Looking for a Cinque Terre alternative? Here are five Italian Riviera destinations that get you away from the tourist crowds.
I fondly remember my first trip to the Cinque Terre in 2010. I was solo traveling through Italy. As you might expect, wine was my focus, but the Colorado girl in me just had to hike the magical five fishing villages I’d heard so much about.
Today, I steer clear of the Cinque Terre, not because the aesthetics bore me, but because I find the crush of tourists claustrophobic. It’s hurting the natural beauty and the way of life. Preservation efforts are being explored in the form of visitor limitations. But, I think another simple way to offset the pressure is talking about the other incredible places along the Ligurian Sea. And, that’s just what I plan to do with this starter list of Cinque Terre alternative destinations.
Reflections of the Cinque Terre
Don’t misunderstand, I loved every minute of my solo trip to the Cinque Terre. I spent four nights in the northernmost village of Monterosso al Mare. I hiked two full days, making friends with fellow tourists, and soaking in the raw beauty. By the final day, I realized that nearly every person I met was from the U.S. It seemed a bit strange to me that I’d spent so much time with people from where I’d come, but I enjoyed my time so much that I didn’t overthink it.
When I moved to Italy and started planning my next trip the Italian Riviera I realized I needed a Cinque Terre alternative. I knew the crowds had only increased since that first visit and I was looking to branch out to explore lesser known parts of Italy. So, I booked a holiday rental in Rapallo.
My younger brother – and travel companion for that weekend – recommended we start our hiking excursion in Levanto, just north of Monterosso. Fratello Kevino had been living in Italy for two years at that point. He lived on a military base and wanted to meet new people from new places. He knew that would not happen if we were only hiking the Cinque Terre.
About The Italian Riviera: Italy’s Liguria region sits between the south of France and Tuscany. Liguria is a crescent-shaped strip of the Mediterranean coastline centered by port city of Genoa. Running to the east is the Riviera di Levante, the coast of the rising sun, defined by rugged cliffs, turquoise coves and pastel seaside towns featuring the popular Cinque Terre fishing villages, Portofino, and Santa Margherita Ligure. Further west is the Riviera di Ponente, the coast of the setting sun, which moves up from Genoa to the border of France.
Day trip it to Portofino
The Cinque Terre isn’t the only Italian Riviera destination that is popular with the tourist masses. Portofino is a heavenly escape and a day tripper must. Just be prepared for hefty prices – 4.50 euros for bottled water, 8 euros for a panino. Luckily, it’s in a cove, so while it gets a lot of daily visitors it isn’t as intense as the Cinque Terre.
Efforts to Preserve the Cinque Terre
Today, the Cinque Terre sees close to 2.5 million visitors a year. That’s 2.5 million people in these five small, teeny fishing villages with a population estimated at 2000. The tourist number is just a bit less than the population of my beloved former home of Denver, Colo. Granted, that’s not all at once, but tourism is not year round, so it makes for close quarters in this natural treasure no matter how you spread it out.
Visible wear and tear to the cliffs and beaches tell us that the tourist traffic is taking its toll. Back in 2010, I struggled with the litter on the trails; coming from Colorado where we adhere to a strict hike-in-hike-out policy, I couldn’t believe the waste just left on the breathtaking route.In an effort to preserve the Cinque Terre it was announced earlier this year that Italian officials are restricting visitors in hopes of shaving the tourist numbers to 1.5 million. Plans are still in process, but regulations are loosely planned through pre-purchased tickets and possibly a mobile app. The initiative is expected to start this year, but may take several seasons to realize full integration.
I am all for it. But, I also think it’s worthwhile branch out to other Italian Riviera destinations. So, without further ado, here is my list of five Cinque Terre alternative spots to consider when making your Italy travel plans.
Italian Riviera Map
Cinque Terre Alternative #1: Camogli
We happened upon Camogli after watching Steve Coogan’s The Trip to Italy, a hilarious BBC show about two comedians who eat their way through the boot. The pair spends a night at Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi with incredible sea views from a pretty sweet looking hotel terrace. On the way home from La Spezia one weekend, we decided to splurge on a seaside lunch. We’ve now visited twice and finally got to explore the quaint and charming fishing village on our the last stop.
