Tired of a dreary winter? Let photos of Italy’s Cinque Terre brighten your day

Tired of a dreary winter? Let photos of Italy’s Cinque Terre brighten your day
Photo: Michael Jensen

Since many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are currently shivering through a cold, dreary winter, I thought it might be nice to take you on a virtual walk through the colorful Cinque Terre — that string of five charming villages along the north Italian coast.

My husband Brent and I spent a month there last fall, and thankfully, I took a few thousand photos that will help guide us along the way.

We stayed in the town of Levanto and found it the perfect home base for this area — something we wrote about in our Cinque Terre tips.

Levanto is located just to the north of Cinque Terre National Park. It’s not quite as photogenic as the villages in the park, but I found plenty to admire.

Different views of Levanto including pictures of the beach, cafes filled with people, a yellow bike, and cliffside houses at sunset.
The picture on the top right is the view from our Airbnb.

And Levanto is also the start of a series of famous trails that connect all of the Cinque Terre. This first part is a fantastic hike, with great views of the Ligurian Sea and Monteresso al Mare, the first of the five villages.

That’s Monterosso down below.

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso — “al Mare” means “by the sea” — is the largest village in the Cinque Terre. But I think it’s the least charming. I suspect it’s so popular because it has the most amenities.

The relative lack of charm may have to do with geography. The other villages are tucked up into sheer valleys or built high up on dramatic bluffs.

But Monterosso does have the Cinque Terre’s best beaches. It’s also known for Convent of the Capuchin Friars, nicely situated on a massive seaside rock in the middle of town. As you can see from the picture below, the friars had a pretty decent view.

The photo on the left shows the view of the water and Monterosso from the convent, the photo on the right is of a friar with a dog.
The statue of St. Francis of Assisi shows him with his beloved wolf Gubbio.

Monterosso is also home to Il Gigante, a partially ruined sculpture of Neptune, just above one of the beaches.

Built in 1910, this 14-meter tall concrete colossus was damaged in World War II by Allied bombs, then clobbered by storms in 1966. Today, it stands a lonely watch over the blue sea forever lapping at its feet.

Two photos of Il Gigante, one close up, one taken from farther down the beach.
To get that close-up of Il Gigante, I had to get my feet soaked while my husband looked on at me justifiably rolling his eyes.


As you head south from Monterosso, you’ll soon reach Vernazza. You can go by boat or train — or even by car, though very few do. But for the purposes of this article, we’re still hiking on what is now called the Blue Trail — the name of the trail between the five villages.

(Don’t expect all four of the “official” legs of the trail to be open. Farther down the coast, the famous Via dell’Amore, or the Path of Love, has been closed since 2012 due to a mudslide, and repairs are going very slowly. This is Italy, after all. But walking between the villages is very popular, so there will always be some kind of hiking workaround.)

Brent and I were on the Blue Trail from Monterosso, and I still recall how amazed I was when I got my first look at Vernazza’s stunning harbor.

Brent and I standing on a hill with Vernazza behind and below us.

I also loved the famous colored buildings of the Cinque Terre standing watch over the little harbor.

A photo from near the water looking back up at the pastel-colored buildings of Vernazza.
Up close, many of these buildings were very much in need of a coat of paint.

I returned to Vernazza again and again, but my favorite time was at sunrise. I always had the whole town to myself!

A collage of photos of Vernazza taken at sunrise, including from up above on a hillside, as well as colorful folded umbrellas at a restaurant, and of the sun rising over the sea.
I had to get up early to get these photos, but the effort was well worth it.


Setting off on the trail for Corniglia, you’re now deep in Cinque Terre National Park, and the incredible views just keep coming.

Halfway between Vernazza and Corniglia is this sweeping view of the Ligurian Sea, trees and bushes in the foreground.

They’ve been growing and harvesting grapes and olives in these hills for centuries. The work is still hard, but it got a bit easier in the 20th century when farmers installed these simple tracks that hauled the harvest up and down the steep, terraced hillsides.

The photo on the left shows the view from a house, a single rose bright against the blue ocean. The photo on the right shows Brent standing in front of a section of the track used to haul olives up the hillside.

On the rocky trail, Corniglia soon appears in the distance. It’s very unlike the other villages in the Cinque Terre, as it’s located on a promontory above the sea — 100 meters above, to be exact.

Corniglia in the distance, the ocean behind it, a green hill in front.
This village is not like the others.

This location makes Corniglia the only village of the Cinque Terre not reachable by ferry. The train does stop here, but the station is located down along the water, so you’ll have to walk the 382 steps up the famous Scalinata Lardarina — the Lardarina Staircase.


Along with the Via dell’Amore, the leg of the Blue Trail between Corniglia to Manarola is currently closed, which means you have to hike the long way around.

And it’s a bit challenging. It starts with 1200 steps going almost straight up.

