Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) is made of five villages on the Italian Riviera, in the region of Liguria. The villages, coastline, and amazing surrounding hillsides are a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This iconic place is undoubtedly high on many global lists as one of the most beautiful, romantic, and charming places in the world. That place is a landscape photography paradise!
A breathtaking, natural coastline landscape, amazing, colorful ancient villages with narrow streets perched on hills, unique historical features (churches, monasteries, castles), great weather, fabulous food, seafront… what are you waiting for?
5 amazing ancient villages you need to see
The area has a very long history (dating back to the Bronze Age!) and was an important location during the Roman empire. When the Saracens occupied the area (9th century), the villages were destroyed and this is when these beautiful villages perched on the hills started to appear.
For centuries, farmers build thousands of kilometers of dry stone walls and terraces for cultivating olives, grapes, and fruits, creating these wonders that you can hike through above the Ligurian sea.
Cinque Terre National Park is very tidily protected, including rules for house renovations that have very strict regulations (you can’t paint or renovate your house without ending up in jail!). As a last piece of context, the amazing colors of the house were not originally here to delight tourists and photographers. The fisherman’s wanted to be able to see their house easily, checking from a distance if their wives were home… But this is now providing a wonderful source of photography prints 😊.
Monterosso al Mare
This is the largest village and the only one that offers a long beach. However, during peak season, it is quite crowded, with many beach chairs and umbrellas. Monterosso is also the best of the five for nightlife and modern hotels if this is what you are after. In my opinion, this is not the best of the 5 to stay at, but it is still, despite crowds, a beautiful place. When you visit this village, watch for the many beautiful lemon trees in the town, and have a look at the convent and at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist, as well.
This traditional, amazingly colorful Italian village dates back to the 13th century. There are some landmarks worth visiting, like the Church of St John, the Santa Maria Oratory, and the ancient stone Castello. It is really worth it to see the village from the pier in the harbor (or to come by boat) for good photography perspective and views as per my image below. This view has inspired quite a few painters over time!
In my humble opinion, Vernazza is the most beautiful and photogenic of the 5 villages, with dramatic views on the harbor and colorful houses. It has been a fortified town since the 10th century when naval flees were defending it against pirates, the castle ruins adding to the beauty of the place. It is also said that this is one of the best places to find olive oil in Italy. Have a look at the Doria Castle, the Chapel of Santa Marta, and the church of Santa Margarita Antiochian. If you are a passionate photographer (or an active traveler who wants good memories), this is clearly a place to go a few times as there are many spots above the village that offer amazing and very diverse views. Especially around the golden hour and sunset, this is the place for amazing lights and perspectives on the village. Remember to check where the light will be before going (refer to my simple photography tips article for non-photographers).
The Manarola village was founded in the 12th century and offers a beautiful mix of vineyards, shops, and houses on the cliff. Some spots to visit are the Church of San Lorenzo and the Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane).
There is a very nice vineyard walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore (around 30-45 min), with many landscape photography opportunities
This is the only village of the five that doesn’t sit right on the shore. This village dates back to the Roman Age and its elevated position on top of a 100-meter cliff makes it an amazing place, surrounded on all three sides by terraces and vineyards. The village has a reputation for making the best wine, so you’ll want to try that (after the hike). If you want to get the best view and pictures of this amazing village, you’ll need to be courageous enough to go even higher and see this beautiful place from the trails above it. The effort is really worth it!
5 travel tips for a great Cinque Terre experience
Use public transport and your feet
There are no cars in Cinque Terre, and this is really a good thing! It is possible to park near the villages (good luck) but not recommended at all. Instead, if you are touring Italy with a car, the best option is to leave your car in La Spezia or in the Levanto train station parking areas and use the train shuttles to get to the villages. This will be much less stressful, and it takes only a few minutes to go between each of the villages by train. This will give you the freedom to go hike between villages or use the boat ferries (great views) without the pain of going back to your lovely rented car…
You can take a card for unlimited access to train buses and footpaths for a reasonable daily fee. This would allow for a much better experience going around and enjoying the narrow streets of the five villages.
Hiking and trailing
To really appreciate Cinque Terre, you need to hike around. The coastal trail (blue trail) is the easiest (but with lots of stairs and ups and downs, still) and arguably the best way to discover the villages. Some of the upper trails are a bit more difficult but truly breathtaking and fantastic. The trails are sometimes closed for restoration so I will refrain from giving specific advice, so just check when you get there.
To give you a feel of the distances between villages Monterosso-Vernazza and Vernazza-Corniglia, trails are 90-minutes hikes each, with amazing views of Vernazza for both. The low, scenic Corniglia-Manarola trail is a beautiful 2.5-hour hike and the vineyard walks between Manarola and Riomaggiore are an amazing 45min walk.
Spring and autumn are ideal for a trip, but summer is great as well
Summer is obviously a beautiful time to go for amazing weather. However, it is really busy, even if the park is implementing good measures to manage visitors. The peak season (July-August) is also quite hot when hiking (83°F/28°C average) and prices are higher. So, if you can, May-June and September-October are ideal for great weather, fewer crowds, and less heat. If you need to come during peak season, you should then stay in the village of your preference for a few nights. As many visitors are day-trippers (10A M-4 PM trains are like subways in big cities 😢), you’ll still have a fabulous experience during the morning and evenings, with much fewer people (and better lighting for photography). This is also the opportunity to see the villages light up like Manarola on my image below.
It is worth it to stay 3 days
Of course, it is possible to rush around the 5 villages in one day and believe you are done. However, if you really want to appreciate the park and the villages, do a few hikes, enjoy amazing sunrise and sunset landscape photography opportunities, and do justice to this wonder, three nights is probably a good duration for a visit. The 5 villages and the nature around them have a lot to offer to those who take the time to explore, so you will not regret it!
Italy has some of the best food in the world…
You can enjoy truly amazing Italian and Mediterranean food over there. Beyond the iconic Liguria pesto sauce and focaccia flatbread, local traditional food culture is great (like in a lot of places in Italy). Local olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish (including anchovies), and wine will make your dinners quite memorable.
I hope you are convinced that visiting this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage national park is worth it. You can find some photography prints for sale as well on my site. Enjoy your trip!