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Is Cinque Terre the new "Disneyland"??

A friend was telling me about their trip to Italy last September. He said, rather disappointingly, that Cinque Terre was completely overrun by tourist – especially day trippers – to the point that if one wanted even a remotely "authentic" Italian experience, they wouldn't find it there. He went on to say they found Cinque Terre far more "touristy" than Venice, which they'd been to several years ago, and said of the two, Cinque Terre is most like a "Disneyland" (i.e. not a "real" place but one constructed exclusively for tourist). In Venice at least (according to my friend) you can get away from most of the tourist crowd by wandering away from St. Marks Square, but in Cinque Terre they felt "stuck" with the boat-loads of tourist and had to work very hard to get away from the crowds. Interestingly, he went on to say they also spent a few days in Bonassola (10 minutes north of CT by train) and had the place to themselves and better beaches. Has this been anyone else's experience? Is the CT now so popular that it's no longer worth going to? Over the last several decades Venice has earned a reputation for being the most "touristy" city in Italy. But has Cinque Terre become the "new Venice". Also, has anyone been to Bonassola? My fiancé and I are looking for a nice, out of the way place for a honeymoon and were looking at Cinque Terre. But after hearing what my friend had to say, we're not so sure.

Posted by
3580 posts

Bonassola, Santa Margherita, Levanto or Arezzo. These places are easy to find, picturesque, and not completely overrun with tourists. In the CT, Corniglia would be a better get-away than the other 4 towns, especially for a honeymoon. In the Rome area, the town of Anzio is nice and has a sand beach.

Posted by
486 posts

I agree with your friend. We have been to CT in 2003 - stayed in Corniglia and did the hike between the five villages over two days. CT is nice but Italy is much more than CT. However, we are very drawn to Venice. We are returning to Venice in October for another three months (which will make spending a year in Venice in five years). We like it that much. ;) For me, Venice ia a much better place for a honeymoon.

Posted by
1201 posts

The nice thing about Venice is that while the main areas get crowded, all you have to do is walk a bit away from the main sites to get to rather deserted areas. In the CT, you really can't get away from the crowds because of the nature of the terrain. We personally love Venice. It would make a great honeymoon spot.

Posted by
7737 posts

Although the CT are pretty, nothing beats Venice for beauty and romance. Your friend is right about how you can easily get away from the crowds in Venice.

Posted by
31140 posts

Bob, Although the Cinque Terre is very popular with tourists, I haven't found it to be like "Disneyland". It's simply a location that has lots of tourists (like myself), similar to many other popular locations in Italy. I'll be making another visit to the C.T. later this year, and quite looking forward to it. The "character" of the villages tends to change a bit at night, when all the "day trippers" have departed. I found on my last trip that the evenings were much quieter, although some of the better restaurants were "busy". As your friend and others here have noted, there are other choices in the area that may have fewer tourists, such as Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino (tends to be "pricey" though), Portovenere (at the south end) or Bonassola (I'm not familiar with that but may have a look this year). Even with all the tourists, I've always felt that I had lots of "space" in the C.T. so it didn't feel crowded. For me, it's a good location to relax and recover from strenuous travels in other parts of Europe. Cheers!

Posted by
782 posts

This has been a source of annoyance with me the past few years actually. I started going to the CT over 10 years ago, a friend on the base here introduced me. I fell in love immediately and have going back pretty much yearly since then. Sadly, it's gotten harder to enjoy as the years have passed and as RS started pimping it. I remember the days when you could hike the trails free of charge and when Vernazza wasn't that crowded. Vernazza was never meant to handle the huge amount of American tourists that RS has brought to the little village and it does make it somewhat hard to relax and enjoy. I remember being at dinner one night at Il Castello, looking around and probably more than half the tables in the restaurant had a RS book on them. I still love it there and we still go but admittedly it has lost some of its charm these days, especially for those of us who knew it before RS ruined it. I believe RS himself has a saying for it: "Quick, harpoon that whale before it becomes extinct". Pretty much sums up the RS effect.

Posted by
41 posts

Everyone has been telling me that CT is too touristy these days as well. Even friends from Spain and Switzerland have told me so. I've included CT in my August trip to Italy from the get-go because, as Rik just mentioned, RS turned me on to the location. He's right, no one looks forward to herds of mooing Americans when that's why we're looking to get away from America in the first place. Instead of worrying whether CT is the new Disneyland, I think the biggest thing for you and your fiance to determine what exactly attracts you the most to CT and then weigh other locations against it - maybe you'll end up finding a place that encompasses all that CT has to offer but also includes that authentic experience. I'm kind of in the same boat, so reading these responses helps a lot. Thanks!

