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Stepping off the train in Monterosso al Mare, you can instantly see why so many travelers head to Cinque Terre. This small stretch of coastal villages on the Italian Riviera — named after its “five lands” — has been greatly transformed over the past 20 years, and travelers are continuing to discover the charm that each brings its residents and visitors. In particular, families continue to flock to the area to give their children a unique beach holiday, complete with access to great food, protected natural landscapes and a taste of the local culture and history.
Unlike many cities in Italy, families aren’t going to Cinque Terre for a tour of Roman ruins or an interactive art lesson. This is the Riviera. Visitors set up camp on the beach and rocks every summer to soak in the sun and splash in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a national park. You won’t find any chain stores here (or many cars, for that matter) — just authentic, small-town life.
One question many families will have when they arrive is how to see the five towns that make up Cinque Terre — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each town is connected via train and old goat-herd paths, while all of the towns — with the exception of Corniglia — are also connected by ferry.
Every visitor to Cinque Terre must buy an inexpensive Cinque Terre Card (a day pass) to access these paths. You can also opt for a Cinque Terre Treno card, which includes unlimited access to the train between Levanto and La Spezia (the towns north and south of Cinque Terre).
Families with older children can choose how they want to get from one village to another. Visitors can walk to all five towns via the old goat paths, but should be sure to ask about closures from mudslides. Spring storms can shut down sections of the trails, making some towns inaccessible by this route for months as the trail is cleared. Families with babies and toddlers who want to do a little hiking can walk “Lover’s Lane,” a 20-minute hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It is the easiest and shortest part of the trail that connects the towns.
The train makes it easy for families with small children who don’t plan on hiking very much. They can still get plenty of walking in as they wander each town looking for lunch or a heaping scoop of gelato.
If visitors want to get the postcard view of each town, however, they will need to take the ferry. Fares are not included in the Cinque Terre card, and will need to be purchased at an additional cost. The Ferry makes four stops: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore (each leg of the trip takes about 10-15 minutes). The ferry is well-suited for multigenerational travel, as it does not involve much walking for small children, seniors or those with disabilities.
Cinque Terre may not be filled with ruins and gladiators like Rome, or have the famous art galleries of Florence, but what it does have is a taste of that slow Italian lifestyle many families read about but have never experienced. Whether families stay in Cinque Terre or just pass through, the kids will get a taste of the quieter side of Italian life, while mom and dad can kick back with a glass of local white wine and enjoy the sunset.