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Visiting Corniglia: The quiet heart of the Cinque Terre, Italy

 Visiting Corniglia: The quiet heart of the Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy’s Cinque Terre is a bit like a beauty pageant, with one village after another competing to have the most charming backstreets, the cutest pastel buildings and the most Instagrammable views. Just when you think you’ve found the most beautiful spot, another one comes along and blows you away again. But like real-life beauty queens, each of the five villages has its own different charms. Some are showy and others are a bit more subtle – like Corniglia. It might not have Monterosso’s beach or Riomaggiore’s colourful harbour, but it has its own understated beauty – which is why I chose it as the base for my trip to the Cinque Terre.

Read more: The first-timer’s guide to visiting the Cinque Terre

A guide to visiting Corniglia, Cinque Terre

Looking down on Corniglia from above

Corniglia from above

There’s no such thing as a quiet Cinque Terre village, but Corniglia is as close as you get. It’s set in the middle of the five villages, and has managed to keep a more laid-back, local feel than the others by being the hardest to get to. The other villages have harbours and a boat service shuttling visitors from one to the next, but Corniglia is perched up on high with no sea access.

So the only way you can reach Corniglia is by train or on foot. And even if you do catch the train, you’ve still got to climb a flight of 380 stairs to reach the village centre from the train station (it’s either that or brave the shuttle bus queue – which is an even scarier prospect).

Quiet backstreets in the Cinque Terre

Corniglia village

For visitors who are just here for a day or two and are pushed for time, the extra effort involved means Corniglia is the first to be knocked off the to-visit list. But if you do make the effort in visiting Corniglia, your prize is a quieter, less commercialised Cinque Terre village, with little bars and restaurants tucked into cobbled streets and a knockout coastal view. That’s not to say there isn’t a constant flow of people passing through during the daytime. But come late afternoon everything slows down and Corniglia retreats back to its naturally sleepy state.

Wine at sunset on the roof of our Cinque Terre apartment

My favourite spot – our roof terrace

It’s not even true that you can’t get to the sea in Corniglia either – there’s a tiny cove below the village where you can swim off the rocks. Though this being the Cinque Terre, there is of course a huge flight of stairs to tackle to get down there. Being right at the heart of the Cinque Terre meant we were in the perfect position for walking, with two villages in each direction – Vernazza and Monterosso to the north, and Manarola and Riomaggiore to the south.

On the walking path to Vernazza in the Cinque Terre

On the walking path to Vernazza

Walks from Corniglia

Theoretically you could walk the whole of the Cinque Terre in one day if you started early enough. But we took it easy, spreading it out over two days and soaking up the views (and a few Aperol Spritzes) along the way. First up was the walk north of Corniglia along the coast path – you need to buy a permit for this section which costs €7.50 for one day (€16 with train travel).

The first-timers guide to visiting the Cinque Terre – Cinque Terre Card

Leaving Corniglia on the coast path

Walking the coast path involves climbing more hills than you’d expect from its name. But starting in Corniglia means you’re already well above sea level so there’s less of a climb to do, and if you start early in the morning the paths are fairly quiet. For most of the way the path runs across the side of the steep hills which overlook the coast, teasing you with just one more corner to go around until you get your first view down to Vernazza. Then from there it’s another couple of hours on to Monterosso where we cooled off our feet with a dip in the sea.

Looking down on Corniglia from the vineyard path in the Cinque Terre

Looking down on Corniglia from the vineyard path

In the other direction, there was a flat, easy coast path that ran along the water’s edge to Manarola and Riomaggiore, including the famous Via dell’ Amore. But it was damaged by landslides in 2011 and isn’t planned to reopen until 2021 at the earliest. So instead of a 45-minute stroll you have to work a lot harder and take the high path up through the hills.

It took us almost three hours to make it to Manarola from Corniglia, starting with a steady 45-minute uphill climb until Corniglia looked like a tiny model-sized village way below us. The path runs high up through the Cinque Terre vineyards then way back down to sea level again, before climbing back up to the hills for another two hours to Riomaggiore.

The Cinque Terre's coastal train line

The Cinque Terre’s coastal train line

The Cinque Terre’s train network makes it so easy to get around that it doesn’t matter too much where you’re staying as you can easily get from one village to another. But there was something really nice after a day of battling through crowds of people to come back to Corniglia where we had space to relax. Our apartment came with a roof terrace where we’d sit and watch the sunset over the coast each night. Sitting out there in the evening with a glass of prosecco we almost felt like we had the Cinque Terre to ourselves – even if it was just for a few hours.

