Cinque Terre is a beautiful stretch of coastline in north west Italy comprising the five small coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Each village has its own special character, from the extensive sandy beach resort of Monterosso al Mare, to the pretty harbour village of Vernazza, from the quiet rocky cliff-perched village of Corniglia, to Manarola with its iconic photo location looking back across the bay and finally Riomaggiore with its pretty harbour and pebble beach.
All five villages lie within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ‘Cinque Terre National Park’. From top to bottom takes just 14 minutes by local train, cutting through tunnnels within the mountainside. Alternatively there are numerous boat trips between them, but sadly no longer a complete stretch of the world-renowned ‘Cinque Terre walking trail’ which is now closed between Riomaggiore and Corniglia due to recent rockfalls. It’s still worth doing one of the two remaining legs though, with Montorosso to Vernazza being the toughest, but with a spectaularly rewarding view of the harbour as you descend down into Vernazza.
The whole area has become a Mecca for photographers, bloggers and THAT “picture postcard” view in Manarola? With inspiration from Polkadot Passport and Route Perfect Blog we went to seek out those coverted best photograph spots for ourselves. So where are they then?
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the most northern of the five villages but is only a short train ride away from the others. As it’s the only sandy beach resort in the area so it’s time to take some symmetrical beach parasol shots looking out to sea and leave the narrow alleyway and harbour shots to the other villages as you head south along the coast.
The toughest leg of the “half -open” walking trail is from Montorosso to Vernazza. As you begin to climb out of town you’ll have a few chances to take photos looking back towards the beach through gaps in the hedges. Just wipe the sweat from your eyes before taking aim.
The walk is amazing in its own right. However a key shot is towards the end of the walking leg from Monterosso al Mare after about 1.5h as you descend down into Vernazza. There are a few designated viewing platforms (normally with a short queue) but we found this section below the telegraph wires with the top of the castle below the horizon to be the best spot.
You can’t miss the village’s Castello di Vernazza castle and you can climb up it too for a small fee. Perfect for some panoramic shots! This one was taken on my iPhone.
… and afterwards you can stroll down and along the harbour wall looking back towards town with its lovely array of boats in the foreground.
We didn’t walk the extra 1.5h from Vernazza to Corniglia so this photo comes from Route Perfect Blog instead. We took the short 5 minute train ride from Vernazza and in doing so so missed this lovely shot of the hillside as walkers approach it.
Once in Corniglia there are some nice pictures of the shop frontages, displaying among things lots of yellow lemon bath soaps! Wiggle through the streets and you come to a school playground and then up some steps you sit atop the cliff edge looking straight down to the sea or across to Manarola in the distance.
Manarola contains THE shot that has made the region famous and was ultimately the reason that we headed to Cinque Terre in the first place. Our minds were made up when my friend Rob blogged at hornblowertravels that it was his favourite place in the whole wide world! A bold statement so we had to find out for ourselves.
Opposite the main bank of pastel-coloured buildings is a walkway (1) that takes you around the headland which sits just below the Nessun Dorma bar. A great place to try a strawberry smoothie as you cool down thanks to the fence-mounted mist sprays. There’s no bad spot here but we found a quieter uninterrupted view through a pink arch (2) that leads up to the cemetery. Here you can take photos from the top of the flight of steps (5) looking down on a friend on the brick wall (above), take photos from the brick wall itself (3), or get “arty” by leaning right back against the wall to take some shots through the curved brickwork (4) with a slightly wider angle lens. Of course be respectful when there.
In fact the view of the buildings in Manarola changed throughout the course of the day. These photos below were all taken below the Nessun Dorma bar on the main walkway (1) that goes around the headland. Some people took their photos on the tip of the headland but we moved a but further down the slope so we could get closer to the sea wall.
Polkadotpassport took some great looking photos by venturing down onto the rocks. Be careful though!
The view of the bay gets the most attention of course but just around the headland is a barrier where you can look out to see and also watch the sunset if you’re not too preoccupied with all those pastel-coloured buildings!
Another harbour town but with slightly more going on compared to Manarola. Also it has the benefit of a small pebbley beach when photo time is over.
The shot I loved was from the seawall looking back towards town with a few boats bobbing around on the foreground. Take some shots later in the evening to catch some softer colours and increase the chance of there being more boats in the foreground.
Head up to the Castello di Riomaggiore to take a nice shot down onto the town, plus at the Castello’s base there’s a chilled out viewing spot with some steps, by a cross under the welcome shade of some trees.
In summary …
Cinque Terre is gorgeous and I can see why my pal Hornblowertravels has it as his favourite place in the world. We went to Cinque Terre at the very beginning of June just before peak season and certainly encountered busy train stations during the day.
However by staying in one of the villages overnight you can enjoy the early evening and sunset relatively undisturbed as all the hordes of daytrippers from Pisa and Florence have gone home by then … which is perfect for photography really as that’s when you’ll most likely be taking all of your best shots!
… and of course there are may other photo opportunities taken out on the boats as well as off of the main routes between the villages where you can take great pictures that nobody else will have! 🙂
Happy adventures and let me know if you find some even better locations?!
Check out my tips on taking better starburst and sunset photos too.