The Cinque Terre on a Budget

In this coastal corner of Italy, you can lounge on the beach, take in dazzling views and even indulge in a seafood splurge — all on a frugal budget.

Comments: 55

  1. We have also relished the desolate paths away from Sentiero 2. Many people just do not research enough to find the better hikes. Some of those non-trail 2 hikes are pretty strenuous, requiring elevation gain, but when you get away from the conga-line on the #2, it is a glorious place. We go back time and again and always find new paths to explore, away from the crowds.

  2. What, no map?

  3. We went to Cinque Terra 26 years ago on our honeymoon! Wonderful and undiscovered at that time, so quiet and authentic. I'll keep that memory.

  4. The article includes a link to maps, it's near the end. I didn't find the map I could access useful, but they're there.

  5. The first time (1990) I hiked what is now Il Sentiero Azzurro, it was uncrowded, breathtakingly beautiful, and the cafes were a little smaller and fewer than now. Sitting in a cafe in one of the Cinque Terre's villages gazing out at the Mediterranean while dining on the fresh local seafood and wine is an experience that should be on every serious traveler's bucket list. But it is a different experience now from what it was 25 years ago.

    So, I second the comments here of LLB. There's much glorious hiking to be found away from Il Sentiero Azzurro. Still, it is a great shame that the storms and the crowds have so altered the Cinque Terre experience.

  6. We too found ourselves in Monterosso last month looking to trek the usual town to town trail. I'm almost glad it was closed, otherwise we might never have found a terrific alternative, The Valley of the Lemons trail. In an hour or two we found ourselves high above the town eating lunch and enjoying spectacular views of lemon trees, olives trees and vineyards.

  7. Hi, ahi, ahi ... you forget to visit 'Prevo', a tiny hamlet of Vernazza located exactly in the center of Cinque Terre National Park, along the Blue Path (Sentiero Azzurro), 2 km far from Corniglia and 2 km from Vernazza.
    Prevo is the highest and most impressive spot of the Blue Path (Sentiero Azzurro) at 208 meters above sea level, that overlooks the famous Guvano Beach, the only beach in the Cinque Terre truly wild and untouched.

    Here you can find the 'only' accomodation located along the Blue Path: 'The Heart of Cinque Terre'.
    This large property is located in the center of Cinque Terre National Park, right on the Sentiero Azzurro, between Corniglia and Vernazza, in a restful tiny village named 'Prevo' with an amazing and nonpareil panorama, away from the bustle of the villages.

    More info here: www.theheartofcinqueterre.com

  8. NYT's is becoming the only place to read engrossing travel tales. Thanks, as they are always excellent and this one certainly lived up to your growing reputation.

  9. Don't want to be a lemming when you travel? I have been leading cultural/painting groups (Arts Sojourn) to Liguria for fourteen years. Cinque Terre is beautiful but not the only a portion of small villages that line the coast. The entire Ligurian coast is lined with authentic villages connected by hiking trails. We never stay in the five towns. We stay in the less populated beach town of Sestri Levante and our clients take the train or the boats to the Cinque Terra if it cannot be resisted. The entire coast is a maze of hiking trails, beaches and hotels. Cinque Terra is just one dot on fabulously beautiful coast.

  10. This article isn't going to do much to help the crowding! Sounds fantastic.

  11. I'm an old white guy from New York, now living in Florida and playing a lot of golf, but reading this article brought me deep satisfaction at remembering the greatest vacation of my well-traveled life, when my wife and I spent a month driving and walking around Italy, from Rome to Florence to San Gimignano to Sienna to Portofino to Imperia to San Remo to Venice, and many obscure places in between. A trip to Italy is a trip to paradise, although today it'd likely to be a lot more expensive than it was years ago. My wife had lived in Florence as a college exchange student, and spoke fluent Italian, which greatly enhanced our experience with the locals, but even if she had not, it still would've been the intensely memorable trip it is. We sampled cappuccino at 50 different places, playing a little game of rating and comparison. Thanks for running this; ironically, if we drove through or stopped at any of these villages in the Cinque Terre, I don't remember them, but we probably did as we cruised along the coast. Once in a lifetime.

