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Corniglia: The quiet heart of the Cinque Terre, Italy

Corniglia: The heart of the Cinque Terre

The 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 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 perfect harbour, but it has its own understated beauty – which is why I chose it as the base for my Cinque Terre trip.

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

Looking down on Corniglia

Corniglia from above

There’s no such thing as a quiet Cinque Terre village, but Corniglia is as close as you can get. Set in the middle of the five villages, it 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 get there 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 from the train station (it’s either that or brave the shuttle bus queue – an even scarier prospect).

Corniglia backstreets, Cinque Terre

Corniglia village

For visitors who’re just here for a day or two and pushed for time, the extra effort involved means Corniglia’s first to be knocked off the list. But if you do make the effort, your prize is a quieter, less commercialised Cinque Terre village, with little bars and restaurants tucked in cobbled streets and a knockout coastal view. That’s not to say there isn’t a constant flow of people passing through during the day. But come late afternoon everything slows down and Corniglia retreats back to its naturally sleepy state. It’s not even true that you can’t get to the sea either – there’s a tiny cove below the village where you can swim off the rocks. Though being the Cinque Terre there is of course a huge flight of stairs to tackle to get down there.

Corniglia apartment

My favourite spot – our roof terrace

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. 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 along the coast path – which involved climbing a lot more hills than you’d expect from the name. For most of the way it runs across the steep hills overlooking 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.

Cinque Terre walks from Corniglia

On the walking path to Vernazza

In the other direction, there was a flat, easy coast path along the sea edge to Manarola and Riomaggiore. But it was damaged by landslides in 2011 and isn’t planned to reopen until 2018 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, starting with a steady 45-minute climb until Corniglia looked like a tiny model-sized village way below. 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.

Corniglia and the Cinque Terre

Looking down on Corniglia from the vineyard path

The Cinque Terre’s train network makes it so easy to get around that in a way 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 our own village 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 and could almost feel 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

Where to stay in Corniglia

Corniglia doesn’t have any hotels, but there are a few small guesthouses and apartment rentals. 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 was BILO3 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 (you can save £25 on your first AirBnB booking with this link). There was a little kitchen so we could cook dinner a couple of evenings, and it had its own balcony as well as the shared one on the top floor. Owner Lidia knows absolutely everything there is to know about the Cinque Terre and gave us piles of maps, train and boat timetables.

Corniglia, 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 some fresh produce as well as bread, pasta and wine. Each 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’s so small). If you’re stopping in Corniglia for lunch, Pan e Vin and KM0 both 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 and local seafood. Or right at the top of the stairs from the station, La Posada has a big terrace with a panoramic view down the coast to Manarola.

For drinks, 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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Visiting Corniglia in Italy's Cinque Terre, the most central of the five villages and the quietest and least commercialised with plenty of understated charm #Italy #CinqueTerre #Corniglia

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  • Reply
    July 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

    That sunset is blissful, Lucy! I wondered about the impact of the landslides because they were huge. Is there much evidence of reconstruction? Oh, but I’d love to be there! 🙂 🙂

    • Reply
      July 30, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks Jo, it was so lovely up there, we did sunset there every night! There still seems to be a lot of damage from the landslips – and not a huge amount of work going on while we were there – so I’d be surprised if it’s ready to reopen even next year.

  • Reply
    July 28, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Your description of Corniglia actually really intrigues me, and should I come to Cinque Terre one day, I think I’ll also choose the village as my base for all the reasons you mentioned. I need to work out a little bit though, so walking to the other villages won’t be too strenuous. Looks like you had a great time there as well as great weather!

    • Reply
      July 30, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks, it’s a great spot for a trip to the Cinque Terre. I’m not hugely fit and my parents came along and didn’t have too much trouble with the walks – though it did get very hot so we tried to start early, or if you were there later or earlier in the season it might be easier.

  • Reply
    Laura Torninoja (@lauraemilia)
    July 31, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    What a gorgeous little spot! Visiting Cinque Terre is very high up on my list of places I want to go to, and this post made me want to go there even more! I love the views from high up and all those colourful houses… So cute! x

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    • Reply
      August 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

      The Cinque Terre really is as pretty as all the pictures – so glad I finally made it! x

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    July 31, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Corniglia looks utterly perfect!

    • Reply
      August 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

      It was just lovely!

  • Reply
    Margie Miklas
    August 1, 2017 at 12:09 am

    Great post. Love the aerial view of Corniglia!!!

    • Reply
      August 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Thanks, it was worth the huge climb to get that view!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    August 1, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    I know an area up the coast around Ventimiglia really well and so I thought I had a good handle on where to go around it, but I have not been to Corniglia and your pictures are so idyllic I’d like to go next time.

    • Reply
      August 2, 2017 at 9:35 am

      Ventimiglia was our last stop before we got to the Cinque Terre (which I will write about eventually too!). Such a lovely stretch of coastline along there.

  • Reply
    August 4, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Hidden gems are always the best, and you don’t have to look far from the tourist traps! This is a bit like St Paul de Vence which is overrun with the sleepy Peillion and Peille just a short drive away and unknown to tourists!

    • Reply
      August 4, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Funny how a couple of places so close together can be so different! The villages all had their charms but I was definitely glad to escape to our peaceful corner in the evenings.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    August 6, 2017 at 9:15 am

    It is years since I visited Cinque Terre. Long before I started blogging and I’ve longed to go back there ever since. It is one of the most charming corners of Italy so it’s no surprise it is now so busy. I stayed in Portovenere, the next town along from Cinque Terre and we caught a boat to visit all the villages. Corniglia, though, does sound like an excellent place to base yourself despite the stairs.

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Sounds like you’re due a return trip then! We went to Portovenere for the the day while we were there and it’s a lovely spot too – such a pretty coastline in this part of Italy.

  • Reply
    Sara @ Travel Continuum
    August 6, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 10:14 am

      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!

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    August 7, 2017 at 6:29 pm

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

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 7:23 pm

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

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    August 10, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      August 10, 2017 at 8:36 pm

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

  • Reply
    August 11, 2017 at 10:32 am

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

    • Reply
      August 14, 2017 at 11:02 pm

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

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