The town of Manarola
The area is located approximately half way between Genoa and Pisa, just off the A12 motorway (equivalent to an interstate highway in the U.S.) It is about a one hour drive from Genoa, and about six and one half hours from Rome.
The villages are, from southeast to northwest, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. Only Riomaggiore and Monterosso are large enough to appear on the Michelin red map of Europe. They are also the only ones accessible by car. To reach the others, you must either take the local train, or walk.
Monterosso al Mare is the largest and most modern of the five. It boasts a good sized public beach, a "business district" and streets with cars and traffic. The other four seem almost as though they could be locked in a time before cars took over the world. They are very compact, consisting of only a few narrow streets connected by alleys that at times turn into stairways.
Corniglia perched above the sea.
The best way to see the Cinque Terre is on foot. Some of the most spectacular views of each town are from the high points on the footpath between them. The path is narrow and steep, in places becoming a set of stone stairs ascending a sharp slope. But for the hardy hiker it offers beautiful views of the coast as it winds through olive groves, vineyards, and scrubby pine forests. There are also striking views of each of the small towns, generally from above as the trail climbs out of one rocky inlet and over a ridge before descending into the next.
Entering Vernazza from the trail
If traveling by car, park in Monterosso al Mare, take the train to Riomaggiore, and hike back. Remember you're not committed to walk the whole distance. You can always take the train from one of the other towns. At least walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It's a pretty easy walk, mostly paved and not too hilly.
Take bottled water and plenty of film. Allow four to six hours to walk the whole distance. Stop for ice cream, have lunch or a beer, and enjoy!
Copyright 2001 Harry B. Rowe