How to plan a (photography) trip to Cinque Terre?
Read this article on my new website : https://tomphotography.eu/blog-guide-plan-photography-trip-cinque-terre/
I visited the Cinque Terre last year, but benefit from the recent visit of my parents to update the post :)
Even if they had a really bad weather, they still loved it - and gave me more tips.
Hope this gives you some great travel ideas and photography spots !
How to plan your trip / table of content
Is it worth it?
Choose when you want to visit
Select the villages you want to visit, and the time you want to spend there
Where to stay at night?
How to get there
Possible itineraries and select the hikes that suit you best (according to the season)
Plan the gear you want to bring
Other sightseeing in the area
1. Presentation of Cinque Terre:
Located in Liguria (on the South coast of the North of Italy), Cinque Terre National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscapes and villages are truly amazing, and have been forged by Men since the 11th century. Tourism now seems to be the major activity, although lots of cultures remain operated by the locals (wine, citrus, etc.). From West to East, the five villages are:
Corniglia (the only village with no water access or port)
All the villages are located along the coast, and seem hung on to the mountains. They are quite different from one another, and I recommend exploring at least 2 of them (Vernazza, Manarola), and hiking from Manarola to Vernazza would allow you to see Corniglia from above. I will explain in more details later on. There now are "human red lights" to regulate traffic on the trails...
“Executive summary” / my advice:
3 nights (Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Manarola) to explore everything and benefit from the blue hour or only 1 night in Manarola (my favourite for photography)
Sleeping IN Cinque Terre is key: it will be all for you at night as everyone leaves around sunset
Hike / take the train between the villages
Try to select in advance your photography spots
Drive (off-season) or take the train from Genoa / La Spezia (high-season)
Other recommended visits: Portofino, Toscana, marble quarries in Carrara, Porto Venere
2. Best season to visit:
Since more and more tourists are coming every year (especially since 1997 when Cinque Terre has entered the UNESCO world Heritage list), I highly recommend visiting off-season (March-April and September-October). It will be less expensive, and you’ll almost have the villages just for yourself, especially at night… In addition, the temperatures will be lower, which is a key point if you plan to hike a bit. The sunset is also not too late, and sunrise not too early, and these are the best times to time pictures! My parents visit on the last week of April, and it was so crowded...
As you can see, rainfall starts to decrease in April, and increase again in September. Rain is not really good in Cinque Terre, as many trails may be closed (to prevent landslides). May probably is the best month to visit, even though the days are really long and it will be busy.
I explored on the last week of March, and it was perfect! Warm but not too hot, and not many people (I was alone as soon as I moved away from the very center). The light also is better than during the summer: everything has more colors and relief. I could stay until the blue hour (c. 1 hour after sunset), and have dinner right after. There’s also no need to buy a hiking pass when visiting off-season. If you want to meet locals and feel what the life in Cinque Terre really is, then you should visit off-season.
3. Details of what to explore in each village:
I recommend arriving mid-afternoon, to make the most of the afternoon light.
The parking on the street next to the “official” parking is free and fine to park for several days (safe even with luggage in the trunk)
Start a bit the trail that goes to Monterosso, until having a nice view of Vernazza. The afternoon light is perfect
Go down to the harbor, to the lighthouse and on the rocks on the other side until before sunset. Definitely some nice viewpoints with the rocks in the foreground
I recommend hiking to the castle after sunset, on the trail towards Corniglia. The view is amazing, especially for the blue hour (one hour after sunset - GPS 44°08'03.3"N 9°41'05.5"E).
Have dinner, and then take some shots from the pier, at night
I recommend enjoying the sunrise from the beach (access from city center – I did not do it but I think it is worth it). In the morning / afternoon, the beach is really nice too with amazing water colors. Hopefully there won’t be too many people
Enjoy the view from the trail towards Vernazza
If you have to skip one, it would be Monterosso... I recommend grabbing some food to have lunch on the beach, close to the nice rock standing alone, among the blue waters. If you go on the small pinkish rocks, the view is perfect. A long exposure shot will probably capture all the colors.
Village pleasant to have a walk and enjoy a refreshing break
Feels larger than Vernazza, and a bit more touristy, but empties around sunset time.
Lots of small streets to explore : possible to spend quite some time. A bit harder to photograph though: the best spots seem to be around the harbor, on the rocks.
I recommend going up to the church, where there will probably be people chilling, in a nice atmosphere
Enjoy the sunset from the pier, on the rocks (end of the pier/ end of the boat ramp), and wait until the lights goes down: light reflections on the water
Restaurants seem to be opened a bit later, even off season
Loved the perspective from the harbor, which is very different
In the morning I recommend exploring the East side, on the heights of the village. Nice viewpoints can be found if you explore well, on the terraces. Highly recommend going on the viewpoint just above the start of the pier, in the morning where the water colors are best
The orientation of the village is a bit different : I recommend arriving late afternoon, as the sun is not really well oriented in the morning
The houses on the massive rock are wonderful, and there is nice water colors
Scenery from the pier is nice, but not as good as elsewhere
Before sunset, I recommend going up to the cemetery, where there are not many people and the scenery is nice
The view from the bar Nessun Dorma is really nice, you can even have a drink while watching the sunset if you like ;)
For sunset, I advise going on the Corniche path, closer to the rocks. You would need to go through a fence where there is a panel written “dangerous access”. From the rocks, the view is the best, with a nice foreground. Please be careful, and do not go down there in case of high seas. Disclaimer: this is a forbidden path as it is dangerous; go at your own risk.
