Travel Diary: Cinque Terre


Cinque Terre needs no introduction, but not to provide one would be an injustice to the wondrous fable that it is. These five idyllic villages nestled cliffside along the Italian Riviera are the consummate specimen of the ethereal beauty of Italy’s coastlines. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and brims with the bustle of capricious tourists who make daily pilgrimages there to soak up the sunshine and salty Mediterranean breeze. 

S and I had worked our way down to the Liguria region after travelling up to Verona and Venice from Rome, and we spent just a day tripping between the five villages. Getting to Cinque Terre was quite a feat; the six hour journey by train necessitated transfers in Bologna and Parma, and our layovers were mostly spent taming growling stomachs and being on high alert for pickpockets that both cities were purportedly rife with. Besides, Venice had been so wonderful and lifted our expectations so significantly that the experience of every other city we visited after that seemed destined to careen in a downward trajectory. By that point in our trip we were fairly spent from the long intercity train rides and nonstop meandering around every city seeing and doing as much as we possibly could, so Cinque Terre was a reinvigorating midpoint breather for the both of us. 

Fortunately, this leg of our vacation didn’t involve commuting to and lining up for entry into an unending lineup of tourist sites - everything that it had to proposition with was already all around you. If Venice was larger than life, Cinque Terre was a technicolor dream. The glimmering Italian Riviera was the most breathtaking backdrop for our laidback getaway. We’d wander around seeking out vantage points in the rock formations by the sea and terraces in the cliffside to watch the crashing waves and busk in a spot of sunshine with teeth chatting from the cold. We’d take turns getting in front and behind the lens of my camera framing and constricting as much of the pastel landscapes as we could into every shot. We’d pop in and out of quaint little shops buying olive oil soaps and jars of truffle paste.

At lunchtime we settled into a restaurant perched by the side of a cliff and had standout pasta dishes and 5 Euro glasses of local Prosecco, and our culinary exploits didn’t stop throughout the day. Cinque Terre is known for seafood and produce that come from the rolling hills and seas surrounding it, but the capacity of your stomach will be put to the test every ten steps or so at the many stands serving up nosh like gelato, fresh strawberries heaped with sweet whipped cream, explosive Nutella crepes and cones of fried seafood and chips. 

The most visceral memory I have of Cinque Terre is how chilly it was despite merely being a mild Spring day in the middle of April. You can even see how red my nose is from the cold! I can only imagine how dreamy this place must be in the summer, where the warmth will allow you the luxury of renting kayaks to paddle from village to village, or even go sunbathing or diving. But then again, the option of partaking in all these activities would have eroded the unhurried nature of our visit. La dolce vita is, after all, about not troubling yourself with doing anything at all isn’t it? Perhaps this was the most compelling of Cinque Terre's allure - it feels as relaxed as people watching by a cafe window, except the sights make it infinitely more picturesque and invaluable.

Tips for visiting Cinque Terre

How to get there | Take a train from La Spezia Centrale, which is well connected and accessible from major cities including Verona, Pisa, Florence and Bologna.

Where to stay | You could stay in Cinque Terre, but I suspect getting to your hotel would involve backbreaking climbs up precipitous slopes and narrow flights of stairs with your suitcases in tow. For that reason, I was thankful we’d fortuitously discovered La Spezia, the popular alternative for accommodation for visitors to Cinque Terre. This tiny port town is located just under ten minutes from Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages and it's superbly convenient and cheap. And because it wasn’t erected cliffside in the manner of Cinque Terre, you won’t have to worry about hiking up steep inclines.

Making your budget work | Get a Cinque Terre card, which allows unlimited travel between the villages and access to hiking trails. 

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