ONE PERFECT WEEK IN CINQUE TERRE AND PORTOFINO

If Greece is my favorite country in the world, then Italy is a close second. It's a place I've traveled to six times now, and it never gets old. Italy checks all the boxes with its charming towns, beautiful Mediterranean islands, historic wonders, vibrant culture, stunning beaches and some of the best food in Europe. Heck, we were robbed in the Italian Riviera on our first trip to Italy, and it's still a place I absolutely adore. In a perfect world, I would spend an entire month exploring every village and coastal cove that stretch from Genoa to La Spezia, but like most travelers, it's hard to set aside more than a week for any one part of Italy. Below is my seven-day itinerary that covers the five villages of Cinque Terre, as well as Portofino, and includes travel tips, sightseeing recommendations, photo locations, hotel suggestions, itinerary ideas and more.


The most iconic view of Cinque Terre is the Punta Buonfiglio in charming Manarola.

CINQUE TERRE

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For travelers that arrive in Cinque Terre on the heels of Milan, Rome or Florence, this coastal stretch of Liguria towns will feel like a breathe of fresh air. Yes, it's a part of Italy that has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, but by and large the villages have maintained a quiet charm. And because so many tourists visit Cinque Terre as a frantic day trip, a four-night stay means plenty of quiet mornings and evenings to really soak in the laidback atmosphere of the seaside villages. Cinque Terre translates to "Five Lands," and it's made up of Monterosso, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia and Riomaggiore. Make a point to visit all five - each village is its own little world, and there's something to love about each one.


WHAT TO DO & SEE IN CINQUE TERRE

Hike the Cinque Terre Trail

There are more than 70 miles of footpaths in Cinque Terre, a delight for both hikers and outdoor adventurers. The most popular trail connects the region's first and last villages, Monterosso and Riomaggiore, via a 7.5 mile coastal hiking path. It's a five to seven hour one-way trek to complete the trail, plus a 10 to 20-minute return train ride back to Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola or Monterosso. Hikers must purchase a Cinque Terre Trekking Card that grants access to the trails, or a Cinque Terre Train Card for unlimited train rides, plus trail access.

Corniglia

The only village in Cinque Terre without access to the water, Corniglia sits at the top of a terraced hill surrounded by vineyards and agricultural land. It's the least famous of the five beloved villages, but serves as a peaceful escape from the midday bustle of its more popular neighbors. From the train station, visitors must climb 400 steps up the Lardarina to reach the village (sometimes there is a shuttle bus).

Manarola

Punta Buonfiglio is the most iconic viewpoint in Cinque Terre, and can be reached via an accessible coastal pathway from Manarola's harbor. For visitors looking to really soak in the view, sit down for a glass of wine at at Nessun Dorma. It's located just above the Punta Buonfiglio, and the wine bar's views of the colorful village are pretty spectacular. I suggest spending a half-day in Manarola - enough time to wander the quiet pedestrian alleyways, and then grab a rock for an afternoon of sunbathing and swimming.

Monterosso

Monterosso is the first of the five villages, and the most accessible for tourists arriving by car. It's also home to Monterosso Beach, the only true beach in Cinque Terre. This dreamy stretch of calm turquoise water sparkles under the sun, and during summer months, rows of orange & green sun umbrellas add a perfect Italian touch. The beach is a few minute's walk from town where the pedestrian streets are filled with al fresco dining, gelato shops, storefront boutiques and the picturesque black & white Church of St. John.

Riomaggiore

For me, a perfect summer day in Italy is sunbathing on rock with a pizza, book and towel, in the Riomaggiore harbor. There are plenty of rocks for sun-seekers to choose from with spectacular views of both the village and the daring cliff jumpers.


Vernazza

It's a hit with the tourists, and for good reason. Vernazza is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Nestled between Monterosso and Corniglia, this charming fishing village boasts a couple of truly epic viewpoints on the trails leading to Monterosso. The best view sits at the start of Hiking Trail 2, about a 10 to 15-minute climb from the Vernazza harbor. Set aside a full day for Vernazza to really soak in the town - explore the narrow alleys; sunbathe on the rocks with spectacular village views; visit Castello Doria; feast on fresh pasta and seafood; and swim at the tiny village beach.

WHERE TO STAY IN CINQUE TERRE

La Toretta Lodge (Manarola)

One of the only luxury options in Cinque Terre, La Toretta Lodge sits tucked away in little Manarola. The lodge is home to just a handful of rooms and suites that become highly sought-after in busy season, when hotel guests feel like they've won the lottery. For reference, I made our reservation seven months in advance.


WHERE TO EAT IN CINQUE TERRE

Belforte (Vernazza)

Set in an 11-century castle with tables perched on the rocks above the sea, Belforte just might be the most spectacular dining experience in Cinque Terre. The menu is a laundry list of fresh seafood and pasta dishes, but my favorite was the branzino baked in a sea salt crust.


Il Porticciolo Il Porticciolo is located on the main drag in Manarola, one of only a handful of restaurants in the village. Most the menus in Cinque Terre are very similar with their offerings of pastas and fresh seafood, and this place is no different (but food is delicious).


Kepris Pizzeria (Riomaggiore)

Satisfy those pizza cravings with classic Italian pies at Kepris Pizzeria. It's located near the train station, making it an ideal stop when arriving or departing Riomaggiore. The pizzas are simple, traditional and absolutely delicious.


