Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s most enchanting destinations, a cluster of five picturesque villages perched on the rugged cliffs of the Ligurian coast. While millions of tourists flock to this UNESCO World Heritage Site every year, there are still some hidden gems and secret attractions that only locals know about. In this blog post, I will share with you some of these insider tips and help you discover a different side of Cinque Terre.
Corniglia is the smallest and least visited of the five villages, but also the most authentic and peaceful. Unlike the other four villages, Corniglia is not directly on the sea, but on top of a hill surrounded by vineyards and terraces. To reach it, you have to climb 370 steps of Lardarina, a steep staircase that offers stunning views along the way. Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus from the train station.
Corniglia has a charming historic center with narrow alleys and colorful houses. One of its hidden gems is Santa Maria Belvedere, a small church with a panoramic terrace overlooking the sea and the other villages. Another secret spot is Guvano Beach, a secluded nudist beach that can be accessed by a tunnel from Corniglia’s train station or by boat.
Vernazza is considered by many as the most beautiful and photogenic village in Cinque Terre, thanks to its picturesque harbor, castle, and church. However, it is also one of the most crowded and touristy ones. To escape the masses, you can hike up to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Reggio, a 14th-century church nestled in the woods above Vernazza. The hike takes about an hour and rewards you with breathtaking views and tranquility.
Another hidden gem in Vernazza is Belforte Tower, an ancient watchtower that now houses a restaurant with spectacular views over the village and the sea. You can enjoy a romantic dinner or just have a drink at sunset while admiring the scenery.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the largest and most developed village in Cinque Terre, famous for its long sandy beach and lively nightlife. However, it also has some hidden gems that are worth exploring. One of them is Il Gigante, a giant statue of Neptune carved into a rock at Fegina Beach. The statue was built in 1910 as part of a villa’s decoration but was damaged by bombings during World War II.
Another secret attraction in Monterosso al Mare is Convento dei Cappuccini, an old convent that hosts an art museum and a church with beautiful frescoes. The convent also has a lovely garden with lemon trees and roses where you can relax and enjoy the view.
Manarola is one of the oldest and most colorful villages in Cinque Terre, famous for its scenic vineyards and cliffs. One of its hidden gems is Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s Lane, a romantic walkway along the coast that connects Manarola with Riomaggiore. The path was closed for several years due to landslides but reopened in 2022 after extensive restoration work.
Another secret spot in Manarola is Punta Bonfiglio, a promontory that offers stunning views over the village and the sea. You can reach it by following a path from the main street or by taking a lift from the parking lot. There you will find a park with benches, a playground, and a bar where you can have a snack or a drink while enjoying the scenery.
Riomaggiore is the easternmost and most rugged village in Cinque Terre, famous for its steep streets and colorful houses. One of its hidden gems is Castello di Riomaggiore, an ancient castle that overlooks the village and the sea. The castle was built in the 13th century to defend the village from pirates and now hosts cultural events and exhibitions. You can climb up to its tower for panoramic views over Riomaggiore.
Another secret attraction in Riomaggiore is La Via dell’Arte, or The Art Street, a project that involves local artists painting murals and sculptures on the walls and rocks of the village. You can admire their colorful and creative works as you stroll along the main street or take a boat tour.
Besides the hidden gems and secret attractions that I mentioned before, there are many other wonderful things to do in Cinque Terre that will make your trip unforgettable. Here are some of them:
- Hike the scenic Blue Trail: This is the most famous and popular hiking trail in Cinque Terre, which connects all five villages along the coast. It offers stunning views of the sea, the cliffs, and the colorful houses. The trail is about 12 km long and takes about 5 hours to complete. You need to buy a ticket to access the trail, which also includes an entrance to the Cinque Terre National Park.
- Discover the two DOC wines of Cinque Terre: Cinque Terre is not only known for its beauty but also for its wine production. There are two types of DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines that are made exclusively in this region: Cinque Terre Bianco and Sciacchetrà. The former is a dry white wine made from local grapes such as Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino. The latter is a sweet dessert wine made from dried grapes that have high sugar content. You can taste these wines at local wineries or bars and learn about their history and production methods.
- Catch a magical sunset: One of the most romantic things to do in Cinque Terre is to watch the sunset over the sea and paint the sky with different shades of pink, orange, and purple. There are many spots where you can enjoy this spectacle, such as Nessun Dorma Restaurant in Manarola, Punta Bonfiglio Park in Riomaggiore, or Piazza Capellini in Vernazza. You can also take a sunset cruise or kayak tour for a more adventurous experience.
- Hit the beach (in Monterosso): If you want to relax and soak up some sun, head to Monterosso al Mare, which has the largest and sandiest beach in Cinque Terre. You can rent a sunbed and an umbrella or just lay down on your towel on the free part of the beach. You can also swim in the clear blue water or try some water sports such as snorkeling or paddle boarding.
- Devour all of the pesto: Pesto is one of the most typical dishes of Ligurian cuisine and Cinque Terre is no exception. Pesto is a sauce made from basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and cheese that is usually served with pasta or bread. You can find pesto everywhere in Cinque Terre: at restaurants, shops, markets, or even at local homes if you join a cooking class.
Now that you know some of the best things to do in Cinque Terre, you might be wondering when is the best time to visit this beautiful place. Well, that depends on what you are looking for and what you are willing to compromise on.
The peak season in Cinque Terre is from June to August, when the weather is warm and sunny, the sea is inviting, and the flowers are blooming. However, this also means that the crowds are huge, the prices are high, and the trails are busy. If you don’t mind sharing your space with thousands of other tourists and paying a premium for your accommodation and transportation, then this might be a good time for you.
The shoulder season in Cinque Terre is from April to May and from September to October, when the weather is still pleasant but not too hot or cold, the sea is still swimmable but not too warm or cold, and the flowers are still colorful but not too bright or dull. This is also when the crowds are moderate, the prices are reasonable, and the trails are accessible. If you want a balance between comfort and affordability, then this might be a good time for you.
The low season in Cinque Terre is from November to March when the weather is cold and rainy, the sea is rough and chilly, and the flowers are withered and brown. This is also when the crowds are minimal, the prices are low, and the trails are closed or dangerous due to landslides or erosion. If you don’t care about swimming or hiking, and you prefer a quiet and cozy atmosphere, then this might be a good time for you.
Of course, there are exceptions and variations depending on each year’s climate conditions, so it’s always advisable to check the weather forecast before booking your trip. Also, you should consider how to get to Cinque Terre, as there are different options such as train, car, or boat.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and learned something new about Cinque Terre.
These are just some of the amazing things to do in Cinque Terre that will make you fall in love with this place even more. Of course, there are many more activities and attractions that you can discover on your own or with a guide. If you want to visit these hidden gems and secret attractions, make sure to plan ahead and book your accommodation and transportation in advance. Cinque Terre is a popular destination that can get very busy during peak season. Also, remember to respect the environment and the culture of this unique place.
Have you ever been to Cinque Terre? What are your favorite hidden gems and secret attractions there? Let me know in the comments below!