The picture on the left shows steps marching straight up, while the photo on the right shows Brent and Michael with grape vines and the ocean behind them.
Thirty of the 1200 steps you have to climb heading for Manarola.

But once you reach the top, you’ll be glad you made an effort. Not only do you get yet more spectacular views of the Ligurian coast, you’ll also get to hike directly through some of the Cinque Terre’s famous vineyards and olive groves.

Alas, Brent and I just missed the grape harvest, which would undoubtedly have made for some fantastic photos. But just as with many trees, grape leaves turn lovely shades of gold and red come fall.

Brent following the trail as it cuts through a vineyard, yellow and green grape leaves on either side.
I have loads of pictures of Brent from behind because I’m always stopping to take more pictures.

Manarola wasn’t founded until the 13th century. Before that, people lived in these hills, possibly as far back as Roman times.

But eventually, you reach the village itself.

Brent and Michael standing in front of the narrow but colorful main street of Manarola.

Monterosso may have the best beaches, but Manarola has another spectacular harbor, this one deep, with plenty of rocks to jump off. This has made it the Cinque Terre’s unofficial “swimming hole,” and it’s a great place to cool off on hot summer days.

Even in late October, when Brent and I first visited, there were plenty of swimmers taking advantage of the water’s lingering warmth.

A rock juts out into the blue harbor, swimmers in the water while others sit on the rock.
Come on in! The water is pretty warm!

If I liked Vernazza in the morning, I preferred Monterosso at sunset. Alas, so did fifty zillion other people, which made getting good pictures difficult.

A collection of photos of Manarola at sunset. Most show the light on the village and the ocean but one shows a group of people in a cafe.
Sunrise! Sunset! Swiftly flow the days…


I said earlier that the Via dell’Amore is closed until 2024 — that’s the leg of the Blue Trail between Manarola and the final village, Riomaggiore. It runs along the ocean side of the rocky hill between the two villages.

There’s currently a workaround, but it means going straight up one side of that hill, then straight down the other side. The grade on each side reaches 47%!

Despite being on that hill, it’s also the least scenic of all the hikes so far.

A view of Riomaggiore showing a very steep descent past bushes with yellow flowers, the pinks and blue of Riomaggiore at the bottom while the terraced hillside rises up on the far side.
You do not want to trip and fall here.

But this is also the shortest hike, less than two kilometers, and it’s all worth it when you reach Riomaggiore.

A view of Riomaggiore from the water, red, yellow, pink, and orange buildings marching up the hillside.
The quintessential pastel-colored buildings of the Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore is famous for the way it’s nestled inside a very steep ravine. Along the sides, the buildings rise up very dramatically.

The view looking up Via Colombo, buildings on either side as people stroll along.

The main thoroughfare is Via Colombo, and it, of course, is packed with restaurants, cafes, and bars.

More importantly, I found all kinds of photographic surprises, including a “gay” bench the city installed to show its support for the LGBTQ community.

A collection of pictures including a street, a red boat covered with a blue and red striped tarp, a man and his son getting ready to dive into the water, a bench painted with the colors of the gay Pride flag, a mural of a woman, and clothes hanging out to dry.


In our travel tips for the Cinque Terre, Brent mentioned a bonus “sixth” village called Portovenere that isn’t on the train line. Since it’s a bit harder to reach — and since it’s not “officially” part of the Cinque Terre — it is sometimes overlooked.

The hike out there — which is long, over twelve kilometers — is rugged and difficult, but it was probably our favorite. There are ancient churches and villages you hike past, and more vineyards and olive groves.

And, oh man, those views.

Photos showing the hike from Portovenere including a stone building, Brent walking along the trail, a carrier to haul grapes along the rails, a lone tree with the ocean behind it, and Michael pointing back toward Portovenere far behind them.

As for Portovenere, I loved that too, especially from a photographer’s perspective. It seemed to have everything, from one of the prettiest waterfronts I’ve seen in Italy…

Portovenere's colorful waterfront with empty boats docked in the foreground, the colorful buildings of town on the other side of the water.

…to the 12th century Church of San Pietro watching over the ocean…

The Church of San Pietro standing on a rocky outcropping beneath a bright blue sky.

…to the Platonic ideal of an Italian street.

One of Portovenare's narrow streets, orange, peach, and yellow buildings on either side as a family walks up the street.

Portovenere was also home to the best deep-fried calamari Brent and I have ever tasted — light and crunchy, with a hint of salt and a squirt of lemon.

Brent holding a cone of fried squid, and a close up of Michael holding the cone up for a picture with the street in the background.

We’ve finally reached the end of our pictorial hike through the Cinque Terre. Whatever the weather, wherever you are in the world, I hope it brightened your day!

P.S. Here’s the whole journey:

Michael Jensen is an author, editor, and one half of Brent and Michael Are Going Places, a couple of traveling gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their free travel newsletter here.

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