  12. I hope you are keeping the best places secret (as I am).

  13. So often photos give the impression of uncrowded conditions which burnish a town's image. In reality, crowds are the norm and the noise from the trains is overbearing, especially in the middle of the night, so don't forget your earplugs.

  14. In the mid-1990s during one October, I happened upon Cinque Terre and hiked the trail among the cliffs (no fee then--I'm not even sure the trail had an official name at the time). Somewhere between Vernazza and Levanto with not a soul around, I was attacked by a goat who thought my go-everywhere skirt would make a yummy meal. Having nothing else at my disposal to thwart him off except a fresh loaf of Italian bread to go with some grapes and cheese I'd bought for my trail-side lunch, I began hitting Mr. Goat over his head. Quickly, he stopped chewing my skirt and ran off with the bread leaving me only the hand-held end. Since then, I never leave home without a Cliff Bar!

  15. Thanks for a great, inspiring article. But, (minor quibble), I think you had spaghetti alle cozze (with mussels) not ai muscoli (with muscles).

  16. "Cozze" is the general Italian word for mussels. In this zone we call them "muscoli". :)

  17. How interesting, Francesca! I wonder if that sounds odd to Italians in other regions. I think it's great! - And I'm clearly not the only one to love your article! :)

  18. Frank, You are mostly correct but in this case wrong. In most of Italy, mussels are cozze. In Liguria, especially in the Levante (the eastern part from La Spezia to Genova), they are called muscoli. Very good in La Spezia are muscoli ripieni, steamed mussels in which the mussels are removed from the shell, minced and combined with minced prosciutto or mortadella, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and bread crumbs. This mixture is put back in the shells and then it is call finished with a little tomato sauce. Exquisite, and it also refutes the often-stated assertion that Italians do not combine cheese with seafood. They do in other places too, including Venice. But that is for another posting. Fred Plotkin (author of "Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera").

  19. Been there; done that. Wanna do it again and again..............

  20. Sorry to say but Cinque Terra has been "destroyed." That is, the locals have discovered tourism and commercialized the place to the point of absurdity. Yes, the surrounding area is lovely and great for hiking. But the "quaint and rustic" Cinque Terra of yore is gone. Can't say that I blame the locals for making a buck, but fyi.

  21. Is this just about what everyone says who goes somewhere in the world before it is discovered by the hordes? Yet, people find new reasons, their own reasons, to go. I could have said that about a return trip to Cozumel after having been there before cruise ships started landing, creating a rather ugly, ordinary scene of hucksters and "let's get drunk, right now" bars in the center of the only town. Yes, things changed greatly. But those who know what to expect stay out of the messed over zone. One of the great appealing things about these Italian coastal cities is the insanity it must have taken to build them, to believe that people could really live stacked up against the sea on mountainsides. Being there is required to even begin to grasp these improbable wonders. You really have to look up, look around and absorb and this can be done while crowds of people push into tourist shops buying cheap junk to take home. I never thought I would get to the Amalfi coast, but I shall never forget going. Crowds? I don't need exclusivity to have an exclusive experience.

  22. The problem is that this zone is too small and fragile to handle the crowds it receives. The Amalfi Coast is much bigger and, even though it is heavily populated, it has much more infrastructure and draws on a superb supply of food products from just nearby in Campania. There have been hotels all over the area for two centuries. The tiny Cinqueterre, when I first visited in 1973, had almost no accommodations and were real fishing villages. Now they are crowded venues with souvenir shops and people trying to capitalize on the area's renown, with no regard for the environmental impact. They are truly being ruined. Italy has many magnificent coastal places to visit...try Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia, parts of Calabria, even other parts of Liguria. But if you love and respect a place, don't kill it.

