If you’re headed to Cinque Terre, I highly recommend staying in Monterosso al Mare!
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Summertime means we’re all thinking of beach vacations, right? One of my favorite beach spots is Cinque Terre!
Cinque Terre is a series of five fishing villages on the Italian riviera. They’ve only become tourist destinations in the past decade or so, meaning they have a touch of the local still that’s easy to see. The five towns each have their own subtle flavors, but all five are made up of beautifully painted homes built right into the rock where the mountain meets the sea.
Corniglia is the smallest and least touristy. This is because it’s the only one that doesn’t touch the water but instead sits above it. It’s a bit harder to get to, but 100% worth it! I’ve already shared what you need to know about Corniglia, but I’ll confirm that we went back to my favorite restaurant in town in 2021 and it was still phenomenal!
What to do in Cinque Terre
People come to Cinque Terre for a few things. The obvious is the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea! Spending a day at the beach is a classic way to soak in the beauty and sun.
If you want something more active, you can do any type of boat trip imaginable! Anything from a private sailing tour to renting a dingy for the afternoon. We opted for an afternoon boat trip with Tiburon Boat Tours, and it was just what we wanted. The prices were great: 270€ for a private three-hour trip. We saw all five villages from the water and swam as much as we wanted. The captain pointed out the caves and rock formations unique to this area, and answered all my random questions about life in Cinque Terre. It’s a great way to experience the area!!
Another classic Cinque Terre activity is hiking! Hikers and backpackers love it here for the epic views and trails at all levels of difficulty. The most traditional paths go along the coastline connecting the towns. We did the northern half of these back in 2016: the views are incredible, but the hikes aren’t easy! The northern half of the coastline trails are considered much easier. The additional trails are mostly for experienced hikers only.
If you plan to hike, make sure you check trail openings before you go. As of May 2021, three out of the four main trails were closed. At least two are slated to reopen this summer, but in Italy, you never know. Additionally, you need to buy a ticket to hike – these are sold at each town’s train station or online.
Why You Should Stay in Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost town of Cinque Terre. It’s a fantastic home base for any visit. First off, it’s easy to get to. As the largest, it allows you to keep your options open in terms of budget and travel.
If you drive, Monterosso has the most parking options (something in short supply in Cinque Terre). If you don’t drive, the trains are simple to use and run often.
Monterosso al Mare can also claim the only true beach of the five towns. The others have water access, but not much in terms of beaches, and no beach clubs.
Old Town and New Town
Monterosso al Mare is divided into two parts: old town and new town. Old town is cooler, for sure: it has the classic pedestrian streets with shops, restaurants and bars spilling out. It’s the area you’ll probably spend most of your time wandering, with good reason.
New town is the local side, and has more modern architecture. It’s much less touristy and therefore quieter at night. There are also several beaches on this side that day trippers don’t necessarily see when they first step off the train, meaning less crowded. We opted to stay at a great family-run hotel in New town: it was reasonably priced, offered a gorgeous terrace, and had air conditioning.
Whatever you decide, old and new town are 5 minutes from a beach and less than 10 from the train station. You really can’t go wrong.
Monterosso al Mare beaches
Monterosso al Mare has several beaches, in the sense that there are some paid areas and some free areas. Paying for a spot at the beach is common in Italy – these beach clubs offer a reserved spot for the day with a chair and umbrella. There’s always a bar within 100 feet of your chair, and some offer waiters to come take your order so you don’t even have to move.
There are a few sections of free beach space in Monterosso, but know that it gets really crowded in summer. Plan to arrive early if you want a free spot.
The water is cold in the early summer, but if you’re an American used to the Atlantic ocean, it’s not that cold. There aren’t waves to speak of, so it’s really safe if you have kids or aren’t a strong swimmer!
Monterosso al Mare Restaurants
Ristorante Miky: If you want a fantastic Michelin-starred seafood meal, eat at Miky. Make a reservation to make sure you can eat on their patio that overlooks the beach! It’s the kind of place where they start you off with complimentary Hugo spritz and amuse-bouche before you even glance at the menu. The ingredients are super seasonal and they’re not afraid to mix unusual flavor combos, like shrimp and asparagus with gorgonzola vinaigrette and something called focaccia cream, which made for a delicious plate!
Ristorante al Carugio: if you want more homestyle and less fancy, head here. It’s exactly what you want from Italian food: delicious and unpretentious, as the best Italian food is. Wine is served in a jug and the menu shifts depending on what’s in season. This is the spot to try the pesto, a regional specialty, and you can’t go wrong with whatever their fresh fish options are. I had a killer seafood ravioli that I couldn’t get enough of!
Torre Aurora: We ate here our first night in town, and it was the perfect welcome. Drinking Prosecco while watching the sunset over the water is a must-see in Cinque Terre, and there are few spots better for that than Torre Aurora. We splurged on the tasting menu, and it was five or six courses of elegant seafood dishes. They also have a full cocktail menu – not a common thing in Italy, although spots in Monterosso seem to offer it more than usual.
Bar Focacceria Antonio: Another local specialty is focaccia, which in this region is served fluffy and salty. It’s delicious on it’s own or as part of a pizza or panino, and you’ll see it everywhere as a quick lunch option. If you’re on the hunt in Monterosso, head here. Their selection is great and they sell by weight, so you can get a lot for a really reasonable price. They also make a great cappuccino and croissant if you need a quick breakfast.
Bar Lo Spuntino: This is another quality quick breakfast place. It’s along the boardwalk, so the views are pretty ideal as you plan your day over a coffee. Make sure to try the sfoglia di mele, breakfast pastry with apples. I’d head elsewhere for lunch, but a quick breakfast bite is perfect!
Gelateria Artigianale Il Golosone: No Italian restaurant guide can skip gelato! My favorite was Il Golosone. It sits just off the main piazza of Old town, only steps from the beach. It’s also next to a playground if you’ve got kiddos with you.
L’ancora Della Tortuga: Honorable mention goes to L’ancora Della Tortuga.We couldn’t get in because it was booked up by the time I tried to make a reservation, but it was at the top of our list to try! It’s very popular with both locals and tourists, so reservations are a must. It’s next door to Torre Aurora, so probably choose one or the other.
When you visit Cinque Terre, I highly recommend staying in Monterosso al Mare! If you’re still researching, check out my guide to Corniglia and check back soon for Manarola!