Posted by
1864 posts

I'm with Rik. I've been many times to CT but probably not again. It is beautiful, but badly overrun and over-priced. If you're an American, you'll probably feel very comfortable there... it's now more structured for the US tourist. I'll just head to parts of Italy " undiscovered and unmentioned" where the signage is not in English and a "crowd" would only be two elderly Italians sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking caffe and debating current events.

Posted by
1589 posts

Bob, Try to time the CT trip to March & early April or late Oct/ Nov. No crowds, decent weather.

Posted by
117 posts

Thanks to all for your input!! Since the fiance and I are very much looking for a quiet, out of the way place to spend a few days after our wedding in Siena, I guess we'll look further north/south on the coast from the CT. If anyone has any suggestions, including hotels/B&B's, we'd love to hear them. It's such a shame when 'hidden gems' like the CT get too much attention and then get run over by the tourist crowd, and in the process lose everything that made them special to beging with. I guess it's true that we only hurt the ones we love. ;-) It almost makes you want to NOT tell anyone when you do find a unique, unspoiled place.

Posted by
10 posts

I will be the lone dissenter, I guess. We have been there 3 times in the last 8 years. It is crowded with day trippers, but after 3 or 4 p.m. they mostly leave. We have been there in April, May, and September so we are off the busiest of the tourist season (on purpose). It is less busy during the week than on a weekend also. We are discussing our next trip (coming soon). The CT is on the list. Again. Rick

Posted by
2 posts

SO. My daughter loved CT and we've always wanted to check it out for ourselves. We're going to spend a month in Italy this September, and thought that after a week and Rome and a week in Umbria, we'd drive across Tuscany, with maybe a night in Volterra (which we barely saw on our last driving tour of Italy) we'd then head to CT for a couple nights. Do we want to spend those nights in Riomaggiore, leaving our car at the public parking lot (assuming we get a spot) or should we stay in La Spezia or "above" Riomaggiore in Volastra. After this visit, we're heading to Bologna and then Lake Como for a week. (We like to do long "road trips" but stopping to enjoy certain places in depth.) How hard IS parking in Riomaggiore in September?

Posted by
288 posts

Rick really keyed into something primal when he first aired that episode about the CT. When I saw it, my wife and I went off the deep end and made our first trip overseas, and headed straight to the CT. It is truly a special place. But not really suited for the amount of people visiting on a daily basis. It is now officially on everyone's radar. I noticed in 2009 that the people in the service industry, handling all those folks, seem to be, well let's just say not overly friendly. My wife and I will always love the city and people of Riomaggiore but we are now looking at other so-called 'backdoors'. There's alot of Italy to go around.

Posted by
9477 posts

I agree with Ken in Canada and Rick in Atlanta; the CT is still delightful. We spent 3 nights in October and now my husband wants to spend a week there and visit more of the little towns up-and-down the coast, beyond the CT via train, but stay in Vernazza. The trail can get crowded: go early. The restaurants can be busy, but we found the servers all very nice: Be nice yourself and you will likely be treated in kind. Our "landlords" were charming people who invited us into their home for homemade limoncello. What's not to love? When we arrived (Vernazza) we were amazed at the crowds in the street at 1500, but by 1630, they were gone! We walked the Via del Amore at 1900 virtually alone, very romantic. Bellissima! We really enjoyed hiking up to the cemetary in Monterosso, and down the backside to the town. We saw only locals on that little trek: all the tourists were sitting in cafes along the waterfront. Even in the "tourist" towns there are back doors to be discovered.

Posted by
3696 posts

I visited Ct 13 years ago and found it to be magic...and although in the 6 trips after that there have been more tourists, I would not discourage anyone from going. I think the draw of the area is using ones imagination of what life used to be like there many years ago... the 'romance' of it all, whether that was a reality or not. I usually don't stay, just a daytrip now, but I think the architecture and the sea is worth a day. If you want to experience 'current day real Italian life'...you can have your choice of thousands of towns. Just point on the map, go someplace off the grid and have a ball. Italy is filled with them. Some of my favorite places are those towns no one has heard of, let alone been to.
(I keep returning because I am traveling with someone who has not been, and have never regretted sharing it with them) If you have never been, it is truly beautiful and amazing.

