Ciao Italia! In 2018, Seb and I went for a week exploring the Liguria region, from Genoa to the Cinque Terre. Although it is quite a popular destination for summer, we went during the Easter week and we were quite the only tourists there, apart from lots of Italians in the Cinque Terre.
How to get there
If you are travelling by plane, you can usually choose to arrive in Genoa, Pisa or Florence. I chose Genoa airport so that we could explore the lovely region of Liguria before finishing our trip in the Cinque Terre. If you choose to arrive in Pisa or Florence and you have some extra days, I would definitely recommend you to spend 2-3 days in Florence! There is so much to do in this beautiful city!
- Genoa-Cinque Terre is 1h-1h30 with the regional train from Genoa Piazza Principe for 7,90€;
- Pisa-Cinque Terre is 1h-1h30 with the regional train from Pisa Centrale for 7,90€;
- Florence-Cinque Terre is 2h-2h30 (with or without transferring at Pisa) with the regional train from Firenze S. M. Novella station for 14€.
Cars are forbidden in the Cinque Terre villages, so the parking lots are rare and expensive. This is why I highly (highly!) recommend you to travel by train. It will be the best way to visit this part of Italy. The trains in the Liguria region are really reliable, clean, fast and not quite expensive!
You can check the timetables and prices in the official Italian website, which I find really useful!
Itinerary for a week around the Cinque Terre
Liguria, the Italian Riviera
The Liguria region is Italy’s crescent of Mediterranean coast, where the Alps and the Apennines cascade into the sea. Its sinuous, giddy landscapes give this region an extreme topography: ascents and descents every where, always with the watery horizon.
The Italian Riviera, synonymous of the Liguria region, is home to many alluring places. It includes the Portofino peninsula, the legendary Cinque Terre and more low-key seaside towns to Genoa’s west.
This is both a deeply historic destination and a fabulous pleasure-seeking one, where you can explore lavish palazzi (mansions) or humble village churches and then simply swim, eat, walk or stare at the sea.
Anchored beside the region’s best natural harbour is noble Genoa. Known as La Superba (the Superb One) to biased locals, it’s a city that ruled over one of the finest maritime empires in medieval Europe.
Even if we found the city centre of Genoa charming, we fell in love with the fishing port, Boccadasse. Once a separate fishing village, it appears like a sawn-off chunk of Cinque Terre. It is a true “city within the city”, and we loved walking around its colourful alleyways, always with a view on the sea. Although the weather wasn’t quite with us this day and the wind made every step quite a challenge, we loved our time there!
- Where to eat
We had lunch at the Trattoria Osvaldo and we loved it! I had the pasta with walnuts (pansoli in salsa di noci e pinoli) and Seb had the fish of the day and it was excellent! The waitress also recommended us some incredible local white wine to pair with our meals. I highly recommend it if you are in Boccadasse.
- Where to stay
We stayed at the B&B Tube in Genoa near the main station Brignole and it was absolutely perfect! One of the best place we stayed at in Italy! The room and bathroom were beautiful, spacious, clean and comfortable, but the best part was the free home-made buffet breakfast! We ate our weight of focaccia, croissants and bread with homemade jams and delicious coffee!
- How to get there
Bus No 42 goes to Boccadasse from Via Dante near the De Ferrari metro station. Bus 31 also goes there from Brignole Station.
After our half-day spent in Boccadasse, we took the train to Camogli where we spent our second night. We both fell in love with this charming, typically Italian town!
25km east of Genoa, Camogli is most famous for its sheer number of trompe l’œil villas and its photogenic terraced streets winding down to a perfect cove of pebble beach. While tourists gather to Portofino, this is where many of northern Italians have their summer apartments. The town remains a working fishing hub. On the second weekend in May, the town celebrates its maritime heritage with the Sagra del Pesce and a huge fish fry: hundreds are cooked in 3m-wide pans along the waterfront!
- Where to eat
We had dinner at the Ristorante da Paolo recommended by our host and it was delicious! We shared the antipasto di mare, then I had taglierini neri con seppie e scampi (black pasta with cuttlefish and scampi) and Seb the trenette al pesto (a typical pasta meal from Genoa and Liguria) with a bottle of local white wine for 50€.
- Where to stay
We stayed at the great B&B Al Piccolo Scoglio, with beautiful views on the sea and a delicious breakfast included. Claudio the owner was really nice and recommended us the delicious restaurant above for dinner!
- How to get there
The regional train goes to Camogli-S.Fruttuoso from Genova Brignole in 45min and will cost you 3,6€.
