You’ve journeyed to Italy with one thing on your mind. No, not that. We’re talking the #nofilternecessary Ligurian coastline, with its Froot Loops-coloured houses clinging to the cliff-face like an early ‘90s Stallone.
Cinque Terre – aka “The Five Lands” – was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1997, a pocket of medieval paradise made up of five villages with five distinct personalities, a whole lot of steps and one of the world’s most boss national parks.
Besides drinking in the view and giving yourself lactose intolerance from eating copious amounts of gelato, here’s how to dominate Cinque Terre in one day like a(n Italian mafia) boss.
How to get around
Thank the powers that be for banning cars over a decade ago and keeping these seaside towns preserved in all their antiquity awesomeness. There’s a train line that services the five villages from both directions, and once you see how tiny each town is, you’ll recover from the Uber-less shock.
Get your elbows out and prepare yourself for the flicks of warm sweat and body odour that comes with thousands of people crammed into a carriage that would have Sydneysiders in a state of panic if the same scene played out at Town Hall (Shitty Rail, you’ve got nothing on this).
The Cinque Terre pass (provided with Topdeck’s Italy trips) covers your train travel from Levanto and La Spezia, as well as access to all hiking trails.
Study the timetable religiously as trains only run about once an hour, even in peak times, and they’re notorious for changing times or cancelling trains depending on the weather, too.
If you want to take the water route, ferries will cost you a little more but give you that salty sea dog vibe.
Get your hike on
Even if you’ve never hiked before and consider a jaunt to the bus stop pretty strenuous stuff, it’d be sacrilege to skip the walking trails that wind their way along this epic coastline.
Some of the trails remain closed after flooding in 2011, but you can overload your camera on the walk from Monterosso to Vernazza (2 hours), and then on to Corniglia (1.5 hours).
If you’re feeling extra ambitious and get an early start, get your Cheryl Strayed on and trek the steep inland trails to gain an even more heavenly perspective in this vertical masterpiece.
The low-down on the 5 terre:
Monterosso is the oldest of the clan (founded in AD 643), and also the spot if you’re looking to drop 20 euros on a sun lounger and umbrella for the day. It’s undeniably gorgeous, probably the most touristy, but filled with charming trattorias where you can carb load with fresh seafood risotto and pesto pasta after a morning spent hiking and swimming.
Don’t leave without… buying a cone of fried anchovies (trust us, they’re so much better than you think).
While Monterosso might have you all doe-eyed and Instagram snap happy if you lob there first, make sure you allow plenty of time for chillaxing alongside Vernazza’s harbour. This town was hit the hardest in the 2011 landslides but has bounced back to its former beauty and resilient self, offering up both harbour and beach swimming spots and a quintessential town square lined with restaurateurs trying to charm you in.
Don’t leave without… a double scoop of fig cheesecake gelato from Gelateria Vernazza.
While we hate to overlook the middle child, if you’re pressed for time, Corniglia would be the village to skip as it’s the only one without direct access to the sea. But if you’re visiting in winter (or are allergic to delicious Mediterranean swims), jump off the train and hit the stairs to be rewarded with pano views of the coastline.
Don’t leave without… a bottle of the local vino that’s been sipped on a sunny day since Roman times – Cinque Terre DOC. You’ll just need to trek the 382 steps to get there.
This is the town you’re looking for if you want to replicate THAT photo of the Cinque Terre coastline. Take a walk past the bodies sprawled over the boat ramp soaking up their year’s worth of vitamin D and continue on the pathway so you can look back over every 11th century fisherman’s home-run.
Don’t leave without… jumping from the rocks that jut out of the warm inky sea and sipping an Aperol Spritz in one of the perilously perched Cliffside cafes.
If you haven’t eaten enough by now, jump off at Riomaggiore, stroll through the compact main street where retirees catch up on the day’s events on the stoop of their shopfronts, grab a takeaway pizza and a couple of beers, and head down to the tiny harbour for a Cinque Terre sunset that glows more than Beyonce dunked in a pot of gold glitter.
Don’t leave without… A fat slice of pesto focaccia – one of the specialities of this region.
Have you been to Cinque Terre? Which was your favourite village?