  23. Bellissimo!

  24. I was just there in late September with the Smithsonian. It was fabulous. Truly, that coastline is out of this world. Corsica was incredible too....

  25. I can recommend the Stella Maris Hotel in Levanto, the town just above Cinque Terre. The hotel is very old-fashioned yet inexpensive and you feel transported back to a different time, with excellent attention.

    Levanto itself is delightful to explore, without the crowds, and when you want to go to Cinque Terre it's just one train stop away.

  26. My wife and I laughed a lot when we hiked the Cinque Terre trails several years ago, as it seemed that everyone we encountered was American - it got to the point where people automatically said "hi", "how's it going" instead of "buongiorno" upon meeting complete strangers, simply because there weren't any Italians crazy enough to get sweaty and sunburned on the trails during a hot summer day. As we discovered later, the Italians were much wiser than the Yankees - as we sweated our way on the trails, they were all relaxing on the beach, enjoying a swim or a mid-afternoon espresso while reading the sports newspaper (the ubiquitous "pink tabloid" you'll see in the hands of every other Italian male).

    Beautiful place, but don't go for a hike in the middle of a summer day, unless you want to be recognized as "un altro di quei matti americani" by the locals...

  27. If we are going to be responsible travelers (and people who write about travel), we have to think about the impact of what we do and say. While Rick Steves (whom I admire) has brought a lot of travelers to the fragile area called the Cinqueterre (this is the correct spelling) he also cautions about treading carefully. Other publications have not always been responsible. The most notorious was a piece a number of years ago in the Conde Nast Traveler which implied that all five towns could be walked in 45 minutes. Clearly the writer had not attempted it. In peak season, thousands of people try this daily. This transhumance of thousands of feet stomping on this delicate terrain. Part of why there were the terrible floods in the towns is that the natural terracing of the ground has worn away. The destruction of hillside terraces and the lure of making money through mass day-tripper tourism means that almost no Cinqueterre wine is produced any more. Most of the fish and seafood to feed all of these people is carted in from further away. It is often no longer fresh and is increasingly farmed (yes, mussels have long been farmed here, but other seafood and fish were not). There are shortages of fresh drinking water and, when there have been fires in the summer, yellow Canadair planes have to go into the sea to gather water to use to extinguish the flames). I could go on but I think the environmental devastation is evident. This area is meant to be visited in a slow, caring way.

  28. There are lots of trails that are overused, closest to me is the Grand Canyon, an extremely delicate terrain. Any such trail should be regularly maintained to counter erosion. It shouldn't be necessary to tiptoe on such a trail. Particularly if the natives are collecting money for trail use, it's not the users who should be responsible for not stomping. It's the money collectors who need to get off their bottoms and periodically upgrade the trails.

  29. As Fred Plotkin knows so well, having lived in this area, and states eloquently, this is an area that really is in a precarious state in terms of environmental fragility -- I would say nearly as much so as Venice. Man has in the last decades and the rise of unsustainable tourism (much of which is concentrated into five months) has tipped the balance here. I agree that the crowding is largely due to some American press and guidebooks' irresponsibly misinforming readers about both the trails and the time required to walk them. Visit this area please only in the winter, keep off of the Sentiero Azzurro as much as you can, be acutely aware of your impact as a tourist, and know that there is superb walking, including coastal walking, in many areas of Italy.

  30. Very good advice, and it was you, Marjorie, who advised my husband and me years ago about this area. We took your advice then, which I offer to all who are thinking of visiting the area. Stay in Santa Margherita, a beautiful coastal town nearby where you can catch the train to not only the Cinqueterre towns, but to Camogli, a romantic little village very close by. We recommend the Metropole Hotel there, which is right on the water.

  31. The Cinque Terre is a wonderful area to visit. One can hike, ride the train and take boat rides along the shore. Everything's fantastic.
    But how can one visit/write about the Cinque Terre with just a whisper about Manarola, perhaps the most stunning seaside town in Italy? (I know - Portofino, Positano, and others ain't shabby either!)
    Oh, and the trofie (with the world's best basil/pesto) is finished off well with the superb local grappa.

