

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6.  Crowds

In spring the trains disgorge what seem like hordes of tourists who look hellbent on ruining your enjoyment and tranquillity.  Don’t despair – while the crowds may seem terrible leaving the station, people disperse pretty quickly and it is possible to find your own personal, private Cinque Terre.

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7.  Leave the main drag or main square

Regardless of what town you visit, head off into the quiet lanes and away from the main drag.  You’ll find your own private fabulous views, interesting architecture and a very personal experience.

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8.  Catch a ferry

Do it first thing in the morning or later in the day and enjoy the lack of other tourists, the calm waters and the beautiful light.  Late afternoon from the ferry is a perfect spot for some gorgeous photos as the light is just right to show the towns off at their best.

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9.  Pack light

I know I say this all the time, but really the Cinque Terre is one place where a small bag is a must.  It’s hilly, there’s stairs everywhere.  Smaller towns don’t have taxis and there are almost no lifts.  You will be carrying your bag up stairs, and dragging/carrying it up steep hills regardless of where you stay.  Trains are high and station platforms are low, so you need to plan to able to lift your bag up about a metre (3feet).

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10.  Walk, even if you are not a hiker

Not all of us are hikers – myself included.  There are still plenty of opportunities for walking around the towns and their outskirts and country walks not on the hiking trails.  As I write, a number of the easier paved walking paths remain closed due to the awful 2011 storms and other adverse weather events.  Even so, a non-hiker like me still found plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views, the hillside terraces and the country side.  I’ll be writing about walks for non-hikers in a future post.

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If you’ve been to the Cinque Terre, what are your suggestions for enjoying your stay?

For the perfect guide book to the Cinque Terre click here.  This will take you to my shop and I do earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Related posts:

Cats of the Cinque Terre

Early morning in Manarola

Eating well in the Cinque Terre

All photos author’s own

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23 Comments on “Ten tips for enjoying the Cinque Terre”

  1. Roberta Loufek 10/05/2013 at 4:34 am #

    Fantastic post! Thank you for the wonderful tips, especially about how the trains are long but the platforms short – so get off when it stops before your destination. And about how they exit from the middle – look for the crowd preparing to depart. Those tips alone probably saved me from missing a station on my future trip. You have helped me to plan a much better trip.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 10/05/2013 at 6:09 am #

      Thanks Roberta. It’s always great to hear that I’ve helped with some useful information. I’ll be doing a series on the Cinque Terre looking at eating and drinking, walks for non hikers, day tripping to Portofino and accommodation options as well as a couple of more reflective pieces.

  2. Jeff Titelius 12/05/2013 at 9:20 am #

    What helpful tips to heed to make the most of any journey to Cinque Terre! It certainly sounds like my kind of place…slow travel…slow eating…the ideal way to experience Italy. Sign me up!

  3. Carol 13/05/2013 at 6:30 am #

    Great information! This area has been on my list since the first series of Time/Life cookbooks (in the 60’s I think it wasthat they published some photos). Hoping to get there next year and your series will be invaluable. Thanks and for your whole blog.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 13/05/2013 at 6:49 am #

      Thank you, that’s so kind. You will have a wonderful time and it will be well worth the wait!

  4. Pretraveller 13/05/2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Jo, thanks for a great article about Cinque Terra!

    I have enjoyed both of my two visits to the area as well. One time I travelled in full winter, and the other time in full summer. It is a really welcoming place, and I still remember having my first Italian style hot chocolate (like thick melted chocolate anyone?) and limoncello, both in Vernazza. Mmmm…

    By the way, I love your new blog design!

  5. Anita Mac 25/05/2013 at 6:45 am #

    Fabulous tips! Will put them to good use when I visit Cinque Terre – not sure when I will be going, but it is on my expanding bucket list!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 25/05/2013 at 6:47 am #

      Thanks Anita! I’ve also written about eating in the CT and have got a couple more planned. Day trip to Portofino anyone?

