La Vita Cinqueterre

I just arrived in Europe for another busy guidebook research trip. My first stop: Italy’s Cinque Terre.

Approaching in a stiff wind, Genoa’s little airport provides a hard landing — both on the runway, and out at the curb, where I cram into an overstuffed bus for the trip into the train station. A jet-lagged zombie, I somehow survive the ride and make my way onto the right train…where everyone in my compartment is toting the same guidebook. The Cinque Terre truly is Rick Steves country.

At the Monterosso train station, I step out into invigorating sunshine and follow the beachfront promenade to the Old Town and my hotel. It’s still April, but people are already out at the beach…luxuriating on the fine pebbles. A few little kids are brave enough to go for a swim. Even in the warm sun, I shiver vicariously.


While the New Town beach is open for business, the Old Town beach is still preparing for the coming season. Two burly bulldozers are clearing sand and pebbles, creating a path for where the village’s underground river empties into the sea. After their devastating 2011 flood, Monterosso knows to take the power of nature seriously.


Checked in and showered, but still not quite fully “in Europe,” I stroll through Monterosso. Kids are out playing soccer on the piazza in front of the church. The waterfront restaurants are starting to fill up, even though at this time of year, you can’t see the sunset from here. Sore-kneed hikers — with their shorts, sporty backpacks, and hiking poles — are trickling down the steep steps from the clifftop trail, just having hiked over the bluff from neighboring Vernazza. Periodically, a train rockets through town on the elevated tracks, briefly —but only briefly — shattering the serenity.


It’s breakfast time at home and dinnertime here, but either way, I’m starving. Choosing a seaview restaurant without a reservation (one of the many benefits to traveling in shoulder season), I settle in for a meal of all the Ligurian classics: anchovies prepared a dozen different ways…but none of them really all that good. A big dish of trofie — the dense, chewy, slightly potatoey local pasta twists — with vivid-green pesto (which tops everything here, from pasta to bruschetta to foccacia…another local specialty). And for dessert, biscotti dunked in the sweet local wine, Sciacchetrà.


Travelers get into routines. And as I enjoy this meal with this view, it sinks in that this is just the beginning of my trip. For the next several days, I’ll be enjoying these same flavors and these same views as I explore Monterosso, the four neighboring towns, and the rugged trails, train rides, and boat rides between them…living a lifestyle I think of as “La Vita Cinqueterre.” It’s good to be back.


11 Replies to “La Vita Cinqueterre”

  1. My husband and I are on the Best of Italy tour now. On Sunday I went in the water at Monterosso. I tried to get two Italian kids to come in further, but to no avail. We are in Sienna now.

  2. While you are in Monterosso you must try San Martino Gastronomic. It was our favourite place to eat there. The owner/cook is passionate about local food. What he prepares is delicious and the prices are very reasonable.

  3. Can you please make a note in Rick Steve’s guidebook that if you are taking the train between towns and heading back to La Spezia (like us, on a cruise ship) that the train does NOT stop in Portovenere? We just assumed because we passed it on the boat out from La Spezia that it would be joined to the other towns and we could see it on the way back. Unfortunately, there was no stop there and we missed Portovenere. I think it would be worth mentioning the best way to see this lovely town since you can’t use the train system. Thank you!

  4. My husband and I are on a RS My Way Tour in Sept. So Happy for your blog on Cinque Terre. Can’t wait to read it all!!
    Happy Travels!

  5. I will be in Italy in October and really want t see at least part of Cinque Terra. I have difficulty walking distances or hills.What do you recommend?

    1. Claudia, that’s a tricky one. Unfortunately, the easiest trail (called the Via dell’Amore, between Riomaggiore and Manarola) is closed indefinitely. You may want to home-base in Monterosso, which is flatter than the norm, then use trains and (maybe better) scenic boat trips to connect to the others. It’s fun simply to explore the towns. Monterosso and Vernazza are the least hilly, while Manarola and Riomaggiore require the most climbing (but all of the towns require a fair amount of up and down). Corniglia is manageable, if you take the shuttle bus up to town from the train station (otherwise it’s a very steep hike). If you feel adventurous, try doing some gentle hikes in the surrounding hills (there’s a glorious and fairly easy hike through the vineyards over Manarola, in our Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook). October is a great time to go at a slower pace, since it’s far less crowded then. Hope this helps!

  6. So very excited to read your post. I will be visiting Cinque Terre in September. We are staying in Tuscany for five days and doing two in Cinque Terre. We will be staying in Monterosso.

  7. Thanks for posting this!! A friend and I are headed to Monterosso in September, and it was great to get the tip for the restaurant, and also the hiking tips, as we want to be kind to our knees….we may now take the train or boat between towns….looking forward to more from you!!

  8. LOVE the Cinque Terre! I’m excited to read more of your experiences there, thanks. You’re a fantastic writer.

  9. We are in Monterosso now. The hike to Vernazza is quite strenuos and took us 3 hours; we are 50 and in reasonably good shape. Do not attempt with bad knees, there are a lot of steep downhill steps that are difficult on the knees, as well as a lot of steep upward climbing. Hiking poles and good shoes recommended. :)
    Also we very much enjoyed Piccolo Diavolo restaurant here in old town Monterosso, good food, very friendly, quite reasonable. Have the house wine. :)

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