Camogli is a fantastic Cinque Terre alternative as it is a wee fishing village that caters to a tourist crowd, meaning they are prepared for visitors. But, it’s an Italian tourist crowd, so it feels a bit more authentic. The sun-drenched beaches and village shimmer with pastel colors, glorious boardwalk eateries, and picture perfect views.
If you are into an Italian Riviera destination for the hiking, that’s another reason that Camogli is a fantastic Cinque Terre alternative. The area offers a myriad of hikes along seaside trails, ranging from 30 minutes to 4 hours. Click for Camogli Hiking Trails.
And, don’t miss La Sagra del Pesce, “Fish Festival”, one of Camogli’s most popular – and, tasty – events. Each year on the second Sunday of May the village celebrates the patron saint of fishermen, San Fortunato, with a massive fish fry. At the inaugural event in 1952 residents used six small pans for the fry-up. By 1954 they were replaced with a single large skillet that is now the symbol of the event. Today, the stainless steel pan measures 4 meters in diameter with a 6-meter handle, weighs 28 tons, and holds up to 2000 liters of frutta di mare.
Find it! Camogli is an hour drive up the Ligurian coast from the Cinque Terre. It’s connected to the neighboring villages via hills and cliffs along the sea.
- Camogli by train: Get to Camogli by train via the Camogli – San. Fruttuoso train station.
- Camogli by car: Use the A12 Autostrada from Genoa to Livorno or take the picturesque route from Rapallo to Ruta. Parking can be difficult as much is reserved for residents. Find free parking at Piazza Matteotti and Via San Rocco. Paid parking is available in Via Cuneo and Piazza Matteotti. If all else fails, head to the pay lot near the Gulliver shopping center (direction Genoa), which offers regular shuttle service to the town.
Cinque Terre Alternative #2: Levanto
As mentioned, I learned of Levanto from my younger brother during a hiking weekend along the Ligurian Coast. If you simply can’t miss visiting the popular fishing villages during your Italian Riviera vacation, this is the perfect Cinque Terre alternative for you.
Levanto is widely loved for its long sandy beach. Italians love their beach time. Levanto is home to some of Italy’s biggest waves, making it a popular destination for surfers from all over Europe.
The city also has a diving center right on the beach.
Find it! From Levanto, you can also easily reach the Cinque Terre by boat, train and car.
- Levanto by train: Take the local train service that connects all the nearby villages from Genoa to the north and Pisa to the south.
- Levanto by car: As with most all of the seaside towns along the Ligurian Coast, roads into the region are narrow and winding. But, Levanto has a lot of parking options.
- Levanto by foot: There are a few different trails that will lead you to Levanto from the Cinque Terre – or vice versus. Get details at the tourist office and read Hiking the Cinque Terre and Levanto for details on terrain, distance, difficulty, and more.
Cinque Terre Alternative #3: La Spezia
La Spezia can probably be considered the original Cinque Terre alternative. For years budget travelers have been using this primary port town as a base camp to explore the Ligurian Coast and surroundings. It’s easy to see why. La Spezia has great train access, economical lodging, and beautiful scenery.
La Spezia is the main city along the Riviera di Levante, situated at the heart of the Golfo dei Poeti, the Gulf of Poets. The Gulf was named in honor of poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the other famous poets, writers, and artists who spent holidays or parts of their lives in the beautiful villages and towns that dot the gulf.
Read more about Golfo dei Poeti and another Cinque Terre alternative, Portovenere. My pal Georgette of Girl in Florence was there recently and did a great 36 Hours in Portovenere itinerary. I can’t wait to give it a go!
The city itself has plenty to explore, from the various parks and gardens to a host of museums. Il Marito and I did a one night stay in La Spezia in February. He found a great little AirBNB close to the train station and we feasted on fresh catch that night. There are plenty of delicious seafood options for dining and tons of wine bars for aperitivo. Drink local and try the lovely white Pigato that is indigenous to Liguria. A perfect pair with all the fish options.
