As soon as I got off the train in Riomaggiore in 2007, I knew I was somewhere special. I had first heard about the Cinque Terre when I was in high school, now I was 21, backpacking alone through Europe, and had just put my foot on the pavement I had been dreaming about visiting for years. Flash forward to 2021, I can now proudly call myself a Cinque Terre resident, Italian citizen, and Canadian expat with two kids living in Riomaggiore, Italy. I believe I took the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ too much to heart, but it was the best thing I ever did. So, here is an introduction to Riomaggiore and the Cinque Terre in my own words.
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The Cinque Terre, located in a region in Italy called Liguria, is a stunning 15km stretch of land in a National Park and a UNESCO world heritage site.
The five villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. I have lived here almost half my life, and my parents still can’t pronounce the towns correctly, so don’t worry!
How do I describe the Cinque Terre? Picture-perfect to begin with. Between the sea, the coast, the hills and valleys, the painted houses, and the narrow ‘carruggi’ which wind through each town. My first impression was that you could smell the lemons on the trees. I had never experienced such a strong scent of lemon until I came to the Cinque Terre. Each village is unique and merits a visit for different reasons, for example, gelato in Corniglia at Alberto’s, where you are eating lemon-flavored gelato from lemons in the Cinque Terre.
Then there is Vernazza. A postcard. The most photogenic village in the world, where the buildings look like they were made of icing sugar, you are in some fantasy land and need to pinch yourself because it’s too beautiful to take in.
Or Monterosso, with the most picturesque beach and boardwalk, you could spend your whole holiday just sitting on a beach in Monterosso. Still, it would be impossible because Monterosso has the cutest shops and some of the Cinque Terre’s best restaurants.
In Manarola, you have the most incredible lunch overlooking the harbor drinking local wine listening to Pavarotti, and getting that Instagram perfect photo that you’ve wanted to get for years, and now you are there. It’s you, and it’s almost too much to take in. I know I am a local now, but I get it. I still get overwhelmed here. 14 years later.
Then, there is my hometown, well my hometown is Vancouver, Canada but my adopted hometown is Riomaggiore. I know I am biased. I live here; I get that. But in my opinion, Riomaggiore is the most beautiful of them all and will explain why.
Riomaggiore was built in a valley, so there are stairs everywhere you turn. That means you are almost guaranteed a sea or village view that will take your breath away if you chose to stay here. The stairs mean you get to eat as much as you want and not feel guilty in the slightest, and let me say, there are some incredible places to eat in Riomaggiore.
From Italian Tapas to a local hidden treasure, to being in the center of the harbor eating the most delicious seafood you’ve ever seen, there are so many options for lunch and dinner. Then there are the bars, the ones that are filled with locals, the ones that are chill and have only a few tables, so its quality and connection at its finest. The places where you can sit for hours and people-watch, the places you can have pasta and your kids a burger.
Riomaggiore has so many options, and that’s what I love about hosting guests here, in our village. I wrote an 80-page book for our guests with recommendations and everything you need to know about the Cinque Terre, etc., and I could write a 200-page book if I had the time!
I love this village; it is home. But by no means is it any better than any of the other ones. Like I said, each town deserves a date, a drink, a meal, a stroll. They are all special and unique.
How do you get to Riomaggiore?
Another great thing about Riomaggiore is that it’s just an 8-minute direct train ride to La Spezia, a bustling town filled with a daily fresh food market, fantastic stores and restaurants, a ton of history, and a great place to leave your car if you are driving through Italy. There is even a paid parking lot at the train station, it is so convenient! Ditch the car whether in La Spezia, Levanto (one town next to Monterosso) or at one of the parking garages in the Cinque Terre – you won’t need it during your stay. You can hike, use the train, or via the sea, hopefully with Yuri!
TOP 5 Thing to do in the Cinque Terre
– HIKE – EAT & DRINK – THE SUNSET – GET WET – RELAX
You are on vacation. You work hard. You never stop. Even your vacation means moving around and carrying luggage and all that stuff. The Cinque Terre is the PERFECT place to take a vacation on your vacation. All you need is a pair of running shoes, a bathing suit, and two outfits, and you are gold. Let me explain:
HIKE: Hike -You have got nothing but excellent options when it comes to hiking in the Cinque Terre. There is the famous “sentiero azzurro’, which or ‘blue trail,’ which is the paid village-to-village hike. And there are also the less traveled but just as beautiful trails like Monterosso to Levanto, Corniglia to Volastra, and Riomaggiore to Portovenere, just to name a few. Bring a good pair of running shoes and go for a hike while you are here. Pack a picnic and dine trail-side. Hiking the Cinque Terre is a photographer’s dream, a hiker’s paradise, and for someone like me, a spiritual experience with nature that makes me feel alive again and connected and focused. Don’t even bother putting your phone away; you’ll want to take pictures every second of it.
EAT AND DRINK – I have traveled a lot in Italy, I’ve seen more than Yuri has seen of Italy, and I have a passion for good food. I spent my teens working at restaurants to pay for my trip to Europe, and yes, I did sip champagne in Reins when I first arrived in France. The wine here is to die for, do a wine tasting in Riomaggiore – Gheme does a great one, and I’ll probably be there myself because I love cheese and wine. Eat. Try the local seafood dishes; you can’t go wrong when ordering a bunch of appetizers or asking the server’s recommendation (check out my blog to read all about my favorite places to eat in the CT)
THE SUNSET – There are sunsets, and then there are Cinque Terre sunsets. I spent the first week of my time in the Cinque Terre watching sunsets while sitting on breakwaters in Riomaggiore and Monterosso, drinking wine out of boxes and takeaway pizza with people from my hostel; it was pure magic. Then I met Yuri, and before we had kids, we had dinners while watching the sunset at some incredible restaurants throughout the Cinque Terre. Now, we take visitors on sunset boat tours and show them the most magical time we can after years of experiencing what makes a perfect sunset. No matter how you do it, experience the sunset in the Cinque Terre. It is life-changing.
GET IN THE WATER – Swimming in the Cinque Terre is like swimming in a swimming pool. Well, it can be if you know when and where to go 🙂
For families, Monterosso is your best friend, lots of beach bar facilities with umbrellas and lounge chairs so you can take a day off too. The clearest water is in Manarola and Riomaggiore, but neither has Monterosso’s beach. If you can, do a boat tour with Yuri, he’ll take you to the clearest waters in the entire Cinque Terre. If you are more of a beach person, Monterosso or Riomaggiore, hands down in my opinion!
RELAX – I remember hearing visitors staying below us one day, ‘how could you ever spend more than one day here.’ I listened to this and thought, no, you don’t get it. There is nothing to do here but to look after yourself. Read, write, paint, listen to music, float in the Med, take 3-hour lunches, and never skip out of an aperitivo. Relax, slow down, and enjoy life. Breath it all in, take it all in; there is so much energy in the Cinque Terre, healing energy. I’m a working mom; I never get a break, but when I choose myself and do a hike, or go sit by the sea, or watch the sunset I recharge and I refresh, and I can keep going and kick ass again. My favorite thing to do? Hike at 7 am, then go jump in the sea, coffee at the bar, home for a shower and a change, long lunch, romantic 2 hours on the boat with Yuri , then off to pick the kids up from school. On days like that, I live a vacation life. They don’t happen very often but when they do, boy, do I think of that couple staying below us and say, I wish you could have just stopped and taken it all in for a moment.