TRAVEL TIPS: See And Stay Guide To Cinque Terre

where to stay in cinque terre italy

Don't miss my 3-day itinerary for Cinque Terre.

So, you've found all of the instagram shots of Cinque Terre and all the blogs tell you what to do -- but what about planning all of the logistics?  I watched so many vlogs, pinned so many pins, read so many blogs, and googled so many pictures, but, like, figuring out where to stay? What village? How to get around? That information was not as available.

So, glad you're here. Consider this you Crash Course to Cinque Terre.


So Tell Me About These 5 Lands?

The Cinque Terre makes up 5 seaside villages. It’s also often referred to as 5terre. From East to West, you’ve got Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Each has its own charm.

And….Where Should I Stay?

If you’re totally lost and confused– you are not alone. I really struggled with figuring out where to stay. Which village was the best? The worst? The most touristy? And why can’t I find Cinque Terre (or 5terre) on Airbnb or hotels.com? (Hint – search by village name).

When planning, I took to every forum, travel Facebook group, and friend I knew who had visited to ask where to stay.  I really stressed over not wanting to choose the “wrong” or “bad” village. Spoiler alert –there is no wrong or bad village! They just all have something different to offer.

RIOMAGGIORE: You’ve definitely seen pictures of Riomaggiore. First village stop when coming in from La Spezia/Pisa/Florence. It is small, and also the busiest. Definitely livelier than Manarola and Corniglia. Decent number of restaurants and bars that stay open, and has a dock. 

MANAROLA: This is where we stayed, only because our #1 priority was an Airbnb with the best views. We took too long deciding where to go and stay, almost everything with a view was booked. And then we found this AMAZING apartment with the most gorgeous views and we were sold.

We were SO happy with our choice.  Manarola ended up being my favorite village.  Quiet while having enough restaurants to enjoy an evening out. Our goal was relaxation after busy and long days of sightseeing the rest of the trip and Manarola served up exactly what we were looking for.

If you want something more lively with more nightlife, look at another village, but if you’re good with fantastic restaurants then retreating to your hotel or apartment, then I highly recommend Manarola --- and 100% recommend our apartment. It’s worth every Euro, especially if you’re on a romantic honeymoon or anniversary getaway. 

CORNIGLIA: All we kept hearing was Corniglia was the only village not right on the water or with any direct access to water. So, in my head I took that to mean it was waaaay up high on the mountain. While it is high from the water (i.e. no boat/dock access) it’s not as crazy high as I expected. Corniglia came very highly recommended as the most underrated village to stay in.

While all the towns are steep once you get off the train (with the exception of parts of Monterosso al Mare), Corniglia requires a trek up 200 stairs, or in a bus to get from train station to main part of the village. So, if you or a travel companion have some mobility issues, you’re better off staying in Monterosso al Mare.  If mobility is not a problem, and you’re looking for an even more quiet village than Manarola, Corniglia is the gem you’ve been looking for.

VERNAZZA: Ah Vernazza.  This was the village recommended over and over and over again to us. It’s really gained in popularity as it is the village always suggested by Rick Steves. This was our first choice in part due to Rick Steves, and in part because it had some “nightlife” (aka few bars) and solid restaurant options, especially right by the water. But, in the end, views from our Airbnb ended up top priority and we missed all the best apartments.

MONTEROSSO: If mobility issues are highest concerns, then Monterosso al Mare is the right spot for you.  This village is broken up in two parts – Monterosso al Mare is newer and the only part of the villages to have an actual beach. Follow the coast and go through a tunnel and you’ve found the old town of Monterosso.  Lots of restaurants and the only place you’ll find a more traditional “hotel” or “resort” feel accommodation.  Monterosso is the largest and one of the busiest villages.