Posted by
120 posts

I've been to CT twice, in 2004 and 2010. In 2004 it was delightful, walking paths not crowded, Villages busy but managable. I had lunch at one of the waterside restaurants in V., great view, no waiting for a table. In 2010 CT was overwhelmed with tourists; including day trippers from cruise ships. The path was, on the easier parts, like the sidewalk during lunch time in mid-town NYC. I returned, alone, to the same restaurant in V for lunch and was refused service; not told there was a wait, just a flat out no. The other restaurants on the water front also refused me. (The only other place in Italy that I had trouble getting a table for one was Rome!). CT was quieter after the day trippers left however, in 2010 it no longer felt like anyone's backdoor!

Posted by
8 posts

I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow and I agreed with Ken, Rick and Laurel. I love it! I was first in the CT 3 yrs ago with my husband. We went in early April and there were no tourist crowds. A friend of mine went in early May as a "day-tripper" off of a cruise ship and she said it was overrun, but still beautiful and worth the trip. Honestly, timing probably has a lot to do with it. My sister and I are going to celebrate our 40th birthday and she's dying to see it b/c when we returned from the first trip we raved about how it reminded us of CA. She lived in San Fran for eight years. I'm going to run into my bathroom now and pack my hiking boots. Can't wait! Oh, oh, BEST memory - we went to the CT by train from Florence and it was rainy & cold. At our layover in Pisa's train station it was worse and everybody was in a foul mood. We were back on the train and must have been going through some mountains when we burst out of the tunnel and the car exploded with bright, white sunlight. And I don't mean gently filled with light. It was like God turned flipped on a lighthouse beacon. We were right on the coast and the waves were crashing up on the rocks next to the track and the sky was blue and everybody went crazy - I mean stood up cheering, hugging and dancing. It went from rotten to wild exuberance it 1 nanosecond. And that's the CT - at least for me.

Posted by
306 posts

I always get annoyed by tourists who complain about other tourists. Especially when you go to a place that is popular with tourists. Your friend is just as guilty as any other tourist of turning CT into "Disneyland." The fact is if you go anywhere popular in Italy during peak season, it is going to be overrun with tourists. All that being said, I love CT. I think it is beautiful and I had some of the best food ever while I stayed in Monterosso. I also stayed in a B&B that was up a bunch of stairs which cut down on the number of tourists walking around my B&B. I also went during shoulder season (October). Weather was great and the crowds were minimal.

Posted by
38 posts

Late last June I sat on the beach in Vernazza with my husband and thought I had found the most perfect spot in Italy. After crazy drivers in Rome and dirty streets in Florence, CinqueTerre was so relaxing. How could anyone complain? I love the culture and history of the cities but the countryside of CT and Tuscany are the Italy I love. While sitting on the beach I noticed the couple next to me had a Boston Red Sox beach towel. Thinking they were from my neck of the woods I struck up a conversation only to learn they were from Milan and had never been to the US. The beach was mostly Italians, I heard very little English. We hiked 4 of the 5 seaside trails and saw very few people. And yes, at one restaurant there were some other folks with Rick's book on their table. I see this as a good sign, not a turn off.
Lighten up folks. Don't blame Rick for making CT a great place to visit. The locals don't.

Posted by
106 posts

Scott, I couldn't have said it better. Like Yogi Berra said: Nobody goes there, it's too crowded.

Posted by
782 posts

"Don't blame Rick for making CT a great place to visit. The locals don't." I've met plenty of locals who would disagree with you. Go Sox.

Posted by
31140 posts

@ Scott, Well said! I was trying to articulate something along those lines, but hadn't posted yet. @ Rik, "I've met plenty of locals who would disagree with you." I've also met a number of locals who have told me that they're happy that "Ricardo" put them on the map, as they now have a steady income. I'll be returning to the C.T. later this year, and quite looking forward to it! The presence of other tourists doesn't really bother me, as it won't affect my enjoyment of the area. Cheers!

Posted by
688 posts

I'm going to CT for 3 nights at the end of July (23-26) and staying in Vernazza. I'm very curious to see if the hoards of tourists take away from my trip. I'm a lover of people watching and I kind of like the excitement that a crowd of people enjoying themselves generates. Back in 1996 I spent 3 nights in Amalfi in November - there was NOBODY there. It was very peaceful and lovely, but quite boring! I've spent time on the Amalfi Coast in the summer too and found it much more enjoyable. I guess it depends on your tolerance for crowds.

Posted by
5 posts

Am I the only one here who is wondering why Christina has to run to the bathroom to pack her hiking boots?

Posted by
1446 posts

I agree with Scott. We visited the CT in mid-Sept '09 & didn't find it "overrun" by tourists. I fell in love with the CT & am planning to return in Sept 2012. Yes...there were people around but I didn't feel the sense that it was as crowded as Disneyland! We didn't encounter wait times in restaurants, and at night, the towns seemed pretty quiet. I haven't been to Bonassola but I googled it and to be honest, it would be a little too secluded & quiet for my taste. That's just my two cents & everyone has a different opinion but I loved the CT and can't wait to return. I also loved Venice and can't wait to return there yet I've heard a lot of people say that Venice is too touristy as well! The way I see it, tourists make for good people watching! Have a great trip.

