The Towns of Cinque Terre: Falling in love with Manarola

In my last post, I talked about how quickly Manarola became our favorite Cinque Terre town, but I didn’t really explain why. We arrived our first night and were instantly at ease.

Cinque Terre is obviously a huge tourist draw, but (I guess thanks to some train scheduling issues), Manarola was pretty calm. It helped that we were staying in an Airbnb a bit up in the city.

We had to drag our suitcases up quite a ways, but it was worth it for the peace and quiet. Plus, we had some pretty great views from the upper town square:

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We also had some of our favorite meals in Manarola. Trattoria dal Billy is known for their seafood, but they also make a pretty good trofie fresche al pesto. They fill up in advance, so head over for an early dinner or give them a call. It’s a nice spot if you want views but not crowds.

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If you don’t mind be surrounded by others, I highly recommend Nessun Dorma. You’ll have to wait in line for a table (literally), but the views help pass the time. The appetizers were great and they had a nice wine selection.

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Another great place for happy hour is Cantina Burasca. This place is owned by our Airbnb host’s father and they have a lot of tasty sides to go with their wines (which they make themselves, as well as their own lemoncino, pesto, and probably more).

But I don’t want to give the impression that Manarola is a tourist-free haven. There are plenty of people around (especially between 10 am and 6 pm aka the day trippers). You just have to know where to go – and whether you want some peace & quiet or some night life.

 

Plus, there’s a park and tons of benches up near Nessun Dorma that offer spectacular sunset views of both the city and the water. I think we loved Manarola so much simply because we felt so relaxed while we were there. Eating, drinking, taking in the scenery…we didn’t use Manarola as a base for hiking and we appreciated the vibe that created.

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That said, Cinque Terre has four other towns to visit and we had fun exploring those as well. Some we hiked through, others we simply ate at, but all were interesting pieces to what makes Cinque Terre so unique.

Corniglia was probably my least liked town. Our first encounter went fine – it was the start of our hike. But we spent almost no time there, lest our hike last until the hottest time of the day! So on day three, we went back to Corniglia to find some lunch.

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We had never entertained the idea of staying in Corniglia because everyone said it’s the hardest town to navigate with luggage. And since we were spending two months in Europe, we had some serious luggage.

However, after being there, I wouldn’t necessarily agree. There’s a bus station right outside the train station and once you’re in the town center, there aren’t significantly more stairs than any of the other towns (except maybe Monterosso, which is pretty flat).

Our initial walk around was charming. It’s pretty cramped and there are a lot of touristy things for sale, but if you wander a bit, you can find some secluded alleys and gorgeous views.

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However, at just the time we started to get hungry, we discovered that Google Maps is pretty much useless in Corniglia. I had looked up three potential lunch spots and we could only find one of them! It was full, so we spent the next half hour walking back and forth trying to find the others – no luck.

It was disappointing, because they had sounded like some of the best restaurants in Cinque Terre – but if you can’t find them, it doesn’t really matter how good they are. Plus, around noon, in July, Corniglia gets fairly stifling. We eventually gave up and found a spot where Chandler got some pretty good spaghetti and I settled for a caprese salad – being too hot to eat pasta. Che triste.

By the time we were ready to leave, people were eating in the streets and on the stairs and we could barely get past them to get to the bus. Not that our timing mattered.

When we got down to the train station itself, we learned that the train was already 45 minutes late and would continue until it was over 100 minutes late. Putting a damper on an already disappointing experience. Because, fun fact, you can only leave Corniglia by train (and maybe? taxi), there are no buses to other towns or a harbor for boats to dock in.

So, beautiful though it may be, Corniglia wasn’t for us.

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But Corniglia’s northern neighbor, Vernazza, was easily our second favorite town. If for whatever reason you can’t stay in Manarola (or you want easier access to hiking), Vernazza is the town for you!

Vernazza’s harbor is even more lovely than Manarola’s and has some great swimming just off the rocks. The town itself is a little more run down, but still charming.

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Home to our favorite casual food spot, we ate at Lunch Box twice during our three days in Cinque Terre. We also did the majority of our window shopping here. Busier than Manarola, it’s also bigger and more easily fits the crowds. But man, can you tell when a train comes through – the main street clogs as everyone makes their way down to the restaurants and water.

It was harder to find a quiet place here, but the church was lovely and we went on a nice walk along the pier.

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There also seemed to be a daily market for fresh produce, which was nice. You have to hike a ways (10-15 min tops) to get the best views of the city, but we definitely enjoyed our time in Vernazza.

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If you continue north, you’ll hit Monterosso, probably Cinque Terre’s busiest town. Flat, easy to navigate, and accommodating for cars, it’s where you’ll find most tourists with families.

Also, unlike Manarola, where swimming is limited; Corniglia, where swimming doesn’t exist except by boat; and Vernazza, where there’s more rock than sand; Monterosso has the most beach space.

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So, at the end of our hike, we did what one should do: We went to the beach. In my last post I mentioned the variety of beach options from public to private and calm to adventurous.

We opted for the private beach where we could have our own loungers. And while our beach – Bagni Eden – had my favorite umbrellas (orange & teal), their bedside manner could be significantly improved upon.

None-the-less it was nice to hop in and out of the salt water on a hot, July day, after a long hike.

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Monterosso seemed pretty big in comparison to the other four towns, but honestly, we didn’t explore it much past the beach. Chandler wanted to eat pizza that night and some of the best reviewed pizza was in Riomaggiore. Since the hike and the beach were my ideas, I figured the least I could do was let us get pizza!

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Before leaving, we did go to a wine bar for some local flavors and I got to sample my first lemon spritz (made even better because Cinque Terre uses locally sourced lemons in their lemoncino!). I’ve added it to my list of favorite summer drinks – because how does one go wrong with lemoncino mixed with prosecco? Enoteca da Eliseo had a great wine selection as well.

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After our drinks and one last stroll through Monterosso, we hopped on the train and made our way to the southern most town of Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore. That second night, we only ate our pizza – conveniently located near the train station.

It wasn’t until our third night that we returned (for some gelato) and a real tour of the town.

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Riomaggiore is the only town that needs to be viewed via boat if you want the best views of the colored houses. We didn’t do that and it’s probably the only thing I would have added to our itinerary if we’d had more time.

But even without the boat, Riomaggiore is a lovely place to stroll through. It’s too bad the Via dell’Amore leading to Manarola is still closed, because I can only imagine how beautiful that walk used to be. Luckily, there are other paths along the water to enjoy.

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Complete with lemon street art and great cliffside views. We were so happy that we had taken the time to see all five towns. Not only did it solidify our love for Manarola, it offered a fuller picture of Cinque Terre.

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A bucket-list trip for me ever since I chose to go to Venice over it my summer abroad in 2010, Cinque Terre was everything I wanted it to be and more. It was also less than I wanted it to be. And that was ok too.

Sometimes I think we put too high of expectations on trips and it’s nice to remember to focus on the positives and move past the negatives.

This was just the start of our Italian adventure this summer and we had plenty more to look forward to!

2 Comments

  1. HOW BEAUTIFUL!!!! It sounds like you had fun and enjoyed the food. I can’t wait to read more and see more pictures of the sights and you 2.

    – Mom

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