Now, some logistics…

HOW DO I GET TO THE CINQUE TERRE?  By train you’ll arrive at La Spezia train station and transfer to the Cinque Terre express train to access each of the villages.  I highly recommend getting the Cinque Terre pass (you can purchase at the tourist office in the La Spezia train station, or at any of the other village train stations). This allows unlimited train rides between La Spezia and Levante, including stops in each of the five villages. It also includes free wi-fi at the train stations (although not the best), access to public restrooms, and entry into the Cinque Terre National Park – which you’ll need if you plan on doing any hiking.  You can get the pass for either 24, 48, or 72 hours.

FROM FLORENCE: We arrived in the Cinque Terre by train from Florence bright and early. The quickest and shortest train ride in is once a day departing Firenze Campo Di Marte train station at 7:38 am, arriving in La Spezia at 9:11 am (double check train schedules!).  Other trains have a transfer in Pisa and take longer. This made for an easier trek and maximized our time in Cinque Terre.

FROM ROME OR MILAN: You may want to come in a night earlier to make the most of your time. Recommended train from Rome (with transfer in Pisa) or Milan to La Spezia. 

FROM OTHER RIVIERA TOWNS: Find a regional train that takes you into Monterosso or Riomaggiore. To access other towns you’ll need to transfer at either of those stations via Cinque Terre Express train.

WHAT IF I HAVE A CAR? Driving in any of the Cinque Terre villages is not ideal – cars are prohibited from each of the villages, so you’ll have to find parking above each village at a pricey €20 a night – and it’s pretty limited. Or there’s a parking lot in La Spezia where you can leave your car and then rely on the express train. Trains make it so easy to get from village to village. So unless you can’t get rid of a car for the rest of your trip, I highly recommend train.

GETTING FROM TOWN TO TOWN:  You can hike, train, or even take a ferry. Note that as of press time (January 2018), most of the lower hiking trails – including the Villa Dell’Amore -- are closed to renovations. 2011 brought devastating flooding and landslides to the villages and the hiking trails. You can currently hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, then from Vernazza to Corniglia but that’s about it for the lower trail. You can follow trails through all five towns if you take a tougher network of trails but allocate about 8 hours for that (plus stops in each town). 

8 Photos To Make You Fall In Love With Venice

File Under: Travel Inspo

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Do you remember the first time you fell in love with a foreign city, country, culture, or language?

I do.

I remember like it was yesterday. I arrived in Venice and had just absolutely fallen in love.

Love at first sight does exist.

Every nook and cranny of the city. The gondolas. The romance that just oozes out of the city. The food and wine - oh goodness, the food and wine.

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Maybe it was just circumstance - the first overnight stop on our Trip Around the World. The first city I'd ever explored outside of North America.

But I think we were meant to be.  

Venice is a city that grew to power after the fall of Rome.  The city floats, with it's canals as roadways, gondolas as taxis, and vaporettos as public buses or subway system. A city destined to be wandered and explored with no set plans or schedules. 

We arrived in the early evening with just 24 hours to explore.  And within 2 hours I decided I was never going to leave.

Unfortunately, I did leave, but only because Austria was calling my name.

With just 24 hours to soak everything in, we didn't waste a minute before getting lost in the alley ways and enjoying a little dinner with our wine.  

A picture is worth 1000 words, so here's about....10000 words:

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Have you been to Venice? Did you love it or have a different take?  What other city made you fall in love at first sight?

Pin Me!

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A Day in Tuscany With Viator...AKA The Day We Drank All The Wine

Ahhh Tuscany. Think rolling green hills, brilliant blue skies and adorable towns standing high on hilltops throughout southern Tuscany. The Val d’Orcia region is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is quintessential Tuscany -- gorgeous landscapes, vibrant hill towns, Renaissance architecture, charming (and steep) streets, and of course, some of the best wine in the world (but we might be biased).

Views from Pienza

Staying in Tuscany is always the best option, but if you’re a part-time traveler with limited time off like we are, day trips are the way the way to experience the best of both worlds. During our whirlwind Italy trip in May, we stayed in Florence 3 nights and booked a day trip to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino through Viator.

