San Bernardinio near Corniglia

La Spezia - Cinque Terre in one day on your own


Cinque Terre - the ancient cultural landscape

The Cinque Terre, Portovenere and the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto off the coast of Portovenere have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1997. According to UNESCO, the area symbolizes that man can carefully intervene in nature without significantly changing the landscape.

Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre


Two years after the UNESCO decision, the Cinque Terre National Park was established. It covers almost 4.000 hectares. The measure aimed to preserve the historical, cultural and natural heritage of the region. Twenty years later, the measure is considered a success. More and more of the originally dilapidated olive and wine terraces are being cultivated again, and some of the best-known Italian wines are thriving in the Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre - a destination for cruise ships

The Cinque Terre are world-famous and are one of the most popular excursion destinations in the Liguria region. Why else should 175 cruise ships (as of 2019) in La Spezia make a stopover? In addition to tours to Tuscan destinations, the shipping companies offer their guests guided excursions to the nearby Cinque Terre.

Celebrity Reflection cruise ship in La Spezia

Celebrity Reflection cruise ship in La Spezia


In our opinion, the expensive excursions organized by the shipping companies are superfluous, since the “Five Villages” can be reached on your own initiative by ship and train.

Portovenere - the gateway to the Cinque Terre

To get into the Cinque Terre, we recommend Portovenere, the port of Venus, 13 kilometers south of La Spezia. Line 11 ATC buses run regularly between La Spezia and Portovenere. The place with fewer than 4.000 inhabitants does not belong to the Cinque Terre, but for us it is the first highlight on the way to the "Five Villages".

At the beginning of the 12th century, the Maritime Republic of Genoa took over the strategically well-located settlement with the aim of building a bulwark against the rival Republic of Pisa above the municipality. A remarkably large fortress was built over the centuries.

Portovenere with the castle


Portovenere with the castle


Portovenere - Porta del Borgo


Portovenere - Porta del Borgo 


The city wall, which towers above all other buildings, surrounds the old town. The Porta del Borgo gives access to the center. The city gate is dated to the year 1113; the defense tower flanking the wall at the harbor is attributed to the year 1161. Along the harbor, the small town presents itself with a wealth of brightly painted houses. Varying yellow and ocher tones predominate.

Portovenere - Houses on the harbor and the defense tower
Portovenere - harbor basin
Portovenere - Via Giovanni Cappelini
Portovenere - Grand Hotel

A narrow pedestrian street, Via Giovanni Cappelini, runs through Portovenere. Shops and restaurants are lined up in the street. Long stair tunnels lead from the pedestrian street down to the quay and up to the bypass. It all looks very picturesque. We could well imagine spending a few days in the Grand Hotel next to the entrance to the village. The hotel is conveniently located above the landing stage for the tourist boats that run between the five villages.

The tourist office is in front of the Porta del Borgo.

Portoveneres attractions

Castle Doria
The fortress, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, towers over the town in a respectful manner. From the height of the castle, visitors can enjoy stunning views of Portovenere, the Golfo dei Poeti and the offshore islands.

San Lorenzo Church
The parish church in the upper part of the village has a campanile and a dome. Historical sources show that Pope Innocent II consecrated the three-nave church in 1130. In the course of the following centuries constant renovations took place. It goes without saying that San Lorenzo has relics from several periods and styles.

San Pietro Church
San Pietro is one of the attractions of Portovenere. At first glance, San Pietro looks like a castle with round towers and walls. The church was built on a narrow headland in the second half of the 13th century. The building stands on the remains of an early Christian church and a pagan temple. Striking white bands all around adorn the church outside and inside. San Pietro is a fine example of the Gothic-style Genoese architecture in Liguria.

Portovenere - Doria Castle
Portovenere - Church of San Lorenzo
Portovenere - Church of San Pietro
Portovenere - Church of San Pietro

The Cinque Terre - how to get there?

The Cinque Terre include the localities of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Visitors can reach the villages by train or boat. The trains that run between La Spezia and Levanto leave every half hour and stop in each of the villages.

Portovenere - landing stage for the excursion boats

Portovenere - landing stage for the excursion boats


We prefer the ship of the line. From La Spezia we take the ATC bus line 11 to Portovenere. There we board one of the boats and drive in a north-westerly direction along the frayed and steeply rising coastal mountains. On the hillside there are isolated houses and farm buildings in the olive and wine terraces. Now and then we see small settlements in the heights. The views from the top are phenomenal. The view from the sea to the multicolored jumble of houses in the places that you head for is also overwhelming.

