Monday, 15 June 2015

How to go to Cinque Terre , one of the most beautiful Unesco Heritages destinations -6 hrs driving from Geneva

Riomaggiore - Cinque Terre Copyright Vittorio Garatti-
If you live in Geneva , to visit  CINQUE TERRE  is simply a MUST . These 5 villages on the Liguria sea have been  named by the National Geographic one of the most beautiful coastal destinations in the world and the coolest Unesco Heritage place.
La Spezia waterfront
Cinque Terre are next door  to Geneva , in fact you can get there in as less as 5-6 hours driving (assuming no traffic :))
Cinque Terre have been the fabulous background of my childhood, in fact I've been so lucky to be born in La Spezia the town that is just 10 minutes by train far from the five stunning villages  and I get back there 2-3 times a year because my mother still lives there and also because I simply love that part of Italy!
Here below my advice to spend an unforgettable week end in Cinque Terre , any season fits, however if possible avoid the crowded August and July timing.

Day 1 : Lerici and La Spezia I suggest to you leave Geneva early in the morning, like 6 or 7 a.m. so to get there at 1-2 p.m.  take Mont Blanc Tunnel and then pass Aosta and continue  towards Alessandria , then Genova till the city of La Spezia that is where you will exit the motorway.
I would recommend to set your base in La Spezia , and from there to visit the Cinque Terre , the town is nice , it offers a variety of nice and cheap accommodations and great restaurants and it's very well connected with the 5 villages.

In la Spezia book the NH hotel or  alternatively the Corallo hotel (3 stars) ; these two places are very close to the pier from where the boats to Cinque Terre leave , if both are full, then choose an hotel in the central pedestrian area , but avoid the Train Station area that is not very nice.
Lerici Castle
Drop your luggage and spend the afternoon in Lerici , a beautiful little seaside village at 20 minutes by bus from La Spezia. Ask for the nearest bus stop, there is a bus every 10-15 minutes ; Lerici has a very charming castle and some small sandy beaches and a beautiful seaside walk ; stop in one of the little coffee places or , if the season allows , go to a private beach clubs such as il Lido or il Colombo to swim in the crystal blue sea .  - beach club Lido in lerici
You can spend the evening eating in one of the seaside restaurants in Lerici or take the bus back to La Spezia to have dinner there .
St Agostino square from
La Spezia has a large pedestrian center full of bars, coffee places, nice and cheap restaurants so it's worth a stop. My favorite way to spend the evening in La Spezia is to get one of its famous Italian aperitifs in a nice coffee bar and then have dinner in the area close to to St Agostino Square, you can pick any of the restaurants there, however my favorite one is La Suprema (it's not the cheapest though), Osteria Della Corte, (10 minutes walking from the square) or  Toa Degli Aranci or  Bolle in Pentola are also good . After dinner take an icecream at Riccardo, a basic place that is the  best icecream maker in town; if it's not too late it's also worth stopping at la Pasticceria Fiorini to taste La Spezia best cakes/pastries.

Day 2: the fabulous Cinque Terre. Get up early and go to the beautiful   La Spezia Palms waterfront  to the pier from where the boats (called Vaporetti in Italian) to Cinque Terre leave. The Company that operates the transport is called Navigazione Golfo Dei Poeti . Buy a daily ticket that will allow you to get on and off the boat as any times as you want and get a timetable to check the boats schedule.
Cinque Terre cannot be reached by car so the only ways to go there are by boat or by train from La Spezia Train Station, check timetable at the Italian Trains Company , Trenitalia  website ; although the boat is more expensive and it takes more time to get there, I would definitively recommend it because the experience of seeing the Cinque Terre from the sea is simply unforgettable. That said, if you are in a hurry , then the train is the fastest way to visit the villages , however the experience is not comparable to the one of the boat.
Once on the boat, after 30 minutes  you will arrive in Portovenere, this village deserves a half a day stop , so don't get off the boat and continue your journey to Cinque Terre, the view of Portovenere from the boat is superb, especially when the boat passes in front of St Peter church .
After another 20 minutes  navigation with spectacular view of the cliffs you will arrive to the first of the five villages, Riomaggiore.

