The UNESCO World heritage site most people know simply as Cinque Terre is much more than just five villages on the Ligurian coast. There is also Portovenere, where I stayed for four nights, and Isola Palmaria, both at the mouth of the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of the Poets), between La Spezia and the southernmost Cinque Terre village, Riomaggiore.
Navigating the area by car can be cumbersome as roads are narrow and parking rare. Therefore I have compiled some information on how to explore Cinque Terre & Co. by other means of transport.
To me, a visit to Cinque Terre wouldn’t be complete without approaching the villages by boat. It is the only way in which to appreciate what feat it was to build those villages into the cliffs between the sea and the land. Also, the boat is the fastest way to get from Portovenere to the villages.
I opted for the day ticket, at €27 in August admittedly not really cheap. However, you get to hop on and off the boats as often as you want to between Lerici, La Spezia, Portovenere, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. In the summer there are about twenty boats between 8:30 in the morning and seven in the evening, though not always calling at all the ports on the list.
To visit Isola Palmaria, though only less than 50 meters offshore, you need to take a shuttle from either Portovenere (takes 5 minutes) or La Spezia (about 15 minutes). The day trip from Portovenere is €4.
I found that tickets at Consorzio Marittimo Turistico Cinque Terre – Golfo dei Poeti (the striped little hut in Portovenere port) are cheaper.
If you are traveling in a larger group or want to move more freely you can look into hiring a boat for the day. I saw prices around €200 plus gasoline.
Trying to hitch a ride on a fishing boat looked like a great, cheap plan as well. However, many fishermen rent out their boats for day trips. So they are unlikely to take you along for free.
The route Genova – Pisa has stops in Levanto, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and La Spezia. There are also (less frequent) trains connecting you to other Tuscany destinations and even to/from Rome. It’s worth checking out the Trenitalia website (also available in English) for details. Long distance trains tend to be cheaper when booked two or more weeks in advance while regional trains are always the same price.
The ATC bus company runs buses in some of the villages, between the villages, and also in the hinterland, for example, to connect from Portovenere to the train network. Buses within Cinque Terre National Park are included in the Cinque Terre card (see below for more details).
I majorly underestimated the hiking trails in the area, thinking this was tourist country. But as I found out: for any kind of hiking you want to do in Cinque Terre National Park, around Portovenere or on Palmaria you should make sure you come well equipped! I was prepared for some easy walking, given that every year thousands of tourists walk there. I was underprepared for the steep climbs and the at times washed out, narrow paths along slopes — beautiful, but a few times almost too dangerous for my flip-flops and canvas sneakers.
Hiking between Cinque Terre villages, either along the coastline or through the forests, takes you through the Cinque Terre National Park and costs €7.50/day (family, children, senior, group, 2-day tickets also available).
Also for an additional €5: unlimited rides on regional trains between Levanto and La Spezia during the day.
Some routes are closed long-term due to reconstruction (at the time of writing: along the coast from Corniglia to Riomaggiore, including the famous “Via dell’Amore” (Way of Love)). So make sure you enquire at the local tourist offices before heading out.
The Cinque Terre NP website also provides info and updates: http://www.parconazionale5terre.it/Esentieri-outdoor.php.
Hiking on Palmaria is free. There is a quite demanding round course (ca. 3h) along the coast/cliffs and some shorter routes further inland. There are two main beaches near where the boats land. The boats from Portovenere tend to drop you near Punta Secco/Terrizzo, while the La Spezia boats usually go to Pozzale.