The Cinque Terre (literally translated “the five lands”) are some of the most photographed landscapes in the entire world. Located in the Liguria region, the colorful houses hug the cliff of the Tyrrhenian Sea creating a scene that almost seems imaginary. Each of the Cinque Terre is worth exploring and offers something completely unique. From the north, the towns are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. In this article, we’ll be visiting Manarola, one of the smallest of the five.
Getting to Manarola
Manarola is a town of under 500 permanent residents that you can easily visit in just a few hours and still have time for a swim. One of the most convenient and hassle-free ways of getting to Cinque Terre is by train.
If you plan to visit more than one of the villages either via train or by hiking, it is a great idea to get the Cinque Terre Train Card. This allows unlimited travel on the La Spezia- Cinque Terre- Levanto regional train line for either 1, 2, or 3 days as well as some of the hiking trails in high season (all trails are free in low season). You can purchase one online via this link.
When you get off the train, you can go to the right (where there is a clean bathroom that will cost you 1 euro to use) and up to the Via dell’Amore. Unfortunately, the famous trail that connects all five villages has been closed since 2012 due to a landslide. Sections of it have reopened over the years, and currently, the gate is open misleading tourists to believe that they can set off on the hike despite everything they’ve read online! The truth is, it is only a few hundred meters but does offer a nice view of the sea and also has some semi-shaded picnic tables.
What to See in Manarola
Most people will choose to head directly into the town center from the train station via a long, dark tunnel that is rather uninviting, but have no fear! Paradise awaits on the other side.
The wonderful thing about Manarola is that it’s literally impossible to get lost. The entire town is basically along one street which leads to the sea. Ah, the sea. An entire article could be written on the Ligurian Sea alone and its endless color palette of blues and greens.
Where to Take a Dip (or Simply Watch)
You could spend hours just watching the daredevils climb up the jagged, black rock spire and plunge into the sea below. The crowd that has gathered to watch from above exclaims in unison with an empathetic, “Awwww!” when the diver hits the water with his backside or worse, with his belly and face. Ouch.
There are no real beaches with sand in Manarola. There are two access points down to the rocky shore from town: one is located at the tiny harbor and the other is at the far end of the spectacular elevated panoramic walkway. Both are basically just concrete slabs that serve as makeshift chaise lounges. There is no place to set up an umbrella so don’t even consider hauling one along with you.
Take the panoramic walkway mentioned above from the harbor that hugs the cliff and provides absolutely breathtaking views at every turn. You can also see the next town of Corniglia and its beach as well as get a great view of the entire town of Manarola. This is a “selfie-heaven” and a photographer’s dream.
On a sunny day, the sunlight’s reflection around 11 am in mid-August makes the sea look as if it’s shimmering with millions of lights. You’ll spot snorkelers below in the crystal clear waters teeming with sea life. There are also lots of benches with shade from Mediterranean shrubs and succulents so you can really enjoy the moment.
Church of San Lorenzo
Head back into town and pick up some souvenirs at any of the quaint shops selling everything from olive oil to handmade soaps and designer sundresses. Grab some fried calamari, focaccia (which originated in Genova), or a slice of farinata (a chickpea flour delight) and head up toward the highest part of town to visit the Church of San Lorenzo. Built in 1338 in the Ligurian Gothic style, the church is currently undergoing work on its facade and is covered but the interior can still be visited.
Tips Before You Go
If you can possibly avoid the months of July and August, do so! May, June, September, and even October (although not all shops will be open) are ideal due to fewer tourists and cooler weather. Having said that, July and August are not out of the question, just be smart and plan to start your day early and avoid trying to sit down at a restaurant at 1 pm or even get a gelato for that matter.
Details on the numerous hiking trails within the Cinque Terre National Park can be found on the official website.
Manarola (and all of the Cinque Terre villages) are definitely at the top of every traveler’s bucket list of places to see at least once in a lifetime. Although, we’re sure you’ll agree that once is simply not enough.