The Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, are 5 picturesque villages built on the rugged and hilly landscape of the Liguria coastline and one of Italy‘s most popular sites, attracting many visitors every year. It’s one of those must-see places, similarly to Rome or Venice.
What makes the Cinque Terre worth a trip are the charming and colorful villages and its terraced vineyards that rise from the Mediterranean, creating a beautiful scenery worth of a postcard. Steep yet inviting for exploration, the 5 villages are, from south to north, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.
Cinque Terre in the Winter
In an effort to escape the crowds, we decided to visit the Cinque Terre in the winter, in December to be precise. Do we regret it? No, that’s why we decided to share our experience.
The main advantage is how quiet things are in the low season. There are still people visiting but only a fraction of the normal numbers. This makes it easier to visit at a relaxed pace and to enjoy the views. And the villages sill look beautiful! The trains run less frequently, but, from our experience, not busy at all.
One downside is obviously the weather, with lower temperatures and, potentially, rain. Luckily, we had no rain, just some clouds on the first day and plenty of sun on the second. Also, there are fewer places open, such as shops, restaurants, and accommodation.
Riomaggiore is the busiest of the 5 villages and the one closest to La Spezia, at the southern end of the Cinque Terre. From the small harbor, Riomaggiore rises steeply up a narrow valley.
Across the harbor, by the protective rocks, you get a beautiful view of the village with an interesting perspective of the buildings and how they fit such a rough landscape.
Manarola is the oldest and one of the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre. It may look small, but the tiny streets are very steep and full of stairs, with a surprise at every corner.
The views towards the hillside with all the colorful houses are memorable. Head to the opposite side of town, by the cemetery and small park, for the best vantage point.
Corniglia is the smallest and quieter of the Cinque Terre and is located atop a cliff, which makes it a bit special. In order to reach the village, you have to climb 300+ steps or take the shuttle bus. Corniglia was pretty much dead when we visited but it’s always interesting to visit the narrow streets of a small town.
Vernazza was probably our favorite. The small square and calm bay right at the heart of the town are a great and inviting place to hang about.
For the best views, walk the initial, steep, stretch of the path towards Monterosso. In about 20 mins, you reach the viewpoint.
Monterosso is split into two parts – old and new, which are connected by a tunnel. The train stops at modern Monterosso, where you can find a long sandy beach and more modern amenities, including accommodation and restaurants. You then have to walk along for 10 minutes before reaching the old town.
This northernmost of the Cinque Terre is slightly different from the other four, flatter, and with a different feel to it.
How to travel to and around the Cinque Terre
Flying to the Cinque Terre is easy. The closest international airports are Pisa and Genova (Genoa), respectively to the south and north. These airports have plenty of international flights, including low-cost airlines, convenient schedules for a weekend getaway, and are less than 2 hours away by train.
Other options further afield are Milano (Milan) and Firenze (Florence), just over 3 hours away.
Trenitalia runs all the trains in Italy and you can buy tickets online in order to save some time. From Pisa, you may have to connect at La Spezia Centrale to get the local train to the Cinque Terre, since the direct train only stops at Monterosso, the northernmost village.
Getting around the Cinque Terre is straightforward. The local trains connect the 5 villages at least a couple of times an hour (more frequent in the high season) and it only takes a few minutes between each stop. The journey is through a series of tunnels and there’s no view.
Walking/hiking between the villages is also a popular option because of the amazing views. There are different trails of varying difficulty. When we visited, some trails were closed, so always check for closures when planning your visit.
The villages are part of a National Park and some walking/hiking paths require a permit which you can get by purchasing the Cinque Terre Card. This gives you access to the paths and other park facilities. There is also an extra option with unlimited train rides – recommended for a short 2-day visit.
How to plan a weekend in the Cinque Terre in the winter
Now that you know the 5 villages and how to get there and around, let’s see how to plan a weekend trip in a similar fashion to our itinerary.
Evening flight to your airport choice and overnight. We flew to Pisa.
Early morning train to the Cinque Terre. From Pisa, we took the train to La Spezia and then to Riomaggiore, the southernmost village.
Visit the villages. Morning and early afternoon dedicated to Riomaggiore and Manarola, with lunch at the latter, followed by an afternoon visit to Corniglia and Monterosso, and evening at Vernazza.
Sleep in Vernazza.
On the second day, you have time revisit your favorite villages and see them at a different time of the day. We opted to explore Vernazza in the morning and then more of Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Train back to the city and evening flight back.
Where to sleep in the Cinque Terre
There are quite a few accommodation options, but because of the landscape of the area, you won’t find any big hotels, just smaller ones, B&Bs, and apartments. Also, it’s great to stay in a local apartment but bear in mind that you’re likely to have climb a lot of stairs to get there. Heavy bags are not Cinque Terre friendly.
We opted to stay in Vernazza at a B&B in one of the hills overlooking the town.