  6. Maria 05/06/2013 at 8:56 pm #

    Great blog! thanks for the advice.
    I wonder if school holidays will make a difference in the amounts of poeple going – any advice on timing for a quiet time in late summer-autumn?
    thanks

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 06/06/2013 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks for the feedback. I was there in late April. It was very busy, especially on the trains, but people dispersed pretty quickly into the villages and it was pleasant to get around the villages and enjoy them. It was easy to get tables at restaurants for dinner. The last day I was there was a public holiday in Italy and it was noticeably busier everywhere with Italian families out to enjoy a day near the sea. I suspect it’s like anywhere popular in Europe – avoid high summer and public/school holidays and go for spring and autumn instead to avoid the big crowds.

  7. theconnorsseur 16/06/2013 at 7:39 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to visit the CT, which village/town would you recommend most of all?

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 16/06/2013 at 8:17 pm #

      They are all so close together, you need to visit them all. Monterosso has more night life, but the others have a more villages feel. I stayed in Manarola, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment!

      • Lucy 27/06/2013 at 8:09 am #

        My daughter and I want to take our first trip to Italy. This looks perfect! We want economical and laid back. Do you recommend a rental car or just taking the train?

      • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/06/2013 at 8:19 am #

        In Italy – always the train!! The cities are mad, and not made for cars. Only time I would suggest a car is if you want to tour Tuscany – then hire a car in florence or Siena just for that part of the trip. I have a post on the blog that might help you with your decision making: http://frugalfirstclasstravel.com/2012/08/25/planes-trains-automobiles-getting-around-europe/

        I travel alot by train in Italy and have always found the system works well. I also have a series of posts on Eurail passes that you can access by searching my home page.

        Good luck, and happy, safe frugalfirstclass travels!

  8. Pamela 02/01/2014 at 11:34 am #

    Such good advice for the Cinque Terre. So many of the things you cautioned about actually happened during our visit, eg ferries weren’t operating because of rough seas, delays in local trains, an Italian wide rail strike (our hotel warned us but lots of other visitors staying elsewhere had no idea), landslide blocked path between two villages. An even worse event: two honeymoon couples, separately at same beach (Manarola, from memory), different times of same day, were washed away. The husbands were both drowned. Very sobering, we kept out of the water even though weather was sunny and bright.
    We loved it despite all this, so very beautiful and local food superb. Stayed in a lovely place in Monterosso, once a retirement home for nuns and priests (separate buildings), lovely room and balcony, views, demi pension, breakfast and dinner included. Great local food, not expensive. We enjoyed the easiest walk of all from Riomaggiore to Manarola – there’s even a little atmospheric bar part of way along. Think our favourite village was Vernazza, so pretty, wonderful lunch outside by the water at Il Gambero Rosso (think that was name). Great food and fabulous location. Afterwards we walked across to the beautiful old church right by the water’s edge, gorgeously decorated with fabulous flowers and satin ribbons for a wedding later that day. We were there in mid-autumn, weather still good despite rough seas and not over-run as in summer. We drove from Nice (afterwards driving on to Sarteano,Tuscany). But dropped lease car in hotel car park and didn’t touch it again until we left. The roads around Cinque Terre are quite terrifying. Narrow, winding, often with vertiginous drops off the side (no guard rails or indicator signs), narrow blind bends with crazy Italian sports cars whizzing around on your side of the road, local tractors taking up almost whole of narrow road. And you can’t drive or park along most roads in villages (we knew we could drive into our hotel and park there). We were so disappointed not to get to Portofino (ferries not working, train problems and road fear) – so look forward to seeing a post about it. Best wishes, Pamela

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 02/01/2014 at 11:52 am #

      Wow, Pamela, what an experience! Thank you for sharing your important information about not driving in the Cinque Terre. Having toured around I knew about the parking, but not about the state of the roads and the competition for road space!
      The Portofino post is up if you do a search on the blog.
      Thanks as always for your valuable contribution!

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