If there were a single word to describe Cinque Terre, it’d be romantic.
Cinque Terre was our last stop in Europe after seven months of touring, more or less marking the end of our fun under the european sun, and I don’t think there could have been a better way to wrap up our lives in the west. Some people say that you can cover Cinque Terre in a day, but I don’t see the point in rushing through something so beautiful. Sure, you can technically hit all five towns in a day, but should you? The answer is no – it would be criminal not to savor it. I took so many photos in Cinque Terre that it’s impossible to feature everything here in one post, so I’ll just be covering my favorite of five towns here, and the rest in another post!
Cinque Terre literally translates to The Five Towns, and for those uninitiated, it’s a beautiful coastal region along the Italian Riveria. Cars are banned here, so you can shuttle between the five towns either by train or by hiking – in fact, the hiking paths are world famous for being incredibly scenic and romantic, but I’ve done my fair share of hiking over my seven months in Europe, so I decided to take a more laid back approach to Cinque Terre and slowly explore the towns individually via train instead. I did my research and decided to stay in Manarola because it seemed a comfortable compromise between old world charm and a modern bustling town, and I’m so glad I did because it turned out to be my favorite of the five! Arbaspaa Italy very kindly invited us to stay in the
Sun&Sea – the highest house in Manarola – and while getting there was something of a hike, it was completely and absolutely worth it if only for the view:
Can I get a hell yes. Imagine waking up to this view everyday – it was breathtaking. Above you see the fabled vineyards where the Cinque Terre white wine is grown and made, and the gorgeous colored houses set against the sea view. I have never been wined and dined as much as I have in Cinque Terre, and if you have the time there’s actually the option of taking a tour of the vineyards or wine cellars, or going for a wine tasting session under the stars. It’s all very, very classy and romantic, and wine aficionados would love it. Arbaspaa, the company that invited us to come stay, also organizes boat tours, wine tasting sessions, and cooking classes if you’d like a taste of authentic italian living, and you can check them out here.
From our gorgeous two bedroomed apartment, it was only a short walk to what I quickly established as my favorite lunch spot in the whole of Cinque Terre: Nessum Dorma, a new cafe carved into the cliff rocks of Manarola that serves light drinks and sandwiches. It’s honestly a bonus that the food was good as well, though I’d gladly pay to sit there just for the pretty much unbeatable view. I went back a couple of times over my stay in Cinque Terre just to chill, and the staff were really friendly as well, making it feel a lot more like hanging out with friends than visiting a cafe.
I had the most refreshing strawberry daiquiri of my life and their signature paninis – I asked them to recommend something and it didn’t disappoint. If you’re headed to Cinque Terre, you must drop by Nessum Dorma – it’s not even an option. Very affordable compared to the rest of the restaurants in Cinque Terre, and altogether extremely enjoyable.
Località Punta Bonfiglio
+39 320 071 3868
Yes I did the same dive
I knew I would only have time for one swim in Cinque Terre, so after exploring all five towns I spent my last day swimming in the Tyrrhenian seas off Manarola. No beach no problem – the concrete slopes down into the sea, and it was fantastic, just suntanning on the rocks and attempting cliff dives! It was an approximately 33ft jump and it was nerve wracking. I clambered up to the top of the cliff, stared down, and went oh i dont think so. Meanwhile, children were running and flinging themselves off the same ledge because the fear of God has not yet been injected into those not yet past their sixth birthday, I presume. It was insane. I stood there shivering from the cold and fear, and feeling absolutely inadequate. At the same time, a crowd of europeans had gathered around me on the rocks, half waiting for their turn to jump, half amused, all egging me on and refusing to let me back down. Finally, a little boy climbed up to me and offered gallantly: Do you want me to help give you a push?
What the hell, I thought, and jumped.
It was exhilarating. When I finally resurfaced they were all cheering like it was the best thing they saw all day. I felt like a rockstar. Thank you, Cinque Terre Manarola.
Headed back to the apartment to change before dinner – it’s truly a plus that each town is tiny enough that you can be in the sea one minute and back at your place the next, but not so small that there arent quaint winding paths and new alleyways to discover at every turn. The apartment came with a fully stocked and equipped kitchen but we didn’t cook because there were so many dinner options in the area that we decided to just ball out for the last leg of our trip! Still, if you’re visiting with friends (the apartment accommodates anywhere from four to six anyway) and would like to spend a quiet night in chatting and enjoying dinner and wine by the balcony, then it’s good to know that the local grocery store is open every evening with very reasonably priced groceries which you can buy back to the apartment to prepare!
