The name translates to “five lands”, so take Italy’s most famous walking trail and visit all of them when in the Cinque Terre.
If you need to breathe romance back into an ailing relationship, there is nowhere more romantic than Italy’s Cinque Terre, a cluster of five villages on the Ligurian coast. Think picture postcard terraces in muted pastels built into rock facing out onto the deep blues of the Italian Mediterranean.
Yet beauty comes with a price. The cost is the climb up the steep hill to your accommodation if you stay in four out of the five villages. Monterosso, the most populated of the five, is at sea level and the best option for those who don’t wish to do the climb. But staying there means missing out on one of the world’s most spectacular views.
Cinque Terre is also home to Italy’s most famous walking trail with the trek taking you high up into each village overlooking coves of treasures, terraced vineyards of grapes and the traditional pastel Italian apartments. But if you’re not one for walking, gliding from village to village on an elegant yacht may be more your style.
The largest of the five villages is also the only one with a sandy beach.
Pay your money (€16) and be chaperoned to your sunbed shaded by a striped umbrella. This is the life where people bring you drinks, offer you massages and trinkets, and you don’t have to move from your secured spot. The ocean is virtually all yours as most are there for a suntan, not a swim.
Monterosso is divided into two – the old town, dominated by the ruins of its castle and the narrow medieval streets, and the new town known as Fegina, bubbling with restaurants, bars, shops and gelato sellers.
Visit when the village is decorated with lemons during the Lemon Festival, the third Saturday in May, and taste limoncino, lemon cream, lemon marmalade and torta al limone.
Stay: For luxurious accommodation you can’t go past Eremo di S M Maddalena; once inhabited by the Benedictine monks it comprises a church and a monastery linked by a cloister. Priced from €6,500-8,500 per week it sleeps up to 12 people and is available for exclusive use only with a one-week minimum stay. lamaddalenacinqueterre.it
This is the most charming of the five villages, with its tiny piazza surrounded by seafood restaurants. Order one of Manarola’s specialty wines: Cinque Terre white, a dry delicious blend of three grapes, or Sciacchetrà, a late harvest sweet dessert wine. Sip and watch daredevil locals jump from the rocky outcrop into the pools below or take a dip yourself in the refreshing waters (best done before imbibing). Climb midway to visit the parish church di San Lorenzo built in the Gothic style in 1338. In ancient times, the bell tower was used to look out for pirates who came to raid the villages along the coast.
Stay: Casa Capellini offers one of the best views in this tiny village. These apartments are close to the church and plaza and a short walk from the fantastic Italian seafood restaurants. The owners may even take you out on their small fishing boat around the coves where you could imagine pirates hiding their treasures. Apartments are priced from €88-110 per night. casacapellini-5terre.it
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This stunning town is being rebuilt after the landslides of 2011, caused by unusually heavy rains. Stroll along the pedestrian streets to Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a church built in 1318 on sea rock with panoramic vistas of the entire region. Stop off at La Cantina del Molo for a local delicacy with wine from the owner’s vineyard.
In all five villages, the essential appeal is the hiking trails between each town. The trail between Vernazza and Corniglia is particularly breathtaking with its soaring cliffs and deep blue sea views. From Vernazza take a cruise to San Fruttuoso to visit the 13th century Benedictine Abbey and sup on fresh fritto misto at trattorias such as Da Laura.
Stay: This village does not offer five-star hotels although there is a stylish guest house, La Mala, with beautiful views and rooms priced from €160-220 per night in high season. lamala.it You can also rent some divine apartments through Trattoria Gianni Franzi, a restaurant known for tasty grilled fish. Doubles are priced from €120 per night in high season. giannifranzi.it
The trail between Vernazza and Corniglia is particularly breathtaking with its soaring cliffs and deep blue sea views.
Vineyards, pastel buildings, narrow lanes, and curving stairways all mold together on top of Corniglia’s cliffs to offer more sensational coastal views. This is the most remote of the villages and is the only one that lacks a harbour. Another stunning church in another stunning plaza, San Pietor boasts a window with surrounds of marble from Carrara.
Swimmers who don’t mind getting their gear off should venture to the clothes optional beach of Guvano. It’s situated between the Vernazza and Corniglia trail and is the least crowded beach in the area; look for the sign Spiaggia Libera. There’s also a long pebbly beach just by Corniglia railway station.
Stay: There are only a few bed and breakfasts and apartments here. The pick is La Terrazze a bright and colourful B&B with views over the fields and some partial views over the ocean. Rooms are priced from €130 per night and apartments from €140-€160 per night with a sea view, all including breakfast. eterasse.it
The most southern of the five villages, Riomaggiore (which dates back to the eighth century) climbs over ridges overlooking the sea and is a 20-minute walk from Manarola. It offers more beautiful views and a 13th century castle looking out to sea. There’s a beach surrounded by smooth rocks where you can lay out your towel and sunbake or go for a dip.
If you’re not one for adventurous hikes try the Path of Love between Riomaggiore and Manarola. This easy walking coastal path was carved into the mountain around 100 years ago and offers plenty of romantic nooks that have given this path its name.
Stay: There are a few B&Bs in town with the best choice being Alla Marina – it offers double and triple rooms and one spacious two-bedroom apartment. Rooms are priced from €120 per night and the apartment from €180 per night. allamarina.com
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter / HarperCollins A story of love at first sight and a romance that begins in a fictional village of the Cinque Terre in the 1960s and is rekindled in Hollywood 50 years later.
Cinque Terre has a mild climate and can be visited at any time of year. Temperatures in winter stay in the low teens and in summer reach around 30 degrees. Rain is frequent in spring and autumn but tends to come in short bursts. Peak season runs from June to September and can be incredibly busy – as accommodation options in most of the villages are limited you’ll need to book well in advance and many properties insist on applying half board.