Solo travel to Italy and the Cinque Terre region is safe for women and is one of the best destinations in Europe to hike, eat and relax.
Are you planning solo travel to Italy soon? Recently, I had the most fabulous experience hiking, eating and relaxing in Italy’s Cinque Terre region. I spent three days and 4 nights there and am so glad I did. If you are traveling to Italy, you must include Cinque Terre, along the Italian Riviera coastline.
Planning a solo travel itinerary to Cinque Terre
My OCD came out roaring while I was planning this excursion – a surefire way to counteract my goal of getting some much-needed downtime and freedom! Luckily, even my over-planning didn’t prevent me from ending my week refreshed and renewed. If you’re finding yourself falling into an over-planning rabbit hole, read on – maybe my homework will help save you some time as you plan your own solo adventure to Italy and Cinque Terre!
If you aren’t familiar with the region, Cinque Terre (translated as Five Lands) is a string of five villages nestled amongst the cliffs of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the same name: Cinque Terre National Park. The region is easily accessible by plane (I took Ryan Air, which is notable for cheap intra-EU flights and not much more) and trains.
Picking a Town to Stay In
Picking a village to stay in was an ordeal. Travel books, online commentary, and friends were helpful but left me undecided – too many opinions and possibilities. It seemed everyone had a favorite place for their travel to Cinque Terre-and for different reasons.
Alas, I returned to my original goals: relax, hike, read and eat. This led me to pick Vernazza, the fourth Cinque Terre village in line from Genoa. Vernazza had everything I wanted for my Italian adventure. First, It was located on the Mediterranean Sea, with a little inlet/bay where you could walk, sit and find gelato aplenty. Second, it is neither the smallest of the towns nor the largest – it was just right. Vernazza had plenty to do and see and many restaurants, from fancy to casual. Third, I watched many travelers from the other towns come by train to dine in Vernazza – I made a good choice.
The other town options were either bigger and more bustling than I wanted (Monterosso al Mare); smaller and lacking amenities (like restaurants) I wanted (Riomaggiore) or were not on the Sea but perched higher up (Corniglia). That left Manarola and Vernazza as viable options. I’ll say more about Manarola in a bit.
I looked for a place to stay using Booking.com but could have used Airbnb or VRBO. A perfect place appeared in my Vernazza search, so – I went to Vernazza and did not regret it.
There are likely many lovely places to stay when you travel to Cinque Terre, but my accommodations, Camere Giuliano basso, were superb. Giuliano, the host, is a multigenerational resident of Vernazza. His English is good and his hospitality even better. His place is up on the hill, but not too far. He rents out 4 rooms, one of which is a little suite. All the rooms have double beds, private baths and access to a beautiful terrace/garden. He stocks a little kitchen with essentials (bottled water, tea, and coffee, maps, umbrellas and such) and provides each guest with a refrigerator shelf. This came in handy for the ample leftovers from the meals I ate (breakfast the next day!).
Camere Giuliano is readily accessible to the local trails and the town. It was a 1-2 minute walk down to the train station and main drag. Vernazza has a nice little main street lined with restaurants, shops (bought some cream for my coffee and lovely fresh fruit) and more gelato shops than I could try during my 4 days there (and I tried).
Getting to Vernazza from Genoa
A little sssnoo travel tip: I often borrow or buy “real” travel books when I am planning a trip, but I don’t like to lug them around with me. I will photograph key pages and keep the photos handy on my phone. Same with ebooks – I take screen shots of the pages I expect to use most often.
In this case, the travel book photos I took describing how to get from Genoa to my lodgings, the hiking trail maps, the town maps, and restaurant listings were very helpful to have handy and easier for me to find than bookmarked pages in a Kindle or online pages inaccessible because of no internet connection.
I flew into Genoa – a small, accessible, but pretty crowded airport. From there it was an easy train trip into the main station, another train trip to Cinque Terre and the village I was staying in, and then a walk to my lodgings.
Solo travel in Italy – Is it Safe for a Woman?
I was slightly nervous about a solo trip to Italy as I spoke no Italian, but I should not have worried for an instant. The trains and airports were extremely easy to navigate and the ticket-sellers, workers and other passengers were extremely friendly and helpful.
While I was forwarned about concerns for pickpockets and crime in Italy, I found Cinque Terre to be safe day and night. Because it attracts people who like quaint towns and hiking it doesn’t seem to attract much crime. If you are interested in a more general discussion and advice for solo female travel in Italy I suggest one of my favorite blogs, Women on the Road. as an excellent resource.
Because outdoor activities predominate, Cinque Terre is much more casual than other areas of Italy. I wore hiking clothes or casual attire for my entire stay. High heels definitely would not work on the cobblestones. If you are worried about pickpockets and are looking for pants that are both comfortable and keep your items safe, look at my review of Clothing Art’s travel pants.
A Room With a View
The weather in Cinque Terre
May is a perfect time to travel to Cinque Terre. The weather is wonderful, even with some rain, and it isn’t too crowded. During my stay, light rain showers provided an excuse to lounge in bed reading a couple of mornings. Vernazza was a perfect starting point to hike from or take trains to neighboring villages. After checking out each village I was hands down happy my home base was Vernazza.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
Hiking in Cinque Terra was an incredible experience. All travelers to Cinque Terre need a Park Pass to hike in the National Park, but it is easy to purchase at the train station. The ticket-sellers also had a lot of good advice and maps. I took a photo of the trail map and mostly utilized the photo to check out my location. Trails markings are easy to find everywhere.
Get Your Cinque Terre Pass
My first day I hiked just around Vernazza – getting my bearings and recovering from jet lag. Prior to my trip to Italy, I read that one of the top things to do in the region is the hike along the sea trail. Unfortunately, rain and repairs closed the trails around both Vernazza and Manarola. I knew this was a possibility from the guidebooks, so, while slightly disappointed, I rolled with it.
