There is little doubt that a Cinque Terre tour is a highlight of any trip to Tuscany. The five towns nestled into the rugged cliffs of the Ligurian coast boast UNESCO World Heritage status and deserve more than a cursory glance when you’re in the area. We highly recommend a day trip from Florence if you want to explore the villages, experience the wonderful hiking and take in the magnificent views.
Of the five villages, Corniglia is regarded as the quietest, certainly in terms of footfall, mainly because it sits 100m above the coastline on a rocky promontory. Surrounded by seemingly endless vineyards, this beautiful town is the only one without any direct access to the sea, which is possibly why it continues to be the least visited. Of course you can reach the glittering ocean from the centre of the village, but not before negotiating several steep steps first.
Colourful houses tower above the narrow alleyways and descending streets, characterising the old town centre that has remained stuck in time for centuries. A truly authentic place, this dramatic village stands out among the five famous towns you will visit on your Cinque Terre tour.
Top Tip: We recommend checking out this blog post for information on the best time to visit when it comes to weather.
It’s incredible to think that artefacts found in Pompeii have led expert historians to date the origins of this little town back to Roman times. Terracotta pots were found inscribed with the words ‘Gens Cornelia’, which translate into ‘from the family Cornelia’. Current thinking is that it was most likely a colony of slaves, which took on the name from the holder who ultimately gave them their freedom.
Ruled by the Earls of Lavagna in medieval times and then later by the Fieschi family, this atmospheric town tells tales of its long and interesting history around every corner. On your Cinque Terre tour, you will soon realise that everything here revolves around Via Fieschi, the main road named after the important ruling family.
As the only town without a direct link to the sea, Corniglia has always been unique. With an economy relying much more on its farming assets than access to fishing, the people of the town created a network of terraces, vineyards and orchards that make the most of the fertile lands and the limited space available. Known as ‘fasce’ in the local dialect, the terraced fields have grown grapes for wine production here since Roman times. Today, the famous Vernaccia di Corniglia vintage, which has been produced here since the 1300s, is definitely worth investigating; it’s delicious when accompanied by a plate of fresh pasta al pesto.
Places to See
You do have the option of taking the bus up from the station to the town of Corniglia, but if you fancy a challenge you can make the climb to the top through a steep stairway of 370 steps called ‘Lardarina’. Stunning views greet you around every hairpin bend, and vistas of crystal clear waters and endless coastline make wonderful photographic opportunities – a climb well known in the area as being pretty spectacular!
When you reach the town, despite its compact size, you will be pleasantly surprised with all there is to see. Here is a list of some of our favourites.
Church of St. Peter
In keeping with true Italian tradition, the church of this town is a definitive feature and an attraction well worth seeking out. Located in the main square, this Baroque style building with its Gothic elements and Ligurian influences dates back to the fourteenth century. The standout highlight is the marble rose window, which was built with the famous marble from Carrara, in the neighbouring Apennines.
Constructed in honour of the town’s patron saint, St. Peter, the church is at the centre of festivities on the 29th June, when the saint is celebrated. If you happen to be in the town on this joyful day, you will no doubt get the chance to try the local specialty of torta di riso, a tart made with rice, eggs and cheese.
Top Tip: On the subject of local specialities, look out for the Torta dei Fieschi, a recreated wedding cake made to commemorate the Fieschi wedding that famously took place in the early 1200s. Apparently the recipe for this cake is a well guarded secret, passed down through generations, but the cake is enjoyed by the locals and visitors alike on the appointed feast day of 14th August.
Saint Mary’s Terrace
If you can’t get enough of the incredible views, this one is another offering that is worth the diversion out of town. Head out on foot following Via Fieschi and don’t forget your camera! The panorama takes in the other towns hanging precariously from the craggy cliffs on either side and, of course, the sparkling sea that stretches out far below.
Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina
A pretty little spot to visit, this oratory stands in the quaint little piazza known as Largo Taragio. It is definitely worth a look, even if just to see the ceiling that rises above the altar. Painted to look like the sky, its unusual aesthetic is a highlight feature.
Things to Do
Enjoy the Hiking trails
The main hike to Manarola from Corniglia is a lovely part of the Blue Trail that links the five towns, but if you fancy heading a little off the beaten track you can take a hike through beautiful Volastra. This route is a little longer, at around five and a half kilometres, but it winds its way through gorgeous vineyards and treats you to some stunning views. The walk has some ups and downs so it does require a reasonable fitness level, and those with dodgy knees might not want to tackle it. Otherwise, it starts just before Chiesa di San Pietro and initially follows Trail 587 before joining Trail 586. The trail is marked by the red and white Italian waymarker signs.
Instead if you decide to hike to Vernazza the Trail 592-3 gives its bests vistas if taken from Corniglia.
And Make Sure You…..
Grab a Gelato!