Posted by
703 posts

Hi Bob,
First off, you're right, CT is overrun by tourists during the day. But so are much of the places that you're likely to visit in Italy on your honeyoon. While I haven't been to CT since '05 (May), I didn't find it stifling. If you're there in Peak Season, this might be the case (but this will be the case in most of Europe). CT is a unique place in Italy, and I for one would not miss seeing it at least once (and I'll be going back next month!). Remember, the day trippers all leave the town around dinnertime or so, and then you can really experience the town(s) at night. Don't spend your entire honeymoon there, but give it two nights. You can have some really romantic dinners overlooking the Ligurian at night. I don't think that you'll regret it.

Posted by
252 posts

Bob, if you want irony and as others have said, YOU are a tourist who is complaining about tourists!!! Give me a break. Rick gives advice on how to avoid tourist traps (not to totally avoid touristy towns) and teaches skills on how to break out on your own. It's as simple as that. If you think you'd enjoy the CT, then go! Hike the trail early in the morning when the air is crisp and the path is almost empty. Then, take a day trip out to avoid the people taking a day trip INTO the CT. Come back in the late afternoon and enjoy a quiet, non-touristy evening. Are you going to totally avoid other tourists? Of course not, it's just a way to limit the annoyances yet still experience all of what Italy has to offer. The "real" Italy, as you like to put it, can be found anywhere and ETTBD teaches you how to do it

Posted by
117 posts

Thank you all for your opinions and input! It has helped a lot. We're now leaning toward staying in Manarola, which seems like the least popular (and thus, hopefully, less run over with tourist) Cinque Terre town. We know we'll have to deal with the day trippers and a town geared toward the tourist dollar, but the geography of the CT seems too beautiful to pass up. In any case, we'll be in Italy for 3 full weeks, so we'll have plenty of opportunity to get off the beaten path and see the "real" Italy. I think if we've learned anything here it's that if you want to get off the beaten path (or see Europe "through the back door", as RS would say), then you SHOULD NOT listen to any tour guide, such as Rick Steves. If a book or show touts some hidden gem then it tends not to be 'hidden' very much longer. The swarm of tourist wanting to experience the uniqueness of a place, in the end, takes away the very uniqueness they were seeking. Ironic, no?

Posted by
306 posts

FYI, CT, like every other town you will visit, is the "real" italy its not like the place was built 20 years ago to lure in tourists. The villages have existed for hundreds of years and are built they way they are to avoid pirates and other marauders. It doesn't get much more "real" than that.

Posted by
53 posts

I read through this thread and kept thinking - Manarola! Manarola! Then I saw you picked Manarola. I think you and your new bride will be pleased. My husband and I spent 4 days of our honeymoon high up on the cliffs in Manarola. Yes, there are day trippers through the towns but, as others have said, they are gone at night. I found Manarola to be more of a through spot than a stay spot for the "hoards". They hike into town and then right out. You will be enchanted by CT and Manarola.

Posted by
97 posts

If we would want to go in early April to try and avoid some crowds, how is the weather? Is it warm enough to go without a coat?

Posted by
2 posts

I have been to CT twice now and enjoyed both times very much. While the area is popular, I wouldn't say it is overrun or anything close to Venice. Venice is a large city, where CT is not. You could stay in one of the less popular towns (note: note Monetrosso). Hiking the five towns is an amazing experience and I would definitely reccomend it. I wasn't impressed by Venice much at all. Hope this helps!

Posted by
639 posts

I enjoyed an RS tour in mid-May last year stopping at CT for 2 nights. We stayed in Monterosso high up a steep hill in a fabulous B&B. The weather for both days was cold & wet; raining almost constantly and all the trails were closed due to mud on the trails. The trains were also delayed for hours. Saying all this, I would not leave out a CT visit because the views are just so spectacular, the food wonderful and the locals friendly. The bad weather I encountered on this first trip to CT will not stop me from trying again though, as I plan to go back in 2012 in the early fall and wish for better luck. Also, as others have posted, it quiets down in the early evening to enjoy lovely meals overlooking the beautiful sea. Ciao & have a wonderful honeymoon.

