Cinque Terre’s awe-inspiring views and magical atmosphere put this destination at the top of many people’s wish list. Its five towns offer culture, history, local delicacies and fine wines against the backdrop of coastal scenery that is truly unique and inspiring. We challenged our team to come up with 5 highlights from a day trip to the region. It was unbelievably tough to choose: the choice was vast, but we succeeded in narrowing down the list to five highlights that truly sum up the experience of a day in the stunning region.
1. The Fishermen’s District in Riomaggiore
The first settlers in the area were complete novices when it came to fishing. They were peasants who farmed, and the main source of their livelihood came from their vineyards where they grew grapes that made some of the area’s finest white wines. However, it didn’t take long for the abundant fruits of the sea to lure these coastal dwellers to the boats.
All five of the towns established a flourishing sea trade, but today the most picturesque traces of this past industry can be found in Riomaggiore. The main street, lined with houses decorated in a rainbow of pastel hues, will deliver you to the picture postcard marina where the sparkling waters of the Adriatic lap the rocky shore. Ramps have been cut into the rock so that the fishermen can pull their colourful boats into the small piazza. Surrounded by the bustle of the locals, the cats, the fishermen, their nets, the boats and the smells and sounds, you will still find it strangely relaxing as the stress and strains of your regular life melt away.
Anchovies are the most common catch off these coasts: fishing for them is typically done at night so that’s why you’ll see the boats jostling for space along the shore and piazza during the daytime. The anchovy boats are called lampara, due to their lamps that light the way for these nocturnal fishing trips.
If you’re visiting the region in September you might catch the anchovy festival that’s held in Monterosso every year. But if not, don’t worry. Every restaurant in the area offers multiple anchovy platters so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the local catch.
2. San Lorenzo in Manarola
No Cinque Terre map of highlights would be complete without mentioning the parish church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which is known to the locals as San Lorenzo. St Lawrence (San Lorenzo) is the patron saint of Manarola, and he is celebrated by the residents annually on 10 August. You’ll find this church in Manarola’s main square, the Piazza Papa Innocenzo IV.
A plaque on the facade dates the Ligurian Gothic church building to 1338, and the architects were the Antelami Masters. San Lorenzo is best known for its stunning rose window, which was installed in 1375. The glass is framed in Carrara marble, which has been carved with foliated capitals atop small columns and a crown decorated with human and lion heads. There is also a fourteenth-century bell tower adjacent, but separate, from the church building – this is unusual in Italy as most towers are attached to their churches. However, this one seems to have been converted from an ancient watchtower and has kept its defensive spikes from its time as a lookout for pirates.
If you venture inside San Lorenzo, you’ll see a basilica-style, barrel-vaulted interior which was renovated in the Baroque period. Art lovers should not miss the Renaissance tabernacle with its fifteenth-century bas-relief, and the crucifix in the central nave from the same period. On the main altar you can see a fourteenth-century triptych, an important work by the Master of Cinque Terre depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints Lorenzo and Catherine of Alexandria.
The same master painted a second triptych for the sanctuary of Our Lady of Health of Volastra, in which San Lorenzo is depicted in the central compartment wearing a green robe and holding the palm of martyrdom. He stands on the grill on which he was executed.
3. Cecio Restaurant, Corniglia
If you’re hiking the Cinque Terre with us you’ll deserve a break for a good lunch, and our favourite restaurant is in Corniglia (see Cinque Terre map above). We can arrange for you to dine on an authentic 2-course meal for only 15 euros at this restaurant run by Mrs Elia and her family.
The dining room has been converted from its original use as a cellar for wine production, and the family has revived the traditional Ligurian fare to offer their guests a gastronomical and cultural experience. The seafood dishes are served with the finest local wines. There’s no better way to describe how much we like this place than through the words of one of their recent guests:
“We loved this place. It is the kind of place where you ooh and ah over every dish and then watch other things being sent to neighboring tables and wish you could have that, too. The pasta with seafood and orange peel was stunning, the salted anchovy appetizer excellent, the whole branzino, fresh from the sea, grilled and deboned at the table, was accompanied by some of the best grilled vegetables we’ve ever had.”
The 380 steps from the station to this clifftop town will whet your appetite for the hearty meal, and you can expect a stunning view from your table!
If it’s not time for a meal when you’re passing through Corniglia, fear not. The region boasts a plethora of fantastic restaurants and you can find something delicious in each of the 5 towns using our guide here.
4. Vernazza’s Belforte Tower
Our next highlight is one that you will probably spot from afar before you explore it close up. Visible from the hinterland and the sea, the Belforte Tower and Doria Castle dominate the skyline from their positions on a rocky promontory that juts out from the town of Vernazza at a height of over 70 metres. Debate rages on the exact date of the fortress buildings, but the surviving tower is the oldest of the structures. It was used as a watchtower from which to warn the coastal towns of imminent pirate attacks in the Middle Ages. Today you can climb the steep and long staircase to access the stunning views.
Construction on the fortress is recorded as early as the thirteenth century, and the castle was owned by a succession of prominent notables: the bishops of Luni, the Da Passano and the Fieschi.
The floor plan of the fortifications is highly irregular and clearly adapted to the shape of the rocky promontory. Its partial survival over the centuries is testament to its impregnability, and as late as World War II its military potential was harnessed when the Germans commandeered the castle and tower to use as anti aircraft posts.
5. Fegina Beach in Monterosso
From May to October you can swim in the warm waters of the Adriatic off the coast, and we like to give our customers a chance for a cooling dip after the day’s hiking. Fegina Beach in Monterosso is the only stretch of sandy beach in the region so it makes for a wonderful spot to relax.
There’s a small section of free beach where you can spread your towels, but if you’re planning a day at the seaside then you might prefer to book a space at one of the lidos with their iconic green and orange sun umbrellas. There are two safe swimming zones and you can hire catamarans, boats and stand up paddleboards.
The waters host a rich marine fauna, and it’s possible to see some of it if you are an experienced freediver or if you join a boat trip. Blue fish can be spotted in the late summer and early autumn: anchovies, sardines, horse mackerel, mackerel and tuna. There are even frequent sightings of dolphins who come to splash about in the temperate waters off the Ligurian coast.
Visiting Cinque Terre
There are several ways to visit the region. To sample all five of these highlights (and more) in a day trip you can book a place on our Cinque Terre Day Tour from Florence with Optional Hiking. Adventurers and nature lovers in particular will fall head-over-heels for this trip – you’ll traverse rugged coastal paths, wander through local villages, stop for refreshing dips in the sea… sounds pretty perfect, doesn’t it?
We Are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence we’ve got a reputation as the best in the business. We’re passionate about providing our small group, bespoke tours, including Cinque Terre day trips from Florence. With everything from authentic food and wine experiences and memorable Fiat 500 and Vespa tours, to wonderful cultural day trips, our friendly and knowledgeable guides are dedicated to showing our guests the true heart and soul of Tuscany.