Quaint, colorful and full of character, the Cinque Terre is one of the most photographed and popular tourist destinations in Italy. Obviously the easiest way to avoid crowds is to go during the off season (October-April). However, most likely that’s not an option for you. If you’re like me and not one for crowds, here are ten ways to maximize your summer vacation while minimizing your crowd exposure.
- Lodge off the main strip – We stayed at a fabulous place in Riomaggiore called Ciao Bella and although the room was small, it was a delightfully decorated, clean, and quiet location off the loud and bustling main stretch. The hotel proprietor, Stefano, is extremely hospitable and you can always find him in his restaurant on main street. He also owns a restaurant off of the main strip near Ciao Bella called Osteria Maitè. He gives guests a free breakfast voucher to eat there and we enjoyed our breakfast and the funny waiter. The seating is limited to outdoor bistro sets creatively arranged in the quaint alleyway and makes for a unique experience. They also serve lunch and dinner and offer authentic Italian cooking classes.
- Eat off the main strip – Part of the charm of these small fishing villages is the hustle and bustle of their main streets. I do recommend eating along the main strips while in the Cinque Terre as it is part of the overall experience. However, after a couple days of noisy crowds a quiet meal overlooking the ocean is a nice change. Just do some research. Most towns will have a restaurant off the main strip. We found Riomagiorre’s best kept secret, Fuori Rotta Restaurant and Wine Bar, nestled in a delightful location sitting on the edge of a bluff with a great view of the village and the ocean. We were there during high season and it was a quiet and intimate setting. Perfect for a romantic date!
- Take an evening walk through town – The summer evenings are gorgeous in the Cinque Terre. As the sun goes down most of the tourists start heading for the main strip for eating and drinking festivities. If you head uphill you can find some beautiful quiet roads and alleyways. Ligurians are amazing gardeners! Enjoy strolling by terraced vineyards, trellised tomatoes, and lots of olive and lemon trees. These streets and gardens are perfect for photographing and you’ll also get some fantastic sunset shots. Although you won’t be alone at the top, the Doria Castle in Vernaza is also a stunning place to watch the sun go down. It’s worth the steep climb and 2 € to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views!
- Take a boat ride – There are no shortage of boats in these five fishing villages. Check with some of the local people who are renting kayaks in the harbor. They will know who can take you out for a ride. If you want to get a great colorful shot of the villages, I recommend taking a boat ride close to sunset.
- Take a cooking class – Several local restaurants offer authentic Italian cooking classes. The Osteria Maitè offers a three hour cooking class where you’ll make fresh gnocchi, create your own fresh pesto sauce, and prepare hand made tiramisu. At the end of the class you’ll sit down to enjoy the meal you’ve prepared with a glass of Cinque Terre wine, dessert and coffee. The best part is that your instructor sends you home with the recipes for each of the dishes you created so you can go home and share your new skill with your friends and family!
- Go kayaking – Getting out on the water is a fun way to escape the heat and crowds. If you have enough time you can paddle from Vernaza to the legendary Guvano beach. This beach is no longer accessible via foot traffic so it is a great spot to kayak. Be warned: This is a nude beach! If that’s not your thing, try taking a sunset kayak trip instead. There are also kayak rentals in Riomaggiore and you can easily paddle for 15 minutes and find your own spot to come ashore and enjoy swimming or relaxing on the shore.
- Go on a picnic – Go to the local grocer and grab some rosemary Italian crackers, fresh mozzarella, fresh pesto, home grown tomatoes or watermelon. Note that in Riomaggiore there are two grocery stores on the main strip. The first one, Alimentari Franca, is right after you come up from the train station. They have some beautiful produce but their prices are higher due to their prime location. If you keep going up the road you will find Coop 5 Terre offering comparable products and better prices. Do you love focaccia? Stop at Panificio Bakery for amazing combinations of home made foccacia! If you’re still in Riomagiorre, instead of heading out to the main harbor where all the tourists are swimming, head up to the right. Hike up through the alleyways and then climb down to the rocks on the other side for great views of the water and the town.
- Go hiking up to the shrines above the villages – Major landslides have closed some trails in the Cinque Terre. However, there are still plenty of great open trails. A former Cinque Terre hiking guide wrote this article on the Italy Beyond the Obvious Website. It is a great resource for less crowded hiking trails. While trying to hook back onto a closed trail in Manarola we took a small trail through a terraced vineyard that led us up the hill and eventually back onto a main trail high above the village. We saw locals tending their vineyards and stunning views of the ocean and village below. The higher you climb the less people you’ll find!
- Go swimming off the main beaches – Monterossa is famous for it’s sparkling beach and colorful umbrellas. However, it is very crowded in the summer and you have to pay to rent a chair and an umbrella. If you want something less hectic, walk down to the end. This is where a lot of locals swim. It is rocky but if you find a large enough rock it makes a nice perch for sunbathing. In Riomaggiore instead of going down to the harbor where the tourists swim, head off to the right and go to the top of the rocks on the other side. From there you can climb down the rocks and get a great view of the swimming tourists and the fearless Italians jumping off the high cliffs.
- Get up early – If you want alone time and the best pictures of the Cinque Terre, get up before sunrise. I climbed out to the end of the harbor and watched the vibrant Riomaggiore come to life. It made for a great shot of the harbor, boats and rising sun backlighting the glowing village. Not to mention I was the only one out there!
Crowded or not, the Cinque Terre offers world class hiking, great food, stunning panoramic views, colorful buildings, clear Mediterranean waters and charming people. Truly a one-of-a-kind location, the Cinque Terre is one place you won’t regret visiting!
Ciao Bella Divas B&B – Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore
Kayaking – Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore
Osteria Maitè – Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore
View From Doria Castle & Tower – Cinque Terre, Vernaza
Fuori Rotta Wine Bar – Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore
Panificio Bakery – Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore
Hiking Views – Cinque Terre, Manarola