  32. Speaking of responsible reporting……last year websites and the tourist offices were reporting sections closed, but then when I got on the trail I found that no part but the Riomaggiore section was closed and that was due to a lawsuit. I encountered Italians, Germans, Dutch, Austrians…..very few Americans and it was lovely. Fred Plotkin is correct about treading lightly, but the locals told me they need the tourists to stay in business. I would add tread lightly AND open your pocketbooks if you are able. With all due respect Fred Plotkin - I carry your book to Italy each year and we have spent hours searching for shops and restaurants that are no longer in town…..you need to update!!!

  33. Hello Bridget, I think you are referring to Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. It was updated in 2014 (came out in April) and an e-book version appears soon. There is an e-mail address in the book where reader-travelers can send much-appreciated updates. Italy has seen, sadly, too many closures due to its faltering economy and the preference among some travelers and some younger Italians for mass-market globalized taste. Suggestions and comments are always welcome, and I thank you. Much of this has occurred in the Cinqueterre, where I seldom recommend people go.

  34. Cinque Terre is too crowded in the summer (especially with Americans, as this article notes). If you go in the fall or spring, however, it will be less crowded and more enjoyable, and it is not too difficult to find great food at affordable prices.

    A small tip: Take a boat from Monterosso to Portovenere. Technically, Portovenere is not one of the villages of the Cinque Terre and the train the connects the five villages of the Cinque Terre does not go there, hence the need for a boat. This is a small blessing, as the boat ride is spectacular, and Portovenere is a lovely, sleepier town that is somewhat touristy yet not overrun like the Cinque Terre villages, with plenty of Italian families around, and some wonderful restaurants and shops. There is also a spectacular medieval church perched on a cliff that is worth a visit.

  35. Having lived in Europe and worked in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia and traveled in those places, I cannot understand the fascination that people have with such places when they have such beautiful and charming places to visit much closer to home in the US and Canada. IMHO, Italy ranked as one of the dirtiest countries I've ever seen.

  36. Some people are interested in history and old architecture, we don't have that in the US. We have big box retailers and depressing strip malls.. Italy is dirty some places.. but I love it. Although I realize living in California is probably nicer after all, but you cannot experience anything like Italian traditions, hundreds or thousands(!) of years old buildings, villages, piazzas, restaurants, fashion etc over here. Visiting Colosseum or Pantheon is mind blowing.

  37. My Wife and I were there on a guided one day tour out of Florence in April of 2011, before the terrible landslides later that year. At that time of year the weather is a bit cooler (but it warmed up to the mid 70's at midday) so the crowds were also quite a bit lighter. Our local Guide was excellent, and we learned about the delicate nature of the environment there and how the towns were established and originally subsisted along the way. We finished the trip with a sunset Ferry Ride along the coast which allowed us to see where we had walked and the beautiful views of the five towns from the Mediterranean. It was in incredible introduction to the area, but too much for one day, better to do in at least two at a minimum.

  38. We stayed in Lerici and bought a day pass on a hop-on, hop-off ferry that visits all the towns save Corniglia. The boat trip was leisurely, lovely, and not terribly expensive. We walked between Riomaggiore and Manarola (an easy walk), but took the ferry otherwise. A wonderful day--but even in late September, it was very crowded.

  39. When visiting Cinque Terra, there are other small towns along the coast on the same train line that afford easy access. Towns like Deiva Marina have lovely beaches, lots of hotels, and reasonable prices. Although a post-war city without the charm of the historic towns close by, it is a convenient jumping-off point for hikes. La Spezzia, the regional seat, is also an underrated city with easy train access, shopping and restaurants. Visiting Cinque Terra should be about more just going on the hike to check off something on the bucket list. There is so much more to Liguria.