Montepulciano and Church of St. Biagio

The more popular day trip from Florence includes stops in Siena, San Gimignano, lunch at a Chianti vineyard, and Pisa, but wine drove our decision to opt for the Val d’Orcia tour.  Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile Montepulciano wines are some of the best reds in the world.  Solid go-to Italian wines if you ever find yourself staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin.

THE TOUR

For our Day in Tuscany trip, our tour had pick-ups in both Florence (train station) and in Siena. While booking, we could select to meet at the train station, or have a free pick up at our Airbnb. We opted for the free pick up, but for drop off it will cost you extra.

You visit a winery for tastings, Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, where you can tour a wine store and cave and get a second free tasting. Unlike the more popular Tuscan Day Trip from Florence, food is not included on this tour, except some crackers/cheese/meat and assorted appetizers at the two tastings, so beware of wine tasting on an empty stomach (unless you’re into that. You cheap date, you.)

WINE TASTING

The first stop was in Montalcino at the Abbadia Ardenga winery. The property spans over 1600 acres, and has a long history of winemaking. It was previously owned by the family of Pope Pius II, who was also key to the development of the town of Pienza (next stop on the tour). The vineyards on the property are solely dedicated to growing the Sangiovese grape varietal and produces 40,000 bottles of wine annually.

For the tour, we had a brief introduction and history lesson from the owner, an adorable older gentleman (who really has a thing for the ladies - you’ve been warned ;)) named Mario. Mario speaks no English, but was there for our entire tour, from learning about the property and family, to pouring wines during the tasting.

We tried four wines - a Rosso di Montalcino, two Brunello di Montalcinos (a D.O.C and D.O.C.G) and a white wine - Vinsanto.  We also opted to try the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - the best of the best - which Mario will open if you’re interested in purchasing.

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Enjoying Tuscan wine!

Four tastings may not sound like much, but when you skip breakfast, it does the job.  After the tastings, the buying of ALL the wine, and a few pictures with Mario, we were off to the town of Montalcino.

Helloooo Mario
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MONTALCINO

We had about an hour to spend wandering the hill town of Montalcino.  It was super charming with lots of shops and a fortress for a great viewpoint (Fortezza di Montalcino).  Fresh off the wine tasting, we grabbed a group of newfound friends from the tour and stepped into another wine store that offered a tasting. Our motto -- when in Tuscany….drink all the wine. After buying even more wine (we have a problem), we had just enough time to grab a quick cappuccino (what else goes better with copious amounts of wine) and head back to the bus.

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PIENZA

The next stop was Pienza  - the cutest little town and the home of Pecorino cheese. Wine, wine, coffee, more wine..and now cheese.  We. Were. In. Heaven.

It was the smallest town we visited, but had an adorable town square with a flower field and beautiful church. The views were amazing and not to be missed.  After a few photo ops, we once again found our new tour friends and went cheese hunting.  

All throughout town there are little storefronts with cheeses, meats, and more wine.  We hit about 4 different ones that offered cheese plates and all shared.  We also picked up some cheese, salami, and some truffle glaze with balsamic vinegar to go for our trek to Cinque Terre the next day at a storefront called La Taverna del Pecorino. The store employee (shop owner? Not sure) was the BEST. He let us try tons of different meats and cheeses and the various flavors of balsamic glaze, so definitely stop in there if you ever find yourself in Pienza!

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MONTEPULCIANO

Chris here -- This was by far the stop I was looking forward to most of all. For many years, wine from Montepulciano has been my go to when staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin (note -- Vino Nobile is different from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). Generally affordable, but solid, easy to drink, and goes along with most meals - well, at leasts to my unpolished palate.  I had also heard great things about the town itself, so this tour through Val d'Orcia shot the top of my list.

Unlike many wineries throughout Tuscany that require transportation in between tastings, the town of Montepulciano offers walkable unique cantina tastings among its historic streets. On the tour, you had an option to wander on your own for about an hour and a half, or get a cellar tour in the former dungeons turned wine cellars of Azienda Agricola Ercolani, which ended with some light appetizers and free tasting.  Because, well, dungeons and free wine, we opted for the tour.

