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Cinque Terre with Kids and a Caravan
The Cinque Terre absolutely blew us away! What an incredible place to visit with the family, we stopped here o our winter tour in Europe with a little caravan. The kids loved hiking the trail, playing on the beaches and exploring the 5 villages that make up this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Self Drive Travel Advice
The first piece of advice! It might be a bit of a joke on us tourists, combined with my neglect to plan efficiently. Our navigator app and off-line maps were miss-firing (for most of the European adventure), and when the clearest road signs we could recall seeing in weeks were there, beckoning us to head for the Cinque Terre and leaving La Spezia behind, we followed…
Friends who owned a property in Corniglia, along the Cinque, had said ‘do not drive into the villages, take the train’. That piece of advice I recalled easily and expected to simply follow this well-signposted road and arrive, happily, at a train station somewhere.
Attempting to be sensible, we stopped at the clearly marked information centre along the road, only to find it closed as it was the low season still. No signs indicated to be wary of driving further or suggesting not to, and buses were going the same way as us, initially.
Scary roads, with impossibly steep sections and hairpin bends, do not faze me, though this one was a bit on the hairy scary side of life. Towing a little 2 berth caravan added to the ‘fun’!
With few turning areas anyway, we ploughed on. Revelling in the unbelievably beautiful scenery – the Mediterranean Sea was a perfect blue with sun sparkles reflecting off it, the steep, terraced hillsides were to be seen to be believed. To say it was breathtaking, does not do it justice.
Then we arrived in Vernazza, to the surprise of the parking attendant. He was aghast and flapping his arms to say we could not drive further as the road narrowed further on (crikey, could it really narrow anymore than it had been?) and was only suitable for the itty bitty cars of the world. Not medium-sized vehicles with itty bitty caravans.
We returned the way we had come and travelled via the highway north to Levanto. On the way out we passed a large motorhome being driven down into Vernazza! The driver did not seem to understand our hand gestures warning him to turn and not go further… we heard the scrape of the tail end of the motorhome on the road as he negotiated the tight bend, continuing down the hill…
A simple (big) sign near the closed information centre, with a graphic to suggest no cars past this point unless they were tiny, would have been handy. Having said that though, we would have missed some scenery that, I for one, was so thrilled to see! One day, I plan to drive it again, out of season, without towing a van.
The Villages of the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is made up of five beautiful little fishing villages, clinging to the rugged coast of Liguria on the Italian Riviera. Declared a World Heritage site since 1997, the villages date from early medieval times. The oldest, Monterosso, was founded in AD 643. The other villages are Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola.
Steeply terraced cliffs contain vineyards and olive groves, etched into the landscape over nearly two millennia.
The Cinque Terre means “five lands” which are the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
Corniglia is the only village of the five that is not by the sea, it sits about 1000 feet above the coastline. The villages were only accessible by boat or walking until the 1960’s. They ooze charm and history at every turn.
A stunning walking trail runs between the villages, this can be done as a whole or in sections. Walks of Italy is a good starting point for further details of the walk. The paths are open all year round, but very often it seems, some sections may be closed due to landslides or events. We were told the day we planned to walk, that there was a running race on and the trail between Corniglia and Vernazza was closed. Luckily, by the time we headed off from Corniglia, the race was over and we enjoyed the trail to ourselves. The only other people we saw were two local girls. Bliss. The Cinque Terre trail is known to be insanely busy in the peak season, we were there in March – superb weather and crowd-free.
Accessing the Cinque Terre
As mentioned above, I personally loved the experience we had driving part of the road along the Cinque Terre. Realistically though, it can be a dangerous road with some sections only wide enough for one car to pass at a time. It is steep, with very sharp bends. Parking in La Spezia at the new car park by the train station or in Levanto to the north of the Cinque Terre and then catching the train is the best option. Parking in any of the little villages is very limited, expensive and not advised.
Train Travel – Cinque Terre
The train between Levanto and La Spezia takes about an hour or so, stopping at the five villages along the way. Passing through tunnels and clinging to the coastline, it is a great rail journey. It is easy to stop and start at each village, check the timetables carefully for connections.
The train journey between the five villages takes only a few minutes:
- La Spezia – Riomaggiore 9 minutes
- Riomaggiore – Manarola 2 minutes
- Manarola – Corniglia 4 minutes
- Corniglia – Vernazza 4 minutes
- Vernazza – Monterosso 5 minutes
- Monterosso – Levanto 5 minutes
Boat Travel in the Cinque Terre
Perhaps a great way to experience travel in the Cinque Terre would be a combination of train and boat. Seeing the coast from the Mediterranean would be superb!
Accommodation in the Cinque Terre
Rooms and whole homes can be rented in all the villages of the Cinque Terre. Each of the five villages has a unique character and it would be hard to say one is better than the other – they are all simply stunning.
Airbnb – Use this link to earn an Airbnb travel credit on your first booking. Search Airbnb for dozens of fantastic properties to rent along the Cinque Terre.
Camping and Caravanning – We had a little caravan, so stayed at the Camping Aqua Dolce site in Levanto. Close to the village, train station, shops and beach.