Phew! It’s getting hot around here. Luckily, the Cinque Terre villages sit right on the Ligurian Sea (which, in case you didn’t already know, is a part of the Mediterranean) so it’s easy to take a dip and cool off. Are you wondering where you should go to sunbathe and swim? Here’s a side-by-side comparison with photos to help you decide which village’s water access best suits your fancy.
Riomaggiore (village #1)
Riomaggiore has a rocky, craggy beach called La Fossola located just around the point from its picturesque marina. I’ve decided that there’s truly no graceful way to get in and out of the water here (if you’re not particularly surefooted, this is probably a no-go for you). However, for those that are willing to overlook this slight drawback you’ll be rewarded with pristine water and breathtaking views of the rugged landscape.
Manarola (village #2)
Manarola doesn’t actually have a beach per se. Instead, you’ll find people basking in the sun on towels strewn all over the cement ramp that leads to the sea. While this might not be as picturesque (or natural) as some of the other beaches, it can actually be more comfortable than lounging on the rocks. As you gaze up at the beautiful views of the village you just might have to pinch yourself as a reminder that yes, you really are in paradise!
Corniglia (village #3)
Corniglia is the village smack dab in the middle of the Cinque Terre and the only one of the five located off of the sea. Despite this, it still has water access if you’re willing to hoof it. From the main street in the village you’ll see signs indicating Corniglia’s marina. Follow the stairs down the hillside (which is the opposite side of the mountain that you walked up from the train station) and you’ll reach a secluded little rocky cove with crystalline water. Because it’s harder to get to and most visitors write it off, you’ll find a fraction of the number of people here.
Back in the day, Corniglia was famous for a different kind of beach… a nude beach called Guvano. Today that rocky beach is only accessible by boat but nudists still seem to find their way there.
Beneath the train station in Corniglia there are also places that people like to swim off of the rocks. However, this area has been neglected and the metal staircase that once made the area easily accessible is no more. For that reason, I wouldn’t even consider it an option at the moment.
Vernazza (village #4)
Vernazza has long been considered the pearl of the Cinque Terre; with its photogenic piazza right on the seafront flanked on opposite sides by its church and castle it’s easy to see why. While beauty might be Vernazza’s forte, beaches are most definitely not. Vernazza has a tiny strip of sandy beach right on the edge of the piazza but if you set out your towel here prepare to be observed by lots and lots of people.
If rugged and more private is your style, head to Vernazza’s new beach (accessed by walking through a gap in the rock cliff, signs will warn you that passage is at your own risk). The existence of this beach is thanks to the devastating 2011 flood and mudslides that claimed the lives of three locals. While this beach photographs beautifully, keep in mind that it was created with dirt and debris from the flood (so don’t expect pristine).
Monterosso (village #5)
Monterosso, the largest village of the Cinque Terre, offers the poshest options for beach goers. What Monterosso might lack in terms of quaint charm it makes up for in spades with its beaches and riviera-esque vibe. If your idea of a perfect day at the beach includes sand or pebbles, a sun lounger, umbrella, lifeguard, shower, changing room and bar nearby, then this is the place for you!
The village of Monterosso has two sides, the newer Fegina (which is where the train station and the best beaches can be found) and Monterosso Vecchio (which is the historical side of the village with a smaller strip of beach). The two sides are connected by a tunnel so it’s easy to go back and forth.
I’d say 90% of Monterosso’s beaches are private so you’ll need to pay for a beach chair and umbrella to enter (rates vary but expect to pay around €20 to use an umbrella and two chairs for the entire day). The remaining 10% of beach is public (free of charge) but oftentimes super crowded.
Things to keep in mind:
- Swimming is not permitted in the marina of Riomaggiore (this is for your own safety as boats are constantly coming in and out).
- Stay clear of the ferry docking points in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza & Monterosso (once again, this is for your own safety).
- Monterosso is the only village to offer stabilimenti balneari (private, fully equipped beaches where payment is required) and lifeguards.
- You can purchase beach towels just about anywhere for right around €10. If you are staying in the Cinque Terre or nearby, it wouldn’t hurt to ask your host if they have any beach towels available for you to borrow (don’t take your bath towels as they stain).
- Don’t ask me why, but sunscreen is incredibly expensive in Italy. Bring yours from home!
- Wanting to get off the beaten path and hit up places only accessible by water? Hire your own boat! In Riomaggiore I recommend Cinque Terre dal Mare for boat rentals (they also rent out a larger boat with a skipper provided, which is ideal for those wanting zero stress).
- Depending on the currents, sometimes jellyfish are brought into our coastal waters. While the jellyfish stings are painful, they are not life-threatening like they can be in other parts of the world. If it’s a hot day and you notice that nobody is in the water I would consider that a red flag. Point to the sea and ask a local a one-word question: “Medusa?” If they nod you’ll know it’s best to steer clear of the water on that particular day.
- Don’t forget that our sea is usually very flat with little to no waves (almost like a lake!). If you see large, crashing waves this is a sign of rough and dangerous seas and you should keep your distance from the water’s edge.
While you’re at it, check out my previous post with tips on how to survive a hot Italian summer.
a.k.a. Cinque Terre Insider