Located in the parco del Monte di Portofino, San Fruttuoso is a slice of ancient tranquillity preserved amid some of Italy’s busiest coastal resorts. There are no roads here – thank heavens! – so it can only be reached by boat or by hiking trails! You come here with the locals to swim, sunbath and eat a seafood lunch in the sun.
One of the highlights of this ancient town is the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. The abbey was founded by the Order of Saint Benedict and most of its buildings date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 17th, century the abbey went into decline, and parts of it were used for keeping sheep. In 1730 Camillo Doria restored the abbey, and returned the church to liturgical use.
If you are into diving, do not miss the underwater statue Christ of the Abyss, which was installed in the sea off San Fruttuoso in 1954, at a depth of 17 metres (56 ft)!
We decided to take the first boat of the day from Camogli at 11am (9€/pers.) with Golfo Paradiso (you need to check in the morning for the exact departure time since it depends on the sea conditions). After exploring the abbey and hiking around to have beautiful views, we hiked to Portofino! It is an easy 2h hike of 3km offering stunning views over one of Italy’s most beautiful coasts (map).
- Where to eat
We had a quick cheap and delicious panini at Da Giorgio before hiking but if you can, I would recommend you to bring your own lunch and picnic on the beach!
Even the trees are handsome in Portofino, a small but dreamy coastal village that sits on its own peninsula. Hotels here are hushed and headily priced, but a drink by Portofino’s harbour or a stroll around its streets can be easily enjoyed on a day trip.
We got our first glimpse of Portofino from the hiking trail and immediately felt in love with it! The colours of this coastal village contrasted perfectly with the gloomy sky. We spent the whole afternoon wandering in the pretty streets. Although it is a bit over-touristy, it is hard not to be charmed by all those colours, flowers, boats and pennants!
To get a nice view of Portofino, you have to do a bit of exercise! We went up to Chiesa di San Martino (a charming little black and white square with a stunning yellow church) to admire the city from above! The climb is a bit steep but the view was well worth the hike! From there, go on to the Faro di Portofino where you can grab a drink while admiring the view. On your way, do not miss the Castello Brown, Portofino’s unusual castle (10min walk all together).
Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure is like a calm Impressionist painting. You wouldn’t want to change a single detail of the picture-perfect seaside promenade in this fishing-village-turned-retirement-spot, where elegant hotels with Liberty facades overlook yachts. It’s decidedly less bling than Portofino, with some affordable hotel options and a surprisingly workaday town behind the waterfront.
Don’t miss the lavish Italian gardens of Villa Durazzo part of a 16th-century castle complex, overlooking the sea. The Santuario di Nostra Signora della Rosa is another highlight, a small yet lavish baroque church.
- Where to eat
We had dinner at the Trattoria da Pezzi recommended by our host and it was probably the best restaurant of our trip! This hidden gem of a trattoria clearly offers the best Italian home cooking you could ever have! If you are looking for a secret traditional, delicious and cheap Italian trattoria, this is the place to go! We chose the minestrone alla genovese (best minestrone ever!) and the carpaccio di bresaola as mains. For desserts, we had the bacci di dama and a torta della nonna, typical from Liguria and Toscana.
- Where to stay
We stayed at the B&B Il Timone, an amazing B&B a bit expensive but really comfortable and clean. The owner was really nice and welcomed us warmly although we arrived a bit later than expected. He also recommended us the restaurant we went for dinner!
- How to get there
We took the bus n°82 from Portofino (3€ – 15min) offering beautiful views over the peninsula.
The Cinque Terre, those five ingeniously constructed fishing villages set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the planet. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, Cinque Terre isn’t the undiscovered Eden it once was but, frankly, it is still worth the visit. The five villages date back to the early medieval period. Sinuous paths traverse seemingly impregnable cliff sides, while a 19th-century railway line cut through a series of coastal tunnels ferries the footsore from village to village. Thankfully cars were banned over a decade ago.
I found the Cinque Terre absolutely sublime but the mass of tourists and the feeling of not seeing any local residents bothered me. Exploring the picturesque villages with hundreds of tourists can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you have to queue in the back streets to explore. It felt a bit like an amusement park at times. We went around Easter and so it was essentially full of Italian tourists. However, if you go for summer, don’t expect to be alone. If you are not a fan of busy streets and towns, I highly recommend you to visit during shoulder seasons, May/June and September/October probably being the best choices. That being said, the Cinque Terre remains a piece of paradise on Earth and is definitely a must!
Where to stay
Although staying in one of the villages can be an absolute dream, it is also often quite expensive. The usual option is to stay in La Spezia, and this is also what we did. The city is often overlooked but it’s not just an affordable place to stay overnight. It is really worthy of exploring – the winding streets of the old town are hugely atmospheric and there are plenty of cosy trattorias showcasing the Ligurian kitchen’s finest.