  40. Great little museum in La Spezia, if memory serves me correctly!

  41. Without wanting to seem to be an elitist, I would encourage the NYT to think carefully about the consequences of publishing articles that encourage mass budget traveling in areas with delicate infrastructures.

    In the Cinqueterre, mass budget tourism has brought not only culture obliterating crowds, it has also all but obliterated the native culture of the area. Housing scarcity, made much worse by enterprises like Air BnB, have made it impossible for the sons and daughters of the local families to remain, since almost all available housing is rented out to tourists. Reasonably priced sea- caught local fish is, for all intents and purposes, no longer available; what you get, unless you pay top dollar, is farmed fish shipped in from industrial plants in Croatia. The foccacia is only rarely locally made--- you might as well get it in Milan or Genua. The pesto is industrially made in huge vats and comes out as a tasteless green ooze. And what, pray tell, is the pleasure of sharing what used to be a charming isolated seaside village with thousands of tourists? Some places, frankly, simply cannot be converted into mass tourist attractions.

  42. Thank you for this comment; we couldn't agree more with your observations. My husband is from Vernazza and his family all reside there, and the future of this magnificent, fragile gem and its true culture is our greatest concern.

  43. My husband and I have hiked between all the Cinque Terre towns a couple of times and walked shorter portions because of time and a friend's stamina constraints. It is a lovely part of the world but, as others have commented, ever more crowded. The attention brought by the floods has increased focus on this spectacular area. I enjoyed reading this article very much but would suggest that, rather than avoiding the 5Terre trail fee, pay it and then go to the more remote "free" trails. This summer when we were there, two sections were closed, and we observed two areas on open trails being worked on with time-consuming hand-laid stone walls to recreate terraces. If we are privileged to visit such a lovely area, we should not avoid paying a small amount to help support local efforts to maintain such a treasure.

  44. I have to agree with Bruce. Based on Rick Steves and some online recommendations, we booked a side trip to Cinque during our trip to Italy in April -- expecting a remote and picturesque place, accessible via trails from the top of the mountain, etc.

    We were surprised to find that a train runs through tunnels between all five towns, which was packed with tourists. The towns themselves matched the throng of visitors, with a throng of souvenir shops and cafes. Maybe this is still a wonderful place to visit in the off season, but there are definitely more genuine towns and culture to see in Italy.

    ... and watch out for pickpockets! My wallet is still in Cinque Terre. A real expert got past a velcro closure and a zipper, in the crowd on the train.

  45. For sure all Cinque Terre are worth the visit, but avoid to sleep there. Escape the massive tourism during summer, the microscopic beaches, and choose instead the early spring and atlernatives locations in the nearby area. Places like the little tiny beautiful Framura seaport, with the 3 fractions Setta, Costa, Anzo, or Bonassola and Levanto. Here you can rent a bike and cycle throught the old train gallery tarck stopping in nice and more comfortable beaches along the way.
    Discover little gems up on the hill like Montaretto and the comfortable walk trail far better than Via degli innamorati. That's a reco from a local.

  46. We had a wonderful stay at Bonassola several years ago - a tiny, old-fashioned seaside resort town, very beautiful and with great food - just outside the Cinque Terre proper and so not nearly as crowded or expensive as that brand-name destination... although really close by car, closer by train, and probably best of all by boat if you can swing it!

    Without going into the stories, I have to report the people in Bonassola are really the very best part (and compared to the food, that's saying a lot!).

  47. I am a frequent traveler to Europe and also an avid hiker, although I have not been to the Cinqueterre. As has been mentioned, one silver lining to the cloud of overused hiking trails is that Americans are on the whole very unwilling to get off the beaten path and find an equally beautiful but less famous route.

    I can add that a surefire way to beat the crowds in any natural setting is to find a path that gains in altitude - I'd venture that about 80-90% of American tourists will drop off immediately at the slightest incline. And, going up often provides the best view.

