There are 20 regions in Italy, some of which are household names – Tuscany and Sicily among them. There are also parts of Italy that, while not technically regions, are still familiar to everyone who has ever planned an Italian vacation. The Cinque Terre is one of those areas. Here’s an overview of the Cinque Terre to help you plan your trip.
There’s a little stretch of the coast of Liguria known as the Cinque Terre that could once genuinely be described as a collection of sleepy fishing villages.
That hasn’t been an accurate description of the area for a good long time – the Cinque Terre is an incredibly popular tourist destination – but these villages retain a charm that reminds visitors of those sleepy days. That’s just one of the reasons so many people flock there each year.
Looking at the map below, you can see the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast (it’s between the two arrows on the left) as it relates to nearby La Spezia. It’s considered part of the Italian Riviera.
The Cinque Terre’s five towns are linked by what’s often called a “milk run” train – it’s slow, you guys. The two towns that get more regular service from destinations farther away are Monterosso al Mare and Riomaggiore. The city of La Spezia has regular train service from all over Italy and isn’t far from, though not technically in, the Cinque Terre.
And this brings me to one of the main things you need to know when you’re planning a trip to the Cinque Terre – it’s important to know what the Cinque Terre is and is not. There are plenty of hotels in La Spezia that say they’re in the Cinque Terre. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those hotels, except that they’re only close to the Cinque Terre. If you want to wake up in the morning, walk out your hotel or apartment door, and be right in the Cinque Terre, there are only five towns to choose from.
That limited geographic area and the small size of the five towns means that the Cinque Terre can get quite crowded during the high season. Even if not every visitor is spending the night, the popular hiking trails can feel a bit like superhighways in the summer. (That’s another reason to spend the night, so you can get a first-thing-in-the-morning start.) It’s a good idea to arrange accommodation well in advance during the high season, though during the low season you can still find accommodation when you get there.
The Cinque Terre is an attraction in and of itself, and a popular day-trip destination. It’s time-consuming enough to get there that it’s not ideal as a base for day trips, unless you can take a boat trip to Portovenere in the summer or want to visit La Spezia by rail for a day. And? There’s no reason to leave the Cinque Terre when you’re only visiting for a short time. Hike the trails, browse the shops, visit the sanctuaries, go for a swim, and stare at the sea. There are worse ways to spend a holiday, I think.
Keep in mind that while the Cinque Terre towns don’t exactly close up shop during the off-season, some businesses will be operating on a holiday schedule with shorter hours. The low season is also when the popular hiking trails are getting repaired, and sometimes (depending on the weather) getting damaged by rainfall, which means they won’t always be open. As long as you’re prepared for inclement weather and ready to be self-sufficient (cooking in an apartment you rent, for instance, since some restaurants will be closed) then a winter visit to the Cinque Terre can be a great time to catch up on reading or start work on your novel.
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