Exploring the Cinque Terre for the first time is much the equivalent of a five-course meal for Italophiles. Each pastel-painted town nestled in the jagged seaside cliffs is a delectable, tantalizing and addictive exploration experience. Despite Cinque Terre having quite the reputation as a tourist destination (which, credit to those claims, it absolutely is), when explored in the early mattina hours around dawn, the magical wonder of the sun rising over the ancient vineyards and mingling with the last glow of the stars is something to be devoured. There is a reason that these five towns are five of the most desirable destinations in Italy…and I’m thrilled to take you through every bite of these rich Mediterranean pockets of coastal Italian culture.
We chose to do a mix of hiking and driving during our Cinque Terre experience, as the different perspectives on these towns are endless and each offer an angle that completely steals your breath and induces your heart to skip a beat or two. One of the first towns we explored was Corniglia. With only 150 full-time residents (despite the millions of tourists that trek through the town monthly), winding through its narrow pathways before the buses of visitors arrive is serene, calm and what I imagine it was like 500 years ago. The only sounds being that of the local shop owners setting up their shops – often comprising of local Cinque Terre wine from the surrounding vineyards – and handcrafted ceramic goods for the visitors to take back to their loved ones back home.
A wisp of mystery follows the footsteps of every visitor who explores the unpredictable Corniglia, with every corner offering a new passageway until the steep stone-lined descent to the sea (with a mandatory Aperol Spritz stop along the way, of course). It is rumored that Corniglia once boasted a grand castle in its Roman days…yet, the remains of that castle have yet to be discovered. With an always-present sense that there are uncountable layers of history and obscure cultural discoveries to be unearthed, Corniglia is a pocket of prime Italian wanderlust. It’s the only land in Cinque Terre that can’t be reached by sea (so your options here are car, train or foot).
Here is what to do, where to eat and of course, sip in Corniglia, Italy:
Grab lunch and a Spritz at Terza Terra
This Corniglia gem is famous among visitors for the breathtaking view of the Mediterranean, but it is especially treasured among all for its delicious offerings of local Cinque Terre wines, fresh baked focaccia and aperitivo hour. Grab a cozy spot in the corner and order an Aperol Spritz and Focaccia for gorgeous views and Lugurian fuel that hits the spot.
Take a Walk Down to the Sea
The steep descent to the ocean is one not too many tourists make, making this one of the more private beach experiences in the Cinque Terre – and let me tell you, it’s peaceful, surreal and worth the treak. Bring a good book, find yourself a rock and prepare for prime riviera sunshine and serenity for the imagination.
Cinque Terre secret: There is also a famous nude beach called Guvano situated slightly north of town of Corniglia- nestled next to an abandoned train station and it costs €5 to get in, and clothing is 100% optional.
Grab an Espresso in the Town’s Main Piazza
Take a pause from exploring, sit down at a local cafe and take in the unique architecture of Corniglia while watching the tourists filter in an out as the occasional local weaves their way through – they are always easy to spot.
Followed by Gelato at Alberto Gelateria – Via Fieschi, 74
Because what is an afternoon in Italy without gelato?
Climb the 33 Flights of Stairs to the Lardarina
Corniglia’s most famous terrace might entail climbing 33 flights of stairs (400 steps) for one of the most spectacular panoramic views in Cinque Terre, but it’s a dream and the only place in the region where you can see all the five lands at the same time.
Like any land in Cinque Terre, the first rule is to get lost in it. Visit in the morning and allow yourself to discover yourself in the mystery, magic and splendor of Corniglia…step by step.