  48. Cinque Terre are beautiful, but if you want to have good services and pay less money, I suggest you stay in La Spezia where you will find good restaurants, shops and museums.you can reach the Cinque Terre by train (10 minutes) or by boat. I recommend to stay on Via Chiodo on booking.com. Do not neglect then also the beautiful Portovenere, it s amazing!!!!look also the apartment sea Venere Bianca, an experience that will not disappoint !!!

  49. The article brought me back some years and a beautiful stay at Hotel Porto Roca. I recall sitting out on the sunny cliffside terrace, looking out at the Ligurian Sea, the beach of Monterosso, and the fushia red and purple beauganvilla covered walls of the hotel. We sipped Campari and sodas at cafe tables in the shade of umbrellas. Ahhhhh La Dolce Vita!

  50. Keep a close eye on your wallet. Mine was skillfully lifted from my front pants pocket while boarding a train. Happens every day.

  51. It's interesting that our trip to Cinque Terre was centered around Manarola, and the author barely passed through it. We stayed in a lovely B&B and ate at a restaurant probably 50 feet down the path that had been written up in a "36 Hours in the Cinque Terre" article probably 5 years ago. It was so good, we ate there all 3 nights we were there. One of the days, we took the boat trip to La Spezia and it was glorious. If I had to do it again, staying in La Spezia or Lerici or other towns around La Spezia Bay would be a good choice. But Manarola was terrific, and not nearly as crowded as others are mentioning.
    By the way, we took the train there because that's the way the Italians do it, right? We were on our way to England for a wedding, so had 50 lb suitcases. What we didn't expect was 1) the two flights of steps down and the two flights of steps going up that you need to do to get from the station where you buy your ticket to the track, and then walking up the steps with the suitcases to get onto the train. People were nice and helped us but there were no porters. So if you go, and you should, you might consider this.

  52. Fifty pound suitcases? No European travels with that level of excess wedding or no wedding. The reality is that if you are taking public transportation you should limit yourself to 25 pounds total. We just came back from there (ages 68, 70, and 73) and we needed no help and we had plenty of clothes, including nice ones. Oh and ours was an almost monthlong trip. We did find ourselves constantly amazed at how Americans take three times the amount of luggage as other nationalities.

  53. My wife and I honeymooned in the Cinque Terre in mid-late September of 2009 and it was our hands-down most favorite part of the three-week trip through Italy. We stayed in Vernazza at Camere Giuliano http://www.cdh.it/giuliano/ which we highly recommend, for five days and explored the other towns on the coast. The best, most authentic meal in the area is at Vulentia in Vernazza http://www.ristorantevulnetia.it/index_eng.htm. Bel Forte on the harbor has the stunning castle with killer the view but the food is mediocre for more money. The weather was simply glorious everyday. The crowds do swamp the place during the day as the trains come and go but we found that they do retreat in the early evening as the day trippers move out and the mood changes to a much more relaxed and authentic tone. Watching the sun set, sitting on the rocks near the harbor in Vernazza while eating bright green pesto from the local market, drinking the local white wine from a plastic cup is one of our most cherished memories.

  54. We were in Vernazza for a week in July. We stayed at Camere Fontanavecchia, wonderfully warm owner operator. We sat and talked about the floods, amazing these folks were able to rebuild, and so quickly. We had our meals at the Pirate Restraunt: http://www.ilpiratarooms.com/eng_home.html These guys were great, talked about the community and Sicily where they are originally from. If you are interested in getting to know the people of Cinque Terre, take a moment and them questions about their home, their community. Cinque Terre is not just about the hiking trails, people live here, get to know them. BTW, tourism industry, largest industry in the world! You know, like it's all over the world, where you know, the tourist tend to go.

  55. Visited The Cinque Terre in early Spring about 10 years ago and fell in love with it. I was very saddened to hear about the destruction as a result of flooding. Never got the chance to hike, but loved the food, sites and people. I was also taken with Portovenere with its friendly inhabitants and beautiful church.