I think there is a bit less to explore in Manarola, even though the picture opportunities for the blue hour are really nice
View on the train station is fun (from Piazza Castello GPS 44.106172, 9.727864)
4. Where to sleep:
I highly recommend sleeping inside Cinque Terre, even though it is a bit more expensive:
No need to rush in the morning / evening to get back home
Easier to feel how life is in these small villages
Make the most of sunrise / sunset and blue hour
Villages almost empty as soon as the sun goes down: best time for the pictures!
I really think spending as much time as possible in Cinque Terre is the most important thing, as the atmosphere is so unique. Rushing will only get you stressed and not make the most of your visit.
I chose to sleep in Vernazza, Riomaggiore and Manarola, to experience as much as possible. If you have time, I think it is the best option. It gives you plenty of time to benefit from all the day hours, sunsets, and maximize your photographic opportunities. If you don't have time, then I recommend spending one night in one village, and explore the others the day after.
Manarola is my favourite place to stay: smaller and more intimate, it probably has the best photo opportunities.
5. How to get there and move around / itineraries:
As the villages are difficult to access (small and difficult roads, expensive and limited parking spaces), everyone will tell you to come by train, from Levanto or La Spezia. Well, for the peak-season, I highly recommend the same. However off-season (March, September, October), it is definitely possible to drive there. The scenic drive is wonderful, and should be safe if you take your time. Off-season, parking space is available in Vernazza, even for free! I took this option, and my car was safely parked on the side of the road, for 3 days with luggage apparent in my trunk. Locals told me it was okay and it indeed went all fine!
To explore as much as I wanted, I chose to hike between the villages, with a small backpack (for 3 nights) and I slept in Airbnbs. You can find above the hiking time between the different villages, and you can find here more details. I highly recommend hiking from Riomaggiore to Manarola (1hr through the mountains to benefit from the incredible news): the arrival on Manarola is unforgettable.
Then, you can hike from Manarola to Vernazza through Volastra: you’ll have nice views on Corniglia, and the arrival on Vernazza is definitely worth it (before mid-afternoon).
6. Possible itineraries:
It is important to hike in Cinque Terre, as it is the only way to really appreciate the scale of the human works, and enjoy calmness and crazy views. Hike in the vineyards is quite pleasant ;)
If you had to do only one I would recommend doing the one from Riomaggiore to Manarola, NOT along the coast (on the top of the hill). The views are really breathtaking, and the sight of Manarola, clamped in the hill is unforgettable.
Then, if you are in a rush you could only do the beginning of the hikes from each village, to enjoy the best views. Except the part to Monterosso, all the paths are worth it and really nice.
7. What to bring / photo equipment
On your visit to Cinque Terre, I strongly advice you to hike between the different villages. The trails are not too hard, especially the ones that follow the sea.
Thus, you will need a backpack with 3-day of clothes - as you can buy food en route. If you really don't want to carry your bag, then you can arrange with your host to leave the luggage on the morning before your arrival. Just take the train in the morning to your next stay, leave your bag, hike one part of the trail and then take the train again ;)
Otherwise the villages are not more than 2/3hrs appart, so it's not too hard - and you could probably wash your clothes at your hotel.
The trails are not too hard, so light hiking shoes will do it :) Hiking poles may be useful as the steps may become steep.
For photographers, I think a wide-angle lens and a tripod is a must, since all three villages are even more breathtaking at sunset, blue hours and sunrise. A polarizer filter will also help you to uncover the water colors ;)
8. Other sightseeing in the area
If you have a bit more time, there's plenty of things to visit in the area. I highly highly recommend visiting Portofino. It's such a jewel, even though not very "lively" as it's kind of a Jetset city. However, the villas are wonderful, and the site will take your breath away ;) There's a couple of hikes you can do in the peninsula, that are great too.
If you want something more peaceful (and less expensive) where you can relax, then Porto Venere may be your thing. It's beautiful too, with a large beach and beautiful houses as well.
In addition, I was amazed by the Carrara marble quarries: it's so huge and really interesting to see how they extract the marble from the mountains. Plus some scenes of Quantum of Solace (James Bond) have been filmed there ;) More information here
Toscana is not to far too, and I visited Lucca, smaller than Firenze but really nice as well and more peaceful. Everyone is biking around, the atmosphere feels really cool !`
Pisa is worth the detour too, even though it is really busy. Climbing in the tower is a great experience, as you can really feel that it is leaned!
Finally, it's a bit Remote but I read that the Grotta del Vento is breathtaking. More info here.
In conclusion, Liguria is definitely a must visit in Italy, even though the weather is unpredictable and it may be busy.
I hope this article gave you so great travel ideas, and helped you plan your trip !
Leave a line if you liked it or if you would like some more pieces of information!
Happy travels !
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