Cinque Terre sunset in Corniglia

Sunset over the Cinque Terre

The details

Where to stay in Corniglia

There aren’t any hotels in Corniglia, but there are a few small guesthouses and apartment rentals in the village. We stayed in an apartment from Il Caruigio di Corniglia, who have a few different places in the same building plus a couple more around Corniglia. Our apartment (BILO3) was on the second floor, with one bedroom plus a sofa bed in the lounge.

It cost £149 per night for four people, booked through AirBnB (save £25 on your first AirBnB booking with this link). We had a little kitchen so we could cook dinner a couple of evenings, with our own balcony as well as the shared one on the top floor. Owner Lidia knows everything there is to know about the Cinque Terre and gave us piles of maps, train and boat timetables.

Corniglia in the Cinque Terre, Italy

Our apartment’s the yellow one on the far left

Where to eat and drink in Corniglia

There are three little grocery stores in Corniglia, selling a limited range of fresh produce as well as bread, pasta and wine. Each of them was a better for some things than others, so we usually ended up popping into them all (not too much of a problem as Corniglia is so small). If you’re stopping off in Corniglia for lunch, Pan e Vin and KM0 both do good foccacias and pastries – KM0 also does gluten-free paninis and stocks some gluten-free products.

For a little village, Corniglia has plenty of places to eat. A few of our favourites were Food and Sea in the main square for pasta, pizza and fish. In the village, the tiny Cantina De Mananan only seats about 20 people so it’s a good idea to book in advance for traditional dishes. Or at the top of the stairs from the station, La Posada has a big terrace with a panoramic view to Manarola.

Aperol Spritz in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cooling off with a Spritz or two

There are a good selection of places for drinks too. Bar Terza Terra has another stunning view with a just a few tables overlooking the sea – walk right through the village until you reach the viewpoint. Or Enotica Winebar has a lovely little garden with colourful lanterns and flowers, and does a mean White Spritz – a twist on an Aperol Spritz using limoncello instead of Aperol. And don’t miss a gelato from Alberto Gelateria, where we worked our way through a couple of flavours each night. They also do a refreshing icy granita made with local lemons.

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A guide to visiting Corniglia, Cinque Terre – where to stay, eat and what to do in the most central of the five villages and the quietest and least commercialised with plenty of understated charm #Italy #CinqueTerre #CornigliaVisiting Corniglia, Cinque Terre – where to stay, eat and what to do in the quietest and least commercialised village at the heart of the Cinque Terre. #Italy #CinqueTerre #Corniglia

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Tuesday 4th of January 2022

I feel like this is the forgotten village. And it is exactly the reason we are choosing to stay here. I cant wait to experience the quieter side of Cinque Terre. Thank you for the food/drink recommendations. Looking forward to trying a few of those spots.


Friday 11th of August 2017

I haven't been to Cinque Terre in years, but it's still as beautiful as ever! Great stuff!


Monday 14th of August 2017

It's such a stunner – postcard views everywhere you look!

alison abbott

Thursday 10th of August 2017

I am one to search out the hard to get to spots. And you're absolutely right, it does keep them a little more special,so I think Corniglia is a perfect choice. How wonderful to be able to walk by connected paths. Haven't had the pleasure of Cinque Terre yet, but certainly hope to soon.


Thursday 10th of August 2017

It really is one of those places that's worth the hype – the walks and views were fantastic!

Heather Cowper

Monday 7th of August 2017

It sounds idyllic, and I like the idea of staying in one of the less tourist packed villages - must walk that path some time


Monday 7th of August 2017

Such good walking, and some lesser-known trails up in the hills too which don't get anywhere near as many visitors.

Sara @ Travel Continuum

Sunday 6th of August 2017

I think I'd opt for Corniglia as a base too - it seems the most logical choice! What does intrigue me is why the path to Manarola has been in disuse for so long - I'm sure tourism must be a key source of income for the area so I'd have thought mending it would have been a priority.


Monday 7th of August 2017

I did wonder that too – there didn't seem to be a lot of work going on while we were there and there's still a lot of damage. Though I guess it's not put people off visiting so they don't need to rush too much!