Nessun Dorma (Manarola)

Even if you aren't hungry, it's worth having a glass of wine to sit and soak in the Manarola views from Nessun Dorma. The menu offers a selection of bruschetta, wine, spritzers and beer.

Ristorante Il Moretto (Monterosso)

This popular dining spot is located in the heart of Monterosso, across from the church. Ristorante Il Moretto gets busy, but it's worth the wait to sit outside and people watch while feasting on their selection of seafood and pastas.

GETTING TO AND AROUND CINQUE TERRE

Cinque Terre can be accessed via car or train. The main carpark is located in Monterosso, and for most tourists this is the gateway to the five villages. From Monterosso, visitors take the train to their hotel's village. The train ride between villages is pretty quick, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, and this is how non-hikers move between the villages. The villages themselves are pedestrian zones, all of them small enough to explore on foot. Visitors should purchase a Cinque Terre Train Card for unlimited train rides, plus access to the trails.

This view can be accessed on Hiking Trail 2, a 10 to 15-minute climb from the Vernazza harbor.

I loved all the al fresco dining in Monterosso.

The blue boats are completely iconic to Riomaggiore.

We moved between villages by train - very quick and convenient.

Perfectly clear water along the beaches of Monterosso, the village with the best beach in Cinque Terre.

Lemons are everywhere in Italy.

The streets of Monterosso are lined with adorable shopfronts.

For the adventurous, there is a coastal hiking trail that connects all five villages. Hikers start in Monterosso, end in Riomaggiore and then take the train back to their home village.

Seafood feast at Ristorante Il Moretto, in Monterosso.

PORTOFINO

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A charming fishing village on the Ligurian coast, Portofino is one of the most picturesque settings in the country. It's a popular daytrip destination with tourists - most arrive by boat to the cobbled piazetta surrounded by colorful facades that house boutiques, restaurants, cafes and residences. While the village is small in size, it's notorious for being over-the-top expensive. If $800 a night at the Belmond Hotel Splendido is out of the question, there are a few mid-range options that might make a couple days in town a bit more realistic. For either option, hotel rooms are far and few between in Portofino, so make sure to book well in advance.


WHAT TO DO & SEE IN CINQUE TERRE

Cannone Bay

Portofino's iconic golden villa sits perched on Cannone Bay. From the main road in front of Hotel Piccolo, there are steps that lead down to the tiny, quiet cove where visitors will find a small patch of rocky beach, coastal rocks for sunbathing and views worthy of a postcard. The water is calm, and the Ligurian villas are close enough for a swim.


Castello Brown

This 15th century castle is accessed via a short climb from the harbor, up the cobbled alleyways and past the Chiesa San Giorgio. Castello Brown itself is underwhelming (it feels more like a museum than a castle), but the views from the grounds perched high atop the Ligurian peninsula offer a sweeping panorama of the village waterfront.


Paraggi Beach

It's a 20 to 30-minute walk from Portifino's port to reach Paraggi Beach. The small stretch of coast is divided by private beach clubs where guests pay for access to their umbrellas and sun beds. There is also a small section of free public beach.

WHERE TO STAY IN PORTOFINO

Belmond Hotel Splendido

Nestled in the hills overlooking Portofino is Belmond Hotel Splendido, one of the most luxurious properties in Italy. Once a 16th century monastery, this enchanting retreat boats Old World charm that has welcomed Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor. Italy isn't known for its pools, but this one is pretty spectacular perched above the dreamy Riviera coastline. The hotel's location is ideal, a short walk to both Cannone Bay and the harbor.


Eight Hotel Portofino

For a second upscale option in Portofino, it's a five-minute walk up the road to reach Eight Hotel Portofino from Belmond Hotel Splendido. The intimate boutique property houses a mere handful of rooms in an authentic Ligurian house.


Hotel Piccolo

A completely underwhelming property with dreary rooms, but it's one of the few midrange options in Portofino. And let's be honest, to actually stay in Portofino and avoid visiting as a daytrip is a dream. And the location truly is epic. Hotel Piccolo sits just below the Belmond Hotel Splendido, so you get the same epic location for a third of the cost. And it's just a few steps away from Cannone Bay, one of the most iconic coves in Italy, and a 10-minute walk from town.


WHERE TO EAT IN PORTOFINO

Da I Gemelli Dinner

Small restaurant located in the heart of the harbor with al fresco dining right on the water. Menu includes a selection of pastas and fresh seafood.

Ristorante Puny Dinner

Located in the heart of Portofino on the piazetta, Ristorante Puny also serves up pastas and a variety of seafood dishes. Wonderful spot to people watch over lunch or dinner.

GETTING TO AND AROUND PORTOFINO

For travelers arriving by train, the closest train station is Santa Margherita Ligure, and from there it's a short taxi ride to Portofino. Be weary at the train station. While this is an incredibly safe part of Italy, it's also the place where we had a very expensive camera stolen. Once in Portofino, everything is reachable on foot. The entire length of town can be strolled in just 15 minutes - that's what makes Portofino such a popular destination to visit by daytrip.

For this view over Portofino, head up to Castello Brown, about a 10-minute walk from the harbor.

Most tourists visit Portofino as a half-day trip, it's small enough to see in a morning or afternoon. But if you want to see it at leisure, and sunbathe in the gorgeous coves, then stay two nights.

The port is an overload of reds, oranges and yellows.

The village's famous golden villa sits in this beautiful cove, the best place in town for sunbathing.

Cannone Bay is a 10-minute walk from Portofino's harbor.

Paraggi Beach.

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