Simone Ziaziaris explores Cinque Terre's five villages over five days.
It is the picturesque destination where colourful houses and buildings hug floating hills — the town's reflection bouncing off the ocean's waves. Even on a cloudy day, Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera coastline, utterly shines. So, there was simply no other choice. Just like that, a stop off in Cinque Terre joined our already overcrowded Europe itinerary. With no extra time up our sleeves, here's how we explored the string of five Italian fishing villages in five days.
RIOMAGGIORE: From the sea
First stop was the unofficial capital of Cinque Terre — Riomaggiore. The once-brightly coloured paint, now peeling from years of warmth and sunshine, adds additional charm to this harbour village. Its buildings are tucked within a steep ravine that trickles down to a petite harbour where fishing boats gently dance with the tide. Restaurants pave the walkway to the ocean. Each offer the staple favourites: wine, pasta, risotto, pizza, tiramisu. It's incredibly difficult to walk on by. We persevered because we knew what was awaiting us was going to be that more much special.
What was it? A small, battered fisherman's boat. Why? Because the postcard view of this incredible town is taken from the sea.
MANAROLA: From high above
At first glance, Manarola may seem like a mirror of close neighbour Riomaggiore. You'll need to pack a picnic for this one, because once you get to the bottom, you'll dread the long journey back up.
VERNAZZA: From cobbled streets
Home to Cinque Terre's main harbour, this is one of the busiest of the five villages with many people travelling to the area by sea. Its main beach is lined with petite cafes (gelaterias are certainly abundant) and cobbled roads which lend themselves to glimpses of the sea every now and again. Although most of the five towns are home to exquisitely detailed buildings, Vernazza's main church is a particular stand out and a perfect respite from the soaring sun in the summer. Santa Margherita D'Antiochia is built on rock and sits right in front of the sea with a 40m-high bell tower crowned with a classic dome. It is the perfect way to end the day after sunbaking on the water's edge.
MONTEROSSO: From under the umbrella
In Monterosso you will find the famous striped orange and green umbrellas and chairs lining the strip of beaches. The streets too, are guided by purple, yellow and pink trees that pop against the brightly coloured hotels and buildings. Restaurants are plentiful, with a particular emphasis on fresh seafood from the local region. But it is a small cafe on the south end of the beach that caught my eye. Its walls held a flood of people eager to grab a focaccia or two and head back to the beach. With more than 20 varieties on offer, it was not hard to see why this little store was particularly popular. It was the perfect final stop, where we could sit back, relax and take in our busy but rewarding travels through this must-visit part of Italy.
But its modern, almost rock-pool-like bathing spot and a delicious, relaxing eatery with the most exquisite view of the seaside town gives Manarola its own personality. A small shift from the main street took us on a short walk uphill to Nessun Dorma. The restaurant leans over the hill to give guests the most spectacular view of the royal-blue sea and rainbow village. Unlike most of the restaurants in the region, Nessun Dorma avoids the typical pasta and pizza, instead offering bruschette, meat and cheese platters and fresh salads. It is the perfect mix of authentic Italian ingredients and a refreshing and modern meal. Trust me, it is all you want after a steep walk up and before returning to the water for an afternoon dip.
CORNIGLIA: From down below
Corniglia is often overlooked by travellers. That may be because the town really makes you work for it, with stairs starting almost straight after you hop off the train. It sits atop a 100m-high rocky outcrop surrounded by vineyards and is the only point where you can see all five villages at once. There is a myth that Corniglia lacks direct access to the ocean. But once you make it to the top of the hill you will see the steep decline that follows, leads you straight down to the clearest blue water. This swimming hole was where we found most of the locals.
Fly from Auckland to Rome with one stop with Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, China Eastern, Korean Air, Air China and Singapore Airlines.
Trenitalia trains run from Rome to Riomaggiore, taking about four hours, or take an internal connecting flight from Rome to Genoa or Pisa, and get the train from there.
Buy a Cinque Terre Card to cover all train travel between villages, as well as hiking fees.
Book travel and accommodation well in advance, especially if travelling over the Northern Hemisphere summer months.