Unfortunately the worldwide famous walking path called La Via Dell'Amore, "the Love Path " that links Riomaggiore with the second village , Manarola, is closed and under restructuring so I  suggest that you  on the boat and enjoy the view of the two villages from the sea. The boat will pass and stop in the  third village, Corniglia, but you will not get off  there and will continue instead towards Vernazza, that for me  it's the most beautiful of the 5 villages and it's certainly the most photographed one.
Manarola copyright Vittorio Garatti
Vernazza is worth a couple of hours stay , to climb the narrow streets of its center, to visit the tower and to swim in the beautiful dark blue sea , I would suggest to stop in a coffee shop and enjoy a glass of wine or a snack while admiring the view.
 After the nice break  in Vernazza , take the next boat direction Monterosso , this is the last one of the five villages , probably the less characteristic one, but certainly the largest and most organized to host tourists .I like Monterosso and I think it's worth spending some time there to walk its seaside promenade , to explore  its old city center and to experience its beautiful sea and beaches . Watch out the world beach in Liguria is misleading , there is no sand , you find instead small rocky colorful little stones.

It's late afternoon, get on the boat to go back to La Spezia and sit outside to smell the breeze and have another last look at the beautiful pastel color houses that in the sunset are even more charming. During your trip you might see dolphins swimming around the boat , the seaside around the five villages is a protected area with  unique natural fishes and plants ecosystem.
Once arrived in La Spezia, exiting the boat on the left, at the end of the waterfront you will see many people queuing. They are patiently waiting to have a dinner at the  Pescatori, a very basic seafood restaurant where you choose your dishes fist and then get  a table . The Pescatori  restaurant is owned by the fishermen of La Spezia so you can enjoy the freshest fish for as little as 20 Euro each. If you prefer a more elegant place then cross the white modern bridge nearby and reach the waterfront called Mirabello , an elegant harbor where you can find good although more expensive restaurants and nice bars.

Day 3 : Portovenere and back to Geneva. Get up early and take either the boat to Cinque Terre until the first stop in Portovenere, or take one of the very frequent buses that in 30 minutes reach this magnificent medieval village that it's for me of of the world's most beautiful places.
Once in Portovenere go straight to the Castle , it's quite a long climb with many steps , however the view from there is breathtaking and it's worth the effort . Once you have explored the castle and taken enough pictures go back down towards the St Lorenzo church and then through the village charming narrow streets until when you arrive to Portovenere 's most famous attraction : the St. Peter church that is a XIII century church built directly on a  rocky peninsula surrounded by the sea, the church and the area have attracted in the past centuries many famous poets such as Shelley and Byron, for this reason the area is also called the Poets' Gulf.
St Peter church is unique in the world , and cannot be described, it must be seen!
copyright -St Peter Church in Portovenere,I took this picture last summer

Your trip is coming to the end , however if you still have a couple of hours, I would definitively suggest to take a shuttle boat from the center of Portovenere and get in 5 minutes to the Palmaria Island , just in front of village, have a walk on the nice path opposite to Portovenere or take a bath at the   Gabbiani beach  club, the water there has a light blue color that is very similar to the Caribbian one and this island wild and beautiful as it was one hundreds years ago.
If you are hungry and prefer to have a lunch instead , then stop in Portovenere and eat at the Trattoria Le Tre Torri Restaurant in the main square or atResturant  La Chiglia , 15 minutes walk towards the exit of the village.  Palmaria Island beach 
Get the boat or the bus back to La Spezia , and start your trip back to Geneva with your mind full of memories of your tarvel to this unique  in the world area.
If you still feel the energy, on your way back you could stop and do some shopping  in Serravalle Scrivia Outlet, 30 minutes north of Genova on the A7 Motorway , it's a huge place open 7 days a week , with tons of  famous Italian and International Brands at super discounted prices.
La Spezia , il Golfo dei Poeti, Poets Gulf -copyright Vittorio Garatti


  1. Hello! I've been looking for a weekend excursion for these two long weekends that we have in May and I found your post! Do you think things will be open on Ascension (this!) weekend? We would go on Friday and come back on Sunday. I love the ideas you have on your blog.

    1. Sarah, thanks so much for your nice feedback, any advice to improve my blog is also welcome, I know I ceratnly have to improve the webdesigner aspects. Yes everything is open this week end because in Italy it's a normal week , so only on Sunday something will be closed but not the main attractions.
      I'll be enjoying the place as well and weather is going to be great, and looking for additional feedback from you, thanks again

  2. great information thanks. I am visiting in June. Any train recommendations from Geneva to Portovenere ?

  3. Hi.. Such lovely and detailed blog and exactly what we are looking into.We are a family of 3 and would like to do Cinque Terre from Geneva (We live in Geneva). Only thing is we would like to combine Pisa along with this trip ? So what and how to do ?Your suggestion Please ? Can we do Lucca or another place as well ?We have full 4 days. We dont mind driving getting up early to avoid traffic.

  4. I heard the tolls are really expensive driving from Geneva to Cinque Terre, any idea how much are we talking about?
    Thanks for all the info provided in your blog.