If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I never book a place without a kitchen because it’s crucial if you’re on a budget – splitting the cost and effort of cooking is much cheaper than eating out, and it makes for a very enjoyable evening, bonding over a newly opened bottle of wine and homemade pasta. In any case, although we didn’t cook in Cinque Terre, it was very reassuring knowing we had the option to. Instead, we dined two nights in Manarola itself because I personally felt like it had the best restaurants of the five towns – the only other place I felt had a comparable restaurant was in Vernazza, which I’ll write about again in another post.
The first night, we dined at this seaside restaurant called Marina Piccola – it was pretty good, but very quickly overshadowed by the restaurant we had dinner at the next day: Trattoria Dal Billy, recommended to us by Eugenio of Arbaspaa (the Arbaspaa people don’t just rent accomodation and organize tours, they take it upon themselves to make sure you have the best experience objectively as well by providing recommendations as and when needed!), and we were warned that we had to make a reservation because it was impossible to just walk in. It became clear why immediately – a quick google search revealed that it was the best restaurant in Manarola and boy oh boy was it true.
We booked the sunset slot in Dal Billy’s – you make your reservations by the two-hour because they’re so popular that they need to have a turn over of two hours at least. They’re not pushy about it though, we overran our slot and when we asked if there was time for dessert they shrugged and said the other customers, they can wait. Italians. I love it.
It was our last night in Cinque Terre, so we decided to go all out and opt for the twelve course seafood sampler, which needs a minimum of two people to order. It was mindblowing. Everything was exquisitely and lovingly prepared, and it was all so, so fresh. It was so expensive but so worth it. You don’t debate on whether it’s worth spending money on, you save up for this meal of a lifetime. I would come back to Manarola for this meal. That’s how good it was. And so romantic – having this while the sun set in front of our eyes. Penning this now I feel so incredibly nostalgic for that evening – it was incredible. Incredible.
For the main course, we had a lobster pasta dish that also required two people minimum to order. It’s like this place was designed exclusively for couples. It was really good – not on the menu either, you have to make a request for it – but I don’t think it was nearly as amazing as the seafood sampler. Then again, the seafood sampler set the bar incredibly high.
The view over dinner and our dessert of some form of ice cream berry creation, which was lovely.
Trattoria Dal Billy
via Aldo Rollandi 122, 19010 Manarola, Italy
It was a plus that the restaurant, which was basically the best meal of my life thus far, was right at the foot of our apartment. You know what this means – being able to finish dinner right at your doorstep, then head back and unwind on the balcony while star gazing. It’s a lifestyle I can only dream of and aspire towards for the rest of my days.
Bedroom #2 in our Sun&Sea apartment
The sun sets late in Europe over the summer, so we basically had many hours of daylight in our brightly lit apartment! It gave the impression of a more fruitful day, and for sure we got a lot done in each day there. Still, we visited in August, where tourist season is supposedly at its peak. A quick consultation with the Arbaspaa folks confirmed that visiting in September would have been even better, with less crowds and a more forgiving sun, but it was still entirely too enjoyable. Another reason why I loved Manarola so much was because it had the most beautiful sunsets – we had a great time watching the sun go down from our apartment’s balcony, but beyond that, a short walk down to the waters offered another view on the sunset, and also this money shot that Cinque Terre is so famous for:
The locals were all smiles as they helped us take this shot – another sunkissed couple on the cliffs of Manarola is surely no new sight for them. Still, if this be a tourist trap, then willingly, let us be trapped. We flew right into the tourist attractions of Manarola like moths to a flame, and I still look back so fondly on our time there because it was so breathtakingly beautiful.
Hanging off the edge of a cliff while waiting for the sun to set
There’s no question about it: Manarola is surely my favorite of the five towns, even after a month of consideration in between us leaving and the publishing of this post. I’m supremely glad we made Manarola our base from which to explore the other four towns because it was unbeatably the best of the lot. We parenthesized each day overlooking the sea with a glass of white wine in hand, admiring the sunsets each evening nodding and ciao-ing at the people lazily making their way about the town, and each day, I felt less and less like a tourist and more and more like someone who belonged, carving our own little italian bubble in Cinque Terre. I was very, very sorry to leave.
This trip wouldn’t have been half as wonderful as it had been without the hospitality of the good people down at Arbaspaa Italy, and for that I’m so grateful. For everyone else heading to Cinque Terre, I strongly suggest you check out their apartment listings – they have accommodation options in each of the five towns, but I personally recommend staying in Manarola as I did. Their main office is by the Manarola train station, and upon check in they’ll personally escort you to your apartment and answer any questions you have. If you’re the kind who likes to do your own research and have it free and easy like me, you can just book a place with them and use it as a base from which to explore, but otherwise they also organize day tours and even custom itineraries for people who’d like them to plan the entire trip to perfection. You can check out their website or drop them an email at the contact details below:
Via Molini 11
La Spezia (SP)
Cinque Terre – Italia
Thank you so much for your hospitality, Arbaspaa, and Cinque Terre: I’ll be back.