Hiking Manarola to Corniglia
My big hike was up into the hills above Manarola to neighboring Corniglia. I took a train over to Manarola and explored the town and ate a delicious lunch before taking off. This town is gorgeous and would also be a good location to base yourself.
I had a fun surprise in Manarola as I walked around. Several years ago I completed a jigsaw puzzle of a cute little town on the Mediterranean. I didn’t think much about the location of the puzzle photo – just somewhere along the Mediterranean coast. At one point during my Manarola exploration, near the edge of the town, I turned around, looking at the view – I saw the puzzle come to life!
The photograph on the puzzle was from the very spot I was standing on! I stood there for some time looking at every crevice in the cliff, awning, window, and roof – and recognized them. The photo at the top of this post is from that same spot. This was too fun – ok, maybe fun for me can be a little odd – but it was cool.
Back from my digression – I had a fantastic lunch, perched high in Manarola, at Trattoria dal Billy. I then took off and hiked (full stomach and all) up out of Manarola past houses built generations ago on the steep, terraced hillside. The trail takes the hiker past vineyards and lemon groves, into woods and through some small picturesque towns.
The Trail from Manarola to Corniglia
Photos From the Trail Between Manarola and Corniglia Italy
The trail sloped up, up, up and then along a bit of a flat ridge that came close to challenging my apprehension of heights. However, one positive aspect of traveling solo to Italy or anywhere is that some times you just have to tug on your big girl drawers, suck it up, and move through your fears. After walking precariously along the ridge, stopping occasionally (as far back from the edge as I could get), to scan the view back to Manorolo, I felt just like a mountain goat. The trail then went into some woods and started down into the town of Corniglia.
The down part of the hike was more challenging than up. I walk 3-5 miles every day and this hike was maybe 6-7 miles so well within my range. Up was easy, the ridge was a little scary, but not difficult hiking. But going down? Hard. The stone trail is extremely steep in places and very uneven. At times I could hear the pass seller’s voice in my head as she explained the trails were wet so be careful – they would not be able to rescue me if I fell or hurt myself. She said this as she took in my grey hair and gave me a skeptical look. Ok, whatever – but her words were prophetic as I began the hill down.
As a solo traveler to Italy, be cautious hiking because you will be on your own of you injure yourself.
Do heed the guides and do not attempt hiking here without proper hiking shoes/boots and appropriate apparel. Just don’t.
The trail down ultimately wasn’t an issue – I just took it slow and sometimes had to resort to side-stepping to make sure I kept my balance. I did land on my butt a couple of times, but because of the incline, my butt was already close to the ground. I don’t think anyone saw me go down and I rubbed the dirt off (my black pants hid the mud just fine). Of course, younger, antelopesque hikers bounding down the hill passed me by, I assume in search of the closest gelato shop. I gave them the respect they deserved, stepped to the side, momentary reflected on my youth now long gone, and kept hiking. Slow and sure.
Hiking Into Corniglia Italy
Once in Corniglia, I walked around a bit and had a double-dip gelato; because, by God, I earned it. I sat on a lovely bench and people-watched and finally headed to the train back home to Vernazza.
It was at this point that I was really glad I did not choose Corniglia as my home-base for my solo travel to Cinque Terre. As described above, Corniglia sits high above the sea. So – the view is good. BUT – to get there from the train there is a series of steps with more switchbacks than I have ever seen anywhere. I was going down, yay, but got dizzy with all the turns. More than one group of tourists exhaustedly asked me how much further as they trekked up.
OOOO the Switchbacks!
I headed back on the train – a very short jaunt – and arrived back just in time for dinner. Remember one of my goals was to eat well? That definitely happened. This region is the home of pesto. In addition, the seafood was some of the best I have eaten anywhere. The ambiance and waitstaff were “perfecto” and I was completely comfortable as a solo woman diner. I tried focaccia, pasta, seafood, pizza, some of the local fried take-out and lots and lots of gelato.
Travel to Cinque Terre is all about the food. I ate a couple of nights at a wonderful little restaurant just up from Vernazza’s square and waterfront, il Baretto. Giuliano, my host, recommended it so I ate here my first night. His family owns it (I think he is related to almost all the permanent residents in Vernazza). Everything I had there was delicious: pesto, calamari, anchovies (not what you think of as anchovies in the US) and the best panna cotta ever! I put together a gallery of my favorites for you to drool over.
A Gallery of Foods Found in Cinque terra
Modern Art Mishap
And finally, don’t do what I did. I found the glass water bottle Guiliano provided was quite interesting to look through and see a colored, distorted vision of the town and the Mediterranean Sea. It was like an abstract painting.
I love iPhonography (all my photos are my own and taken with my iPhone unless I state otherwise) and played around in an attempt to get a perfect photograph through the bottle. That involved some serious contortions and manipulations as I held the bottle and phone in just the right position – CRAP!!!! The phone fell splat, face down, glass screen shattered — shattered.
Fortunately, everything still worked and, with the exception of leaving a few tiny glass splinters, I continued to tap and swipe for the rest of my trip. I made it home, was still able to capture some nice photos, and fortunately had AppleCare to fix my phone for a pittance. It could have been worse – and I do like the image I got through the bottle.
Cinque Terre, a Dreamscape
My solo travel to Italy and Cinque Terre was like a dreamscape. I read (see a recommended Italy reading list), slept, relaxed, hiked and ate, just as I’d planned. Four days and three nights in one of the most remarkable places in Europe. Don’t miss travel to Cinque Terre if you are visiting Italy.
PS – there are no affiliate links on this page. Anything I recommend is just because I loved it.