Posted by
117 posts

Otter: I would have to respectfully, but whole-heartedly, disagree. Please note I never said there was anything inherently "wrong" with a place being touristy. If someone actually likes Disneyland and the ilk, then more power to them. My concern was only personal: I personally do not like elbowing my way through crowds of out-of-towners just to look at overpriced souvenirs that were most likely made in China and paying outrageous prices for meals & room just because I'm at The Place To Be. But that's me. If that's not you, great! Go for it! I'm not judging anyone. I only want to find what I'm looking for. If my fiancée and I are going to spend thousands of dollars and our precious little vacation time going overseas, then we'd much prefer to actually experience another culture. It's our chance to broaden our horizons, expand our minds and hearts and experience the different look at life that other countries have to offer. I just don't think we'd get that in a place that caters solely to, or would not exist without, tourist money. IMO an "authentic" destination offers you what they are, while a "touristy" place offers you what they think you want. What's so wrong about wanting the former while trying to avoid the latter?

Posted by
11847 posts

Bob, by repeating your use of the term "Disneyland" I think you misunderstand what the problems are with the Cinque Terre. The villages are NOT "Disneyland"; they are not fake, built to appeal to tourist fantasies, or full of T-shirt shops and goods made in China. They are old, authentic Italian fishing towns that are being "loved to death" by visitors. They are crowded with too many people who come seeking the scenic beauty, and thereby diminish the experience. I have family members who went some years ago, loved it, returned recently and pronounced it "ruined". They encountered too many people and a rude and dismissive attitude by some (but not all) of the locals. We went anyway to see for ourselves, and we loved it-in large part because we didn't stay in Vernazza (which we hated when we got there after our hike over from Manarola). We did not encounter many people at all on our walks on the trails above Manarola, or the trail between Manarola and Corniglia, or in our lovely little swimming area. (We did, on the other hand, encounter a few Italians out ending their vegetable gardens.) The town was not at all crowded, and our beautiful hotel room with balcony was priced no higher than what we paid for a comparable room and view in Varenna, and far less than we paid in cities like Florence and Milan. The food is, I would say, a bit "dumbed down" and priced up by about 10% over other meals we enjoyed in italy. But if you love seafood, it is still very good., and you can't beat the setting (by nightime the day-trippers are gone so it is much quieter and downright romantic.) And we didn't see a single T-shirt shop in Manarola. I can't speak to Vernazza as we left there as fast as possible!

Posted by
117 posts

Lola: your point is well taken. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the term "DisneyLand". I didn't mean to imply that the CT (or anywhere in Italy) was constructed out of nothing just to please the tourist. I only meant it to suggest a place that was overun by tourist to the point where there is little left of what originally brought people there. And from what you and others have said, sadly, this is the case with the CT. Thank you very much for your insights and for sharing your experience. I think we'll be pretty happy with our choice of Manarola. We know we'll never be able to avoid crowds of tourist (it IS Italy, after all), but hearing stories from those that have gone before us really will help us minimize our chances (or at least prepare us for the unavoidable). Just out of curiosity, what Hotel/B&B did you stay at?

Posted by
4357 posts

Susan, how funny! I'll assume Christina has a bathroom large enough for her suitcase, and a closet off of her bathroom - that's where she packs. My sister's bathroom/closet is like that; putting her bag on her bed, for instance, would mean many extra steps. And I loved your description of the train passengers when the "God lighthouse beacon" came on, Christina!!! Now, how could YOU ever hate the CT?!? It'll always be one of your very favorites! Thanks, Bob, for mentioning Bonassola - the photos are FANTASTIC! It's now on my list... I think, in particular with the CT, that many people have had one expectation but been brutally smacked with the (new) reality. It's not some little quiet place filled with 'authentic Italy', but instead a touristy place - like oh, so many others. IF YOU KNOW THAT going in, you'll be better off. BUT, if you think it's going to be this secluded, I-found-a-'back door'-that-is-off-the-beaten-path...uh-oh!!! Disillusionment!!! Like going to Rome then complaining about the crowds - it's a big city (= many residents), there's lots for tourists to go there for, you know it's a huge tourist draw, so you're surprised by the chaos? Yeah, it's defintiely NOT Paris LOL, but you just have to acclimate yourself to that which is Rome. That's what makes it NOT Paris. The CT is very popular; you're going to run into a bunch of 'you'...if you don't like that, then head north - I've just been playing on Google Maps; there's lots of gorgeousness north on the train line! Or, just adjust your mood, and carry on...

Posted by
11847 posts

Bob-I answered your question in a private message.
check there. As for Bonasola-a good friend spent a week there in a villa rented with a group of friends. They loved it. But it is not a car-free place like the CT villages, so a differennt type of experience. They used it as a base for exploring the region by car.