Cinque Terre - landscape between Portovenere and Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre - landscape between Portovenere and Riomaggiore


Riomaggiore - first stop for excursion boats

A rock in front protects the small port of Riomaggiore. It is the first and furthest east of the “Five Villages”. The population was last below 1.600 (as of the beginning of 2017). The number includes the districts of Manarola, Volastra and Groppo. Above the port, colorful, towering buildings crowd in a small space. Small fishing boats lie at a safe height behind the small harbor. And further up are the recultivated olive and wine terraces. The coastal road with a striking bridge runs in the middle of the hillside.

Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore


Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore


Cinque Terre - hiking trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola


Cinque Terre - hiking trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola 


The Via dell'Amore, a footpath that runs along the cliffs, connects Riomaggiore with the western district of Manarola. The path offers hikers beautiful views of the landscape and the sea.

Manarola - coastal town in a fantastic location

The community is an olive and wine-growing region as well as the home of fishermen. The white and sweet wines made in Manarola have been valued since Roman times. They are known as Sciacchetrà.

Cinque Terre - Manarola ahead


Cinque Terre - Manarola ahead


Cinque Terre - Landscape near Manarola


Cinque Terre - Landscape near Manarola 


Vernazza - end point of our boat tour

The ships do not stop in the high Corniglia. We leave the boat in Vernazza, the next place. We take the train back to Corniglia. We save Monterosso al Mare, the last of the “Five Villages”.

The original fishing village Vernazza was built around 1000 AD. The Doria castle stands on a rocky promontory above the sheltered harbor. The parish church, which is well worth seeing, was built in the 13th century.

Cinque Terre - Vernazza
Cinque Terre - Vernazza with the Castello Doria
Cinque Terre - Vernazza - Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia
Cinque Terre - Vernazza - Church Square

Corniglia - discover on foot

The location of the town of 250 inhabitants distinguishes Corniglia from the other villages of the Cinque Terre. Corniglia is located on a ledge at a height of 80 to 100 meters above sea level. The place is also surrounded by extensive vineyards.

Cinque Terre - Corniglia

Corniglia train station is remote, just above the sea. A minibus brings visitors arriving by train up to the center. This is the easiest and fastest way to do it. It would be more difficult to climb the Scalinata Lardarina, a stone staircase with several hundred steps. There are exactly 377 steps and 33 ramps. The altitude is the reason that Corniglia is away from the tourist flow.

Cinque Terre - Corniglia train station


Cinque Terre - Corniglia train station


Cinque Terre - minibuses in public transport


Cinque Terre - minibuses in public transport 


The town center is quaint. Sizable shops, bars and restaurants line Via Fieschi, the narrow street that runs between the houses. The view from the height of the crystal clear sea is overwhelming. There is a lack of sights worth mentioning.

Cinque Terre - Corniglia - Church of San Pietro


Cinque Terre - Corniglia - Church of San Pietro


Cinque Terre - Corniglia - view in western direction


Cinque Terre - Corniglia - view in western direction 


We take a break in the Caffé Matteo in a small square next to Via Fieschi. We let ourselves be pampered with food and wine before starting the way back to the train station. This time we forego the minibus and instead climb down the many steps of the Scalinata Lardarina. The train brings us back to La Spezia in the afternoon. We have enough time to stroll through the city and enjoy a coffee.

Cinque Terre - Corniglia
Cinque Terre - Corniglia - Via Fieschi
Cinque Terre - Corniglia - Capella dei Flagellati
Cinque Terre - Corniglia - down on the Scalinata Lardarina

summary

In regions like the Cinque Terre we occasionally regret that a cruise ship is waiting for us in the nearby port, the constraints of which we are subject to. The five villages would be one of those areas where we could endure a few days. The fellow travelers who opposed the Cinque Terre and instead opted for organized tours to Florence and Pisa we do not envy them, despite the charisma of these cities.

useful hints

Buses on line 11 run regularly to Portovenere every 10 to 30 minutes. Line 11 in Via Vittorio Veneto at the Comune stop between Piazza Europa and Piazza Bayreuth is conveniently located near the cruise terminal.
The day ticket costs 2,50 euros. You can buy tickets in nearby Tabacchi. Don't forget: the tickets must be validated on the bus.

Boats of the Consorzio Marittimo Turistico run several times a day between La Spezia and the Cinque Terre. The starting point for such trips is near the cruise terminal on the waterline near the marina. The walk to the excursion boat takes about eight to ten minutes.
The day ticket for adults was last sold for 35 euros.

The one-way boat trip from Portovenere to Vernazza costs 18 euros for adults.

A train journey with Trenitalia from La Spezia to Corniglia or in the opposite direction costs less than five euros in 2nd class. All Cinque Terre train stations are easily accessible. The steep terrain is not suitable for people with handicaps.

Update February 2021

 

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