We stayed at the most amazing apartment we ever stayed at, Sotto le Stelle. Located next to the port and the garden, it is a beautiful and cozy apartment with a lovely terrace, perfect to enjoy a sunny breakfast, lunch or dinner!
Where to eat
If you decide to stay in La Spezia, here are some of the most amazing places we’ve been to.
- Pasta fresca da Rita: the best place to buy some homemade fresh pasta by Mrs Rita, well-known amongst locals for having been there for years.
- Utopia: a beautiful gourmet boutique and wine bar where we found one of the best Prosecco we had!
- Pizza Gourmet: probably the best (and cheap) pizza in town!
How to get there
The best way to travel between the villages is to take the local train or to hike, or do both. The Cinque Terre Card gives you access to unlimited train travels and to the hiking trails (otherwise the trails will cost you 7,50€/pers./day).
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso is the biggest and oldest of the Cinque Terre’s villages. It is divided into the old and the new village. Monterosso al Mare offers the biggest only white-sand beach of the Cinque Terre. Because of this, it is the most visited town and its green and orange parasols are probably its most well-known postcard. However, since we went off-season, the official beach was closed so it was less crowded than what we expected. Keep in mind that this is a private beach so you will need to pay if you want to enjoy it.
While visiting, don’t miss the Convento dei Cappuccini. It is Monterosso’s most interesting church and convent complex, set on the hill that divides the old town from the newer quarter. It offers an incredible panorama on the other villages. The striped church, the Chiesa di San Francesco, dates from 1623 and has a painting attributed to Van Dyck (Crocifissione) to the left of the altar. Another of Monterosso’s highlights are the Torre San Giovanni and Aurora, remains of the 13 towers that fortified the city.
The Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) starts from the old town and is divided in 4 sections, between the 5 villages. The path is often closed during autumn and winter due to the heavy rains damaging the paths. So it is good to always check if the path is open before going.
Vernazza is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Cinque Terre’s villages, despite having been devastated by the flood of 2011. We spent an entire afternoon getting lost in the maze of colourful alleyways, until reaching the most beautiful viewpoint of the village, from the path #2 Vernazza – Monterosso.
We had a delicious dinner at the Vineria Santa Marta. The waitress was nice and recommended us great meals to go with the wine tasting. We went quite early so it wasn’t full and again off-season so with a lot of Italians.
Corniglia is the smallest and the highest of the Cinque Terre five villages. It is the only village that does not have a direct access to the sea. It is very difficult to reach by car, so the only options available are either by train or by foot. Don’t be afraid of the Grande Scalinata, 382 steps leading to the village centre from the train station, they are actually quite doable!
Manarola was probably my favorite of the Cinque Terre’s villages. We first went there for sunrise and watched the town slowly waking up, it was truly magical. The same day, we came back later to have dinner at the Nessum Dorma bar, which offers an absolutely incredible view of the village! We were quite pleasantly surprised that the bar is far from the tourist trap we imagined! It is a really nice place, cheap with delicious meals! Don’t be discourage by the queue, seats often become available quickly.
Riomaggiore is the first village of the Cinque Terre on the side of La Spezia. The main town is separated from the railway station and the wharf by tunnels. The town actually looks like it is divided into three parts: the railway station (from which the famous Way of Love starts), the old town and the wharf (which has a mooring and a small rocky beach). This last area can get quite busy so I recommend you to go early in the morning if you want to enjoy it without the crowds!
Porto Venere is technically not a part of the Cinque Terre but it could easily be the sixth village! It is impossible to reach it by train but you can either take a bus or a boat from La Spezia or Riomaggiore. If you can spare half a day, it is really worth the visit! It is a perfect scenic place, serene by comparison to its Cinque Terre neighbours, although being busy with Ligurians on weekends and summer evenings.
Perched on the dreamy Golfo dei Poeti’s western promontory, the historic fishing port’s sinuous harbour front houses form an almost impregnable citadel around the incredible Castello Doria. Porto Venere is considered a World Cultural Heritage site and in 1997, was recognized as one of the World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
Useful tip: if you go by boat, the shore along the route lies on the right side, so if you want to relish the beautiful views of the coast and have a stunning picture-perfect view on the colourful facades of Porto Venere, you must take a seat on the right side.
I hope this travel guide to Liguria and the Cinque Terre will be useful for you and if you need, feel free to reach out with any questions! And don’t forget to tag me in your stories and posts on Instagram if this article inspires you !
P.S.: If you are looking for other destinations in Italy, find out some inspiration here!
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