The ice cream in Italy is legendary and we highly recommend replacing any opportunity for an Italian dessert with a gelato. Look for the sign ‘artigianale’ that indicates that the products are home made and free from any artificial ingredients. We love Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia, which features a host of delicious flavours but is best known for its basil flavoured ice cream. Made from basil grown in Alberto’s garden and complemented with local olive oil, you really can’t get a more authentic frozen delight – perfect after a long hike on a hot day!
The miele di Corniglia is another stand out and, made with local honey and creamy lemon, it sings with flavour.
Enjoy the Wines
It is quite hard to believe what the generations of locals have done here with their vineyards. Against all the odds they have cultivated the land, learned how to work it by hand, conquered the steep terrain and consistently produced some very fine vintages.
All along the Blue Trail you pass vineyard after vineyard, and even for those not keen on hiking, a short stroll along the path out of town brings you up close to the rugged landscape and is enough to give you a real feel for how hard cultivating this terrain must be.
There are two main wine varieties produced here. The first is the Cinque Terre DOC, a dry white made primarily with the Bosco grape that is then blended with the Albarola and Vermentino. The Sciacchetrà DOC is entirely different and instead is a sweet red wine served alongside desserts.
There are so many bars and wine shops in every one of the five towns but in Corniglia we love Terra Rossa, which you will stumble across right at the entrance to the town. Fabulous wines and dazzling views are exactly what this charming little spot is all about.
As we have already said, you won’t find a beach on the doorstep here, but by its very nature as a coastal village, the sea is never far away (as long as you’re willing to tackle the steep steps). The fact that the beaches require a little effort to access renders them much quieter and, arguably, more attractive. If secluded and ‘off the beaten path’ is how you like your sunbathing spot, then a beach here might be for you; all that stands between you and the crystal blue glittering waters of the azure coastline are a few steps. Below are the best two beaches to head to.
This little hideaway might not suit everyone as clothing is most definitely optional, but if you fancy something a bit different, this out of the way hidden gem is worth seeking out. Head through the tunnel at the bottom of the Lardiana stairs (a torch might be useful for this little trip) and you’ll find this beauty spot.
Close to the train station, this little beach was created as a result of the railway construction. Be careful of the high tide that can sometimes cut off access but, otherwise, this makes a lovely place for an hour or two of relaxation.
With so much to see and do in even the tiniest of the five towns, a Cinque Terre tour can be exactly what you want it to be. Of course, the famous hike between the towns is certainly worth doing, but make sure you take some time to stop in the towns themselves; Corniglia in particular has lots to discover.
Places to Eat and Drink
We could wax lyrical about the places to eat and drink in Corniglia for much longer than the scope of this post; there really are no bad options. All restaurants and bars are owned and run by local families and most have remained within those immediate families for generations. No matter whether you’re looking for coffee and a pastry, an early evening apero or a full on four course meal, Corniglia’s bar and restaurant scene will oblige with gusto! Here are some places worth looking out for.
You do have to take a short walk to this place as it is located just outside the village. It is definitely worth the effort though. The seafood served here is exceptional and the view over the multicoloured houses of Corniglia from the terrace makes the perfect backdrop.
A true hidden gem, this delightful place with its foliage covered courtyard is the ideal spot for a reprieve from the bustling streets outside. Serving excellent seafood and an array of lovely bruschetta, you can also look forward to local craft beers.
Bar Pan e Vin
If it is just a quick lunch you’re looking for, you can grab a sandwich, focaccia or other light bite at this relaxed friendly place. If you are lucky you’ll find a seat free table outside and if you do, we would recommend indulging in one of the enormous meat and cheese platters.
Cantina de Mananan
This one is on our list if only for the incredible seafood ravioli. The atmosphere is lovely and the service very friendly too. We recommend popping in during the day to book as it can get very busy here, even in the evening when most visitors have left.
Top Tips for Your Visit
How to Get There: We have written a whole blog post on this and you can check it out here.
Public Toilets: There is one in the main square, but Italy is not well known for its public facilities. We would recommend taking strategic toilet stops when you are in bars and restaurants.
ATMs: There is an ATM in the town at the Credit Agricole bank.
Reservations: Always try to book lunchtime restaurants as the town is small and attracts lots of visitors. If you find yourself here in the evening it’s easier to find a table free as most day trippers will have left.
Supermarkets: There are two in town. Lisa Market is close to the entrance to Corniglia and A Butiega on the main street. We recommend the deli opposite KM0 for excellent local produce.
Boats: The ferry DOES NOT stop here!
So, in a nutshell, we have brought Corniglia to you! We hope that it has inspired you to visit. This town really is the cream of the already wonderful crop of Cinque Terre towns.
We Are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence, we take great pride in showing every one of our clients the very best of this beautiful part of Italy. History, culture, and especially the food and wine are ingrained in every part of Italian life, and our guides and drivers are always keen to share their local knowledge. Florence is the ideal city in which to be based if you are looking to spend a day on a Cinque Terre tour. You can enjoy a full day exploring the towns and return to the city in time for dinner in the evening.