In June, J and I went on an 11-day trip to Italy with our kids, 72 hours of which was spent in Cinque Terre. Pastel-colored houses, lemon trees, linens hanging on a clothing line, a train running across a beach landscape – it’s hard to imagine anything more picturesque. Add in long drawn out dinners at an Italian restaurant with no where to be and the result is one of the most memorable trips of our lives.
Our Italy vacation came about after prolonged anticipation. My cousin was getting married in Tuscany so we planned everything around the wedding. I give J all the credit for suggesting we add Cinque Terre to our itinerary because the memories still happily linger for the both of us. I love my life but traveling is the closest I get to feeling carefree like a child again. You wake up not knowing how the day will start or where it will end. The only thing you know for certain is that it’s going to be an adventure. Below is our experience traveling in Cinque Terre. Curl up on the couch, grab some wine, and dig in.
Cinque Terre is made up of five fishing villages on the Italian Riviera, each one stunning in its own right. The villages are Montorosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All five towns are connected by a train that runs through costal tunnels. We rented an AirBnb in Montorosso Al Mare because of the long stretch of sandy beach area. There are other towns you can stay in with smaller beach areas but if you want the traditional umbrella and lounge chair experience, I recommend Montorosso Al Mare. Monterosso consists of two parts, the new part of town also known as Fegina and the old town consisting of narrow streets and pastel colored houses. The beach runs along the coastline and consists of private and public areas. The food, the people and the overall energy in the streets is palpable and full of life.
The AirBnB we rented was in the old town (historic district) and although we loved the area, we failed to notice that the apartment did not have air conditioning. This was in late June/early July so it was HOT. We kept the windows open and barely slept during this portion of the trip but honestly, we didn’t mind too much. I know when I travel that things won’t ever be perfect and that’s all part of the charm! Did I mention it was a three floor walk up and we had four suitcases? J carried our suitcases up while I made sure our children didn’t accidentally walk away with a souvenir from the nearby gift shop. 🙂
I found Cinque Terre to be less touristy than other places we went to in Italy like Florence and Venice. It has become more popular now but still has a more laid back approach. We loved exploring with our kids (age 6 and 5 at the time), navigating train schedules and figuring it all out together. The feeling of ending the day with the sound of waves crashing as our kids played in the sand together and J and I shared a bottle of rose was delightful in every way.
Whichever village you end up staying in, I recommend taking the ferry so you can see all the villages from the water and enjoy the scenic route. You will get some amazing photos of the colorful buildings and stunning vineyards. Once you get to the last village, Riomaggiore, you can take the train back for a quicker return. There are also hiking trails that connect the towns that we didn’t have a chance to explore but sound wonderful.
How to get there:
We rented a car and drove but keep in mind that cars are not allowed within the town so you’ll need to go to a parking lot first and walk to your destination. The day we arrived, we parked on the outskirts of town and walked with our luggage to the other side of the town drenched in sweat. This was obviously not the fun part of the trip but completely worth it once we arrived and settled in.
Where to go:
There’s no one more present and engaged in the moment than children. And that’s why when J and I found ourselves on a beach in Monterosso Al Mare sharing a bottle of white wine as our kids worked together to build a sand volcano, I felt more in the moment and present than I have in a long time. Eating in Cinque Terre is a long drawn out experience and I loved it. Nothing makes me happier than simply sitting and chatting with my family while waiting for pasta and pizza to arrive. 🙂
Mondorosso Playground – Every night after dinner, we went to this playground near the entrance of the historic district and played tag, weaving in and out of the play structures with only the glow of the moonlight guiding us. I can’t tell you how often I think about this moment and how much it makes me want to book another family trip.
Bagni Eden Beach Club – Bring water shoes and more importantly, order a bottle of wine and have a moment with your significant other as your kid play together in the sand. You’ll need to reserve ahead of time to get a chair or come as early as possible in the day.
Where to eat
Start by walking around aimlessly with nowhere to be and thinking of plans along the way depending on what inspires you in the moment. Those are always the best days. When you get hungry, here are the restaurants we loved and would absolutely recommend.
La Regina di Manarola – Do not miss this restaurant if you’re in Cinque Terre. Because we stayed in Montorosso al Mare, we took the train to Manarola to have dinner here and it was a great opportunity to explore another town in Cinque Terre. The restaurant is a whole vibe and the food is even better. We had a sunset dinner with a stunning view overlooking the terraced pastel buildings. The staff was incredibly friendly, always taking the time to have a conversation and interact with our family.
Restaurante Belvédère – This restaurant was recommended by our AirBnB owner and it did not disappoint. The seafood was fresh and prices were extremely reasonable. We ate here on our first night and absolutely loved it. Cinque Terre is known for its pesto sauce (pesto sauce was created here) and this is a great place to get pesto pasta. We split the seafood spaghetti and pesto pasta and it was perfection. We also ordered the sardines, which I don’t typically like but we enjoyed them so much we ordered another round.
Ciak – Pronounced like “chuck.” We came here for lunch and had some amazing pesto pasta (again) and a really tasty citrus ceviche. Lively conversation, sitting under a canopy, savoring each bite and enjoying the bustling energy – it had all the charming details of a classic Italian restaurant.
Buranco Farmhouse – This was a really special night. We climbed many many steps to get to Buranco, a family-owned farm to table restaurant, and it was completely worth it. Buranco does a beautiful wine tasting with a stunning landscape and delicious food. We had dinner here during sunset overlooking the vineyard cliffs and it was exactly how it sounds – delightful.
The thing I loved most about Cinque Terre was the slowness. It felt more ‘off the beaten path’ than other areas in Italy. A to-do list here felt unimaginable, however tempted I was to bring my planner. So much of my identity is how productive I am or what I can do to make myself more productive and accomplish more. During and after vacation, I always feel like the best version of myself – carefree, easygoing, happy. The me that can walk aimlessly for hours, with no plans in sight.
I brought my journal and carried it with my from town to town, eager to write it all down and capture the moment for future indulgence. Now that we’re back home, the bags are put away and the jet lag is gone. The fall jackets are out of storage and we’re buying coffee at Costco by the pound. Still, I carry this trip with me and try to incorporate parts of it in my everyday life and to me, that will always be the beauty of traveling. I’ll just be here daydreaming about the next holiday getaway.