If you went back in time a couple of decades, you could have much of Italy’s Cinque Terre to yourself. The dramatic coast and it’s five pretty villages were no secret, but they had not yet been discovered by the masses. But, as The Telegraph pointed out a couple years ago, “Then came the magazine photo spreads, the newspaper features, and the first curious cruise ship passengers from La Spezia, just a few miles to the south.”
Now the crowds start coming in April and don’t let up until late October, so it’s more important than ever to take steps to avoid the hordes.
You can easily visit the five villages on your own. Cinque Terre starts just 170 kilometers from Florence. You’re better off not trying to do it by car though: parking is rare or non-existent in the villages. There’s a train that runs along the coast and stops at each village, or a ferry boat between them.
Unless you’re going to rent an apartment or get a room at an inn, however, you’re probably better off going with a guide. Someone who knows the ins and outs of the area can really enhance your trip and show you all the best hidden plazas and viewpoints. Here are some of the ways to ensure you have a great experience on the coast.
Get an Early Start
If you visit the area on a day trip from Florence, make sure it’s one that leaves very early and devotes a long period of time to different villages. This tour from Ciao Florence departs at 7:00 a.m. and lasts for 12 hours. That may sound a bit tiring, but you’ll have a head start on most of the crowds arriving late morning or in the afternoon. You’ll also have a better chance of getting photos when the light is not directly overhead.
After arriving on the coast you start in Riomaggiore, walk along the “Via dell’Amore” (The Path of Love) to Manarola, then on to Monterosso where there’s a swimming beach. The last stop, reached by boat, is Vernazza.
Hike up to Corniglia
The village of Corniglia doesn’t get as many visitors as the others because it’s not directly on the sea or next to a train stop. So it’s not on the typical group day tour like the one outlined above. You either have to take a shuttle bus up from the train station or hike the 382 steps up to get there. Besides that being a good way to work off some of that good Italian food, the effort gets you to a special viewing point. This is the only place where you can swivel around and see all five Cinque Terre villages from one spot.
To include this village on your trip, it’s best to book a private tour or spend at least one night in the area so you have more time.
Bundle Up and Go Off Season
In the colder months of November through March, the crowds thin out and village life returns to something closer to what it used to be like. You won’t be swimming or sunning at this time, but the scenery can be even more dramatic when the waves kick up and start pounding the shore. Prices are lower, the cafes aren’t so packed, and you won’t feel like a number.
As long as travelers keep drooling over Italy, the glossy travel magazines will keep putting its most picturesque locations on the cover. So there’s no point of waiting for the crowds to subside before you visit the Cinque Terre. It’s not going to happen. Just do it right so you’ll get the most out of your experience.
This post was made possible by a sponsorship contribution from Ciao Florence Tours and Travel, who supplied the photos. They had no input on the content and as always, all opinions are our own.