When visiting the rugged coastal stretch along the Italian Riviera known as the Cinque Terre, it can be hard to choose which of the five villages you want to call home. From South to North, the “five lands” are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. While each town has its own character, they are all breathtakingly beautiful, and also all equally serviced by the train that runs from La Spezia to Levanto. By train, these towns are within a few short minutes of each other as you jet through the cliffs. You can quickly hop from town to town (at least when the trains are running on time). We spent time in all five villages plus Levanto, but staying in Corniglia made us particularly partial to this town. If you’re trying to decide where to stay in the Cinque Terre, read on for the five undeniable reasons you should stay in Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia).
If you’re looking for another option when availability within the five towns is running low, Levanto is a larger town with more hotels and apartments for rent. Though it’s not technically part of the Cinque Terre, it’s on the same train route which makes it easy to pop into any of the five villages. Or, you can hike between Levanto and Monterosso (it’s about a 3 hour hike, so maybe not every day).
1 Head Start on Hiking
We went to this part of the Italian Riviera to enjoy the sun, the sea and the hiking trails. The Sentiero Azzurro, also known as the blue path or hiking path 2, connects all five villages. For tips on hiking in the Cinque Terre, like which hiking pass you need to buy and a list of great hikes, check out our guide here.
As of summer 2016, the portion between Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso is open. The stretch between Riomaggiore and Corniglia closed in 2013/2014 due to heavy rainfall that caused landslides. The trails are expected to be closed for the rest of summer 2016, but you can check trail updates here.
Because of the trail closures, we could only trek the portion from Corniglia to Monterosso. By staying in Corniglia, we got an earlier start on the hike without having to take the train, and had the first stretch of the path mostly to ourselves. It seems that most people start from either Monterosso or Vernazza, so we didn’t pass them until the latter portion of the hike.
Some might count the fact that Corniglia is the only village without a waterfront as a knock against it; in this case, it worked to our benefit as we started high, and ended at sea level in Monterosso. We were descending the long staircase into Monterosso in the heat of the day, which was much easier than climbing up.
You need a Cinque Terre card to hike the blue path. We purchased our daily Cinque Terre card for € 7.50 at the start of the trail, but you can also purchase one in the train station.
2 Stairway of Heaven
Since Corniglia is nestled high atop the cliffs, you need to trek the 365 steps from the train station to the village. This can be a plus or a minus depending how you look at it, but here, the rewards for hard work paid off. Trekking down the steps in the morning, we had beautiful views of the sea, sky, and lush hillside. At night, I tried not to trip as I stared up at the big dipper (you can see stars here!). There were even the little blinking lights of fireflies guiding us up the steps.
For your initial arrival with luggage, or if you’re simply not feeling up for the stairs, there is a bus that runs from the train station to the village from about 7:30am to 7:30pm. It goes back and forth all day. Buy the bus ticket ahead of time in the train station. It costs € 1.50 from the station and € 2.50 if you wait to buy it onboard the bus.
3 The Best Gelato
If great food is high on your list of criteria when trying to decide where to stay in the Cinque Terre, then Corniglia does not disappoint. Especially when it comes to gelato. Alberto Gelateria has the best gelato in the Cinque Terre. We consume copious amounts a lot of gelato, so we feel comfortable stating this as fact. Alberto uses ingredients grown right on Corniglia’s own hillside for flavors like basil, honey and lemon (check out the size of those lemons in the picture below). Plus, they’re open late, so we could satisfy our craving at 11pm.
We unknowingly were pawns in the gelato wars that are apparently taking place in Corniglia. We initially followed a local vendor’s recommendation to try the first gelato shop in Corniglia, and after rude service and subpar gelato, we were scratching our heads as to why someone would recommend that place. If we have a bad experience, we usually just don’t mention, but from our experience and others, it sounds like an ongoing battle between the gelaterias. So if someone tries to persuade to you venture from Alberto’s, just know they’ve taken sides, and it’s not yours. Gelato in Italy is kind of a holy experience, so we wouldn’t want you to have a bad one.
4 Getting Away From It All
Corniglia is the tiniest of the five villages, with one main street and no hotels. We rented a room through Airbnb from Beppe, who was the best version of what you would imagine your sweet, white-haired Italian papa to be like. Beppe met us near the main street, and he lead us to one of the colorful, multi story buildings crammed into the hillside that these villages are known for. As we walked down Via Alla Marina, he told us it was “un segreto.” He happily chattered away at us in Italian on the way, and I tried to pick out and repeat the few words I could understand by leveraging three years of high school Spanish. I think our baby was able to carry on a better conversation with him, and Beppe sweetly kept cooing, “Ciao, ciao piccolino.”
While our Airbnb was quaint on the outside, it was completely remodeled and modern on the inside. The views of the mountain and the water down below were stunning, and at night we could here all the frogs cheerfully chirping away in the valley before we closed the window. As another practical bonus of being up above, the only sounds we heard at night were from the surrounding wildlife, and not the train rumbling through.
5 Friday Night Karaoke
This small town was packed with travelers and trekkers during the day, most with gelato in hand, but it emptied out at night to just the 300 or so residents and the few people renting rooms.
We enjoyed walking down the quiet streets at night back to our Airbnb. On Friday night we stumbled upon what we at first thought was a neighborhood opera concert in the main square in front of the Oratorio dei Disciplinati di Santa Caterina. The man on stage sounded like a professional opera singer, and we were looking forward to hearing the next song. But then, when the opera singer stepped off and a group of girls got up and started belting out a pop song, we realized it was karaoke! It seems safe to say, only in Italy do you have opera in the karaoke line up!
Where to Stay in Corniglia
If we’ve convinced you to stay in Corniglia, then check out these amazing places!
Ocean view Airbnb – We stayed in this charming and updated Airbnb with an ocean view! The room was small but comfortable, and accommodated our family of three. If you’re new to Airbnb, check out our referral link here for up to $39 off your first trip.
L’ Agave Cinque Terre – This apartment is steps from the beach. A set of steep steps, as Corniglia is on the cliff, but that just means the views from the rooftop deck are even more incredible. Another few bonuses include free parking and air conditioning.
La Torre Apartments – These newly renovated apartments in the heart of Corniglia accommodate up to four people and overlook one of the main church squares.
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