Home » How to discover Cinque Terre, away from the crowds

How to discover Cinque Terre, away from the crowds

written by Emma Gibbins July 13, 2017
Cinque Terre Italy

Visited Rome and Venice and looking for your next Italian destination?

Between Florence and Genoa lies a string of five fishing villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each connected by its own scenic trail. The Cinque Terre, translated as ‘five lands,’ dates back to the early medieval period and is considered by many as the most romantic stretch of the Italian Riviera.

These pretty-as-a-postcard towns are dotted along old cobbled streets overlooking crystal clear waters and are no more than a two-hour walk from each other. What’s great about Cinque Terre is that it takes you away from the commercialism of some of Italy’s busier cities, each with its own heritage and dialect and surrounded by a ruggedly stunning stretch of coastline. And, importantly, even if you’re only in Italy for a week or so, the area is still super easy to visit! (Check out this guide to find out how.)

Cinque Terre ItalyUntil the 1960s, Cinque Terre was virtually unknown to tourists, populated mainly by fisherman and farmers, and only accessible by boat, making the area beautifully isolated. Now, thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourism has boomed, making it Cinque Terre’s biggest employer. The area can now be easily accessed by local train, or by a system of ancient footpaths.

But, don’t worry, there are still plenty of hidden locations which take you away from the crowds. Below, we share our top recommendations for experiencing this beautiful area in your own private paradise.

Sentiero Rosso

One of the main reasons people love Cinque Terre so much is for its limited road access. Admittedly this makes it a little less convenient to get around, but it does mean that the area is totally traffic-free. If you’d rather not travel by train on a hot day, hiking is a popular alternative, and the Sentiero Rosso, also known as the ‘red trail,’ is a great choice.

Cinque Terre Italy hikingDespite being almost three times the length of the well-traveled ‘blue trail,’ hiking the Sentiero Rosso offers expansive views and near-complete solitude, with hardly a single tourist in sight (unless you count yourself of course). A ridge-top path hovering several hundred meters above Cinque Terre’s five villages, the Sentiero Rosso stretches 38 kilometers between Portovenere and Levanto, making it only just shy of a full marathon.

If you want to complete the entire trail, you’ll be looking at around nine to 12 hours of solid walking (but with plenty of shortcuts to make it as long or short as you like). The Sentiero Rosso also has the added advantage of being far flatter and more tree-covered than the blue trail, so you don’t need to worry about sweating up a storm. Bars and restaurants dotted along the route also provide a host of welcome refreshments to help you cool down.

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Lerici

When tourists come to Cinque Terre, it’s unsurprising that they expect to see Italians populating its streets. But being the tourist mecca that it is, this isn’t always the case.

Lerici differs from Cinque Terre’s five main towns in that it doesn’t appear to be inundated with tourists. Why? Because it remains less well-known and is not connected by the train line, making it more difficult to access.

Lerici Cinque Terre Italy

Lerici

A lack of tourists means it has been lucky enough to maintain its status as an active fishing village, populated by, you guessed it, fisherman! Lerici prides itself on being home to a bunch of authentic Italian restaurants, a community of local boat owners, and its own traditional medieval castle offering a beautiful view over the harbor and an opportunity to watch the sun go down.

RELATED: 6 WAYS TO TRAVEL LIKE A LOCAL IN ITALY

Although not technically classed as one of Cinque Terre’s five towns, here you will still find a pretty array of candy-colored houses to admire. Lerici is also home to one of the area’s best outdoor markets, selling everything from fine Italian meats and cheeses to fresh fish straight from the harbor. (And if you love Italian food, you’ll love this guide to unique Italian dishes to try, by region!)

If you are hoping to visit this quaint little town, there is not a direct train that goes to Lerici, but you can easily take the L or S bus from La Spezia.

Vernazza, Liguria Cinque Terre Italy

Vernazz: much busier than laid-back Lerici

Buranco Agriturismo

Hidden in one of Cinque Terre’s five villages, Monterosso, lies one of the nicest little vineyards you will find in this part of Italy. Buranco Agriturismo, which is just a short walk from the Monterosso Old Town, allows visitors to escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hub, considered by many for its size and location, as the capital of the Cinque Terre.

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The vineyard has a delightful tasting area with an inviting outdoor patio where you can sip on a variety of delicious wines, many of which are local to Cinque Terre, including Sciacchetrà, Magiöa DOC, and  Cinque Terre DOC. Appetizers consisting of local delicacies are also served alongside for your tasting pleasure.

As well as being lucky enough to experience all of this from the vineyard’s private location, guests also receive the full Italian experience, complete with Italian music and a backdrop of beautiful lemon and olive gardens. The vineyard also produces grappa, olive oil, Limoncino, and honey, in addition to wine which are all available to purchase.