They offer the tour and free tasting whether or not you're on a larger tour, so if you find yourself in the area, make sure to stop in. Some other popular spots in town include the caves of Cantina Fattoria della Talosa or Contucci Cellars, or the modern Cantina Salcheto with an incredible view of Tuscany’s rolling hills.

After the tour we had about 45 minutes to wander. We stopped in some shops, then made one last quick stop for more wine and to soak up those Tuscan countryside views at Caffe Poliziano. Do stop in and snag a coveted terrace seat and enjoy some wine - or coffee - and GORGEOUS views!

Enjoying Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and espresso on the terrace at Caffe Poliziano
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VIATOR TOURS TAKEAWAY

We booked a few tours through Viator for this trip and found it to be a pretty easy process.  They contract with smaller tour groups, so you’re still supporting local tour guides, but we found the many tour company options to be somewhat overwhelming.  We had great experiences on all of the Viator-booked tours, with fantastic tour guides. Cin Cin!

Tour information is here, and our cost was about $72 per person.

If you're new to Viator, use this link to get $10 off a tour.

Full Disclosure -- if you book and complete a trip, we'll also get $10 towards a future tour. Also note -- this is not a sponsored post. We paid for this tour and views are completely our own.

Planning A Trip Around the World in 18 Days Part 1: Europe

Generally, when planning a trip, the traveler already has a specific destination or route in mind, and searches for airfare to fit their ideal dates and locations.  So how do you plan a trip when you’ve booked a multi-city or open-jaw flight? (If you’re wondering what an open-jaw ticket is … it’s a return ticket with different origins or destinations.  Like flights from New York to Milan, then Prague to New York, or New York to Milan, Milan to Boston.)

After we booked our Trip Around the World (read here and here) we had to figure out how to spend our 8 days getting from Milan to Prague, plus make a decision on where to go and how long to stay in Thailand.  When you’ve never left the continent and have a bucket list a mile long, and you may or may not be one of the most indecisive people in the world, it can be a little tough to narrow down options.  Not to mention, we all had those pesky things called jobs without unlimited vacation time – unfortunately.  (Although, if you have one of those unlimited vacation benefits packages, can you hire me? Please?) 

Anyway.  Planning. As it usually works out when I have a genius idea or plan, I ran through option after option, itinerary after itinerary until I drove my husband crazy.  For the Europe portion of the trip, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, and Greece were all at the top of my list and were all viable options.  

So, we had to begin the narrow down process.

Since our Oktoberfest (hyperlink) plans were officially pushed out a few years, we figured we’d save Germany and Switzerland for that trip.  We also knew we wanted to make a dedicated Italy trip one day, so we decided not to focus there.  Then Greece and Croatia were ruled out by ease of getting there.  Plus, time of year was a huge factor.

We pulled up Google Maps and right smack in the path from Milan to Prague was Austria.  Austria had not been at the top of either of our travel lists, so we figured, let’s go to a country we wouldn’t have otherwise picked first.  A little bit of Googling and Pinteresting cemented the idea even further.  The pictures we found of Austria were so breathtakingly gorgeous we immediately fell in love.  Austria was the clear winner.   

We ran the idea by the 3 friends we were planning to spend the whole trip with, and they were 100% on board.  I still was contemplating a stop in Budapest or Bratislava, but quickly ruled that out in favor of stops in both Salzburg and Vienna.

We finally settled on number of days/nights in each city and mapped out the train routes and times.  Our fast and furious 8-day Euro itinerary was officially set.  We would land in Milan and spend one night in Venice (thanks to the train passing through anyway!), 2 nights each in Salzburg and Vienna, and 3 nights in Prague.  From there, our flights gave us a 24-hour stopover in Paris on the way from Prague to Bangkok.  We would soon be traveling through 7 cities over 9 days.  It was turning out to be a whirlwind trip, but well worth it.