- La Spezia by train: La Spezia is serviced by the La Spezia Centrale, a frequent stop for visitors heading to the Cinque Terre and other Italian Riviera destinations.
- La Spezia by car: Take Autostrada A12 exit to La Spezia or Autostrada A15, exit La Spezia. After the exit, follow signs to the main town.
Cinque Terre Alternative #4: Rapallo
Rapallo has become my go-to Cinque Terre alternative when I need a little seaside escape. I’ve done a few trips there now and one of the things I like best is how central it is to other Italian Riviera destinations. From Rapallo, you can quickly and easily visit nearby Santa Margherita, Portofino, and Camogli. All can be accessed by ferry, car or even on foot. By train, you can visit the Cinque Terre, Levanto, and more.
The picturesque resort town is the largest along the Italian Riviera. It offers a host of seafood restaurants, the Rapallo Castle, a lovely seaside promenade for leisurely walking, plenty of museums, and numerous lodging options for all price points.
Read about my first holiday there with tips on where to eat and visiting nearby Italian Riviera locations: The Italian Riviera: Rapallo.
Find it! Rapallo can be found along the Ligurian Coast on the Tigullio Gulf. It’s situated between Portofino and Chiavari.
- Rapallo by train: The Rapallo Train Station is centrally located and accessible via many major train stations and other Italian Riviera destinations.
- Rapallo by car: Use the A12 Autostrada and take the Rapallo exit.
- Rapallo by boat: Ferry access to / from Rapallo via Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso. Some ferries routes run to Cinque Terre, Portovenere, and Sestri Levante from July to September. Check the Tigullio Ferry Schedule for details.
Cinque Terre Alternative #5: Finale Ligure
A mountain biker’s paradise! And, hikers like me won’t be disappointed either. I first visited Finale Ligure when some friends came out for their honeymoon. It’s just under 2 hours from Alba and the furthest north Cinque Terre alternative on this list.
While Jeff hit the trails on his rented mountain bike, Carrie and I did a 10k hike. It was labeled as a difficulty level of easy, but these two active Colorado gals agreed, that was hard.
The beautiful Finale Ligure is made up of three small villages: Finalmarina, Finalpia, and Finalborgo. In the first two, you will actually find sandy beaches as well as resort amenities – sandy beaches aren’t so easy to come by in these here parts. It’s usually rocks, rocks, and more rocks. The inland portion of Finalborgo – about 1k (.6 miles) from the sea front is a medieval walled village complete with shopping and dining.
High above in the lush, exotic countryside of deep, narrow valleys and caves is where you will find the hiking and cycle trails.
Find it! Finale Ligure is located about 65 km / 40 miles from Genoa. Finale Ligure by train:
- Finale Ligure by train: Finale Ligure Marina Train Station is located in Finalmarina. Direct train connections run from Genoa every 30 minutes (1 hour travel time) and from every 2 hours from Milan (2.5 hour travel time).
- Finale Ligure by car: Take the A10 Autostrada that connects Northern Italy and France.
Now, go plan your Italian Riviera vacation!
There you have it, a Cinque Terre alternative for every traveler. As I mentioned in my post earlier this week we are expecting a baby later this month. We are treating ourselves to a couple nights inCamogli this week to get some rest before that big adventure begins! Follow Girl’s Gotta Drink on Facebook and Instagram to see more of Camogli.
And, read up on what the rest of my Italian blogging pals have to say about Liguria. Links to their musings on wine, travel, and more below.
Got a Cinque Terre alternative or two to share? Please, let us know below! We are always looking for an excuse to venture to the seaside!
Italian Food Wine & Travel Visits Liguria!
- Vino Travels – Wine & Sunshine on the Italian Riviera
- Cooking Chat – Ligurian Pesto Pasta with Wine Pairing
- Food Wine Click – Trofie al Pesto with Cinque Terre DOC
- Rockin Red Blog – Two Hours in Liguria with #ItalianFWT
- Avvinare – Liguria: Home to a Host of Unsung Wine
- L’Occasion – Life is Good in Liguria
- The Wining Hour – Ligurian Pigato with Pesto Focaccia and Shellfish
- Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Carciofi Crudi