I spent 4 nights in Ostello Corniglia in Cinque Terre and it was enough. I wasn’t aware of this book by Rick Stein advising the world to head there and was unpleasantly shocked at the amount of tourists. I didn’t get all the hiking done that I wanted, but I saw a lot in those 3 days. So let me tell you a bit about all 5 of the villages in Cinque Terre:
Riomaggiorroe is the first and most advertised. When you see pictures it’s most likely from the harbor looking up. Now none if the towns are that big but this one and Monterosso are tied for my favorite. Riomaggiorroe has several food stalls for snacks, restaurants for dinner and bars for a drink. They also have all the tourist shops with lemoncello and different pasta spices for sale. People will swim in the harbor but you need to climb down the rocks into the water. I know people will cliff jump here but by August the water is quite rough and no one was jumping anymore. The trails between Riomaggiorroe, Manarolo and Corniglia were also closed due to landslides by August so if you’re going hiking aim to visit earlier.
I only visited this town for about an hour. I’ve been told there’s a bar on top of the hill that is quite neat and you can also cliff jump here. People were tanning on the boat launch but again the waves were pretty rough so no one was swimming. Manarolo is probably the best for getting a picture of the town because they have a path across the harbor from the village.
This is the town I stayed in as well as the smallest. There really isn’t much to it as it’s up on a cliff. You have to climb 384 stairs up from the train station or take the shuttle bus for 2€ to reach the town. There are very limited restaurants but a beautiful look out point. I did the hike from Corniglia to Vernazza in about an hour and a half but the way back was closer to 45 minutes. The hike was all up hill on the way there but you do get beautiful views of Corniglia and Vernazza along the way.
When I visited Vernazza it started to pour rain. There’s an old tower on top of the town that costs 1.50€ to go up and a nice harbor. You can also pass through a cave to a rocky beach where I’m sure people would swim on nicer days. Their town again had a few take away restaurants and sit down restaurants along with the tourist shops.
Monterosso would be my favorite town. The whole coast line is a sandy beach. The second the sun is out the beach is packed. But the water comes up very high so if you see everyone pushed back to the wall it’s for good reason. A group of Aussies laid down in front of everyone then a massive wave came all the way over them and their towels. One girls iPhone was wrecked, another had to chase her clothes and shoes into the ocean as the wave sucked them away. They were not happy after that. Monterosso also has an old town if you head through the tunnel at the end of the boardwalk. A bit of a hike will take you to an old graveyard. On the otherside of town you can do a 30 minute hike to see a statue of a giant carved into the cliff.
I’d say Monterosso has the most to offer, beach, history and sights. While they’re all over run with tourists if I were to go back I’d probably stay outside the city just the make things a little cheaper. Levanto and La Spezia are on either side of the National Park and are easy access. The train ticket is 12€ for a day and 14€ for a week. You pick.