Porto Venere

The starting point of the Sentiero Rosso (red trail), Porto Venere is a pretty harbor town situated near the southern border of Liguria and, like Cinque Terre, has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. As with Lerici, this little town has no railway access, instead linked by bus to La Spezia, making it a peaceful alternative to Cinque Terre’s five main villages.

Porto Venere Cinque Terre Italy

Porto Venere by night

The area is, however, fairly popular with daytrippers. Being a fairly tiny town, most of the tourist attractions can be seen in a day.

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A popular site is the Chiesa di S. Pietro, an old church built in 1277. The building sits on the remains of a sixth-century chapel, of which traces can still be seen. The island of Palmaria, located just off the coast of Portovenere, is a marine reserve and is also popular with tourists, particularly those who are nature-lovers or swimmers.

Since Portovenere guards the mouth of the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets), many locations also provide excellent water views, including the Genoese fortress, part of the Castello Doria, which is home to a gorgeous terrace and popular for lunchtime picnics.

And speaking of picnics, food enthusiasts should be sure to hunt down one of Liguria’s specialties, focaccia, which you can find at various restaurants, waterfront cafes and markets dotted throughout the town. I would personally recommend the focaccia at Il Timone. Delightful.

Interested in visiting the stunning Cinque Terre? Check out our range of small group adventures to Italy.

(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, iStock x5)

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16 comments

Marc May 28, 2018 - 9:16 am

Have visited Cinque Terre and hiked all of Sentiere Rossi. Absolutely a must do, but you need fair stamina without too many leg pains. The train and/or boat are excellent alternatives to visit each village. This remains a highlight of all our European travels. Accommodation can be challenging in peak periods. Enjoy!

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Rachel October 13, 2017 - 6:50 pm

Hi…I’m wondering how physical the trails are. Are there areas you need to scale or rock climb or is it a regular trail that you can easily walk on. I also have knee issues but regular walking isnt a problem even on an incline.

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Rebecca Shapiro October 16, 2017 - 9:50 am

Hi Rachel! here are a lot of ups and downs on the Cinque Terre, so that’s worth taking into consideration for your knee. There’s no climbing per se though, it’s more walking on trails :). However the Cinque Terre can also be enjoyed by non-walkers. There are trains between all the villages, and you can get a day ticket and take trains between villages, stop whenever you like, stroll around towns, and then continue to the next village. Hope that helps!

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Fern Ellis August 8, 2017 - 12:30 am

I had planned to go, but friends said that it would be difficult because I would have to be climbing uphill a lot and descending trails. So, with an “iffy” knee, I decided not to go. Can you tell me if one or more of the islands would be better suited for me, or if I should just forget about it? Thanks a lot!

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Rebecca Shapiro August 14, 2017 - 10:22 pm

Hi Fern, great to hear from you. I consulted with the Destination Manager for the region and he advised that you might indeed have an issue with your iffy knee. There are certainly a lot of ups and downs on the Cinque Terre, so maybe not the best choice. However the Cinque Terre can also be enjoyed by non-walkers. There are trains between all the villages, and you can get a day-ticket and take trains between villages, stop whenever you like, stroll around town, and then continue to the next village. I hope that helps! Please email Rebecca.Shapiro@intrepidtravel.com if you have any more questions 🙂

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zoila August 7, 2017 - 8:58 am

we are going the end of september 2017, we are staying in Manarola , thank you for your article, very informative

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Anonymous August 16, 2017 - 11:26 am

Manarola is probably the most piceresque, they all are but Manarola offers greates pic opportunity for panoramic pic from the hiking trail

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Chick August 3, 2017 - 2:11 am

I was there in May and there were THOUSANDS of tourists in every village. Don’t go May through October!

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Chick August 3, 2017 - 2:10 am

I was there in May and there were thousands of people at each village, figure a good time to go, not in the summer

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Marie Giacalone May 30, 2018 - 11:17 am

I was there in late September 2016- I could not believe the crowds. It is a beautiful place, but I could not enjoy it with so many people. Very disappointing!

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Nancy August 1, 2017 - 7:50 am

Thank you for this great information. I am planning extended EU travel in 2018 and wanted to include some walking/hiking so the Cinque Terre has been on my list. I will sign up for upcoming posts and come back to spend time on your site. Lots of great info and beautiful photos.

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Milo Joned July 31, 2017 - 10:41 pm

Definitely on my bucket list

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Nick Doten July 23, 2017 - 5:06 am

thanks for expanding my knowledge of the cinque terre ! are bicycles allowed and able to navigate on the red trail?

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Anonymous August 2, 2017 - 12:27 pm

I was there last year and I didn’t see any bikes. You can walk in town, hike, take the train or take a small boat from town to town.
The boat ride it’s a must do!

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Anonymous August 6, 2017 - 6:03 am

Try camogli

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Lisa July 21, 2017 - 11:42 pm

Informative article . I enjoyed it

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