I must admit, I have heartstrings attached to the village of Manarola. It was, after all, the very first place I ever visited in the Cinque Terre and a catalyst in my life as I know it. On my last trip back to the States, I came across my travel journal from my epic Italy trip in 2002. I thought it fitting to share this excerpt from the entry that I had written on Manarola:
“As I sit on the rocks on the breakwater I stare in amazement at this incredibly beautiful, colorful little village. The people here are so friendly and quick to say hello. Even as I sit here, a local fisherman is offering to show me his catch. THIS is the Italy that I had always imagined.”
It gives me goosebumps to think of how my life would forever be changed from that moment. If you are interested in reading my story, check out this blog post.
You can probably imagine why I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Manarola, the second village in the Cinque Terre from the city of La Spezia (or fourth from the direction of Genoa). This village is smaller than Monterosso and Riomaggiore, but not teeny-tiny or remote like Corniglia. It has plenty of shops and restaurants, a beautiful playground with magnificent views, and a cement ramp-cum-sunbed leading down to the crystal clear sea. Manarola is an enchanting village, to say the least.
When you exit the train station in Manarola, you’ll need to take a tunnel that cuts through the cliff to connect to the historic center of the village.
Upon exiting this tunnel you can do one of two things: 1) go to the left and towards the sea (this is where the majority of visitors head upon arrival), or 2) go to the right and up the steep hill where you will be rewarded with gorgeous views over the village from the piazza della chiesa (where the village church is located).
If you make your way down to the waterfront in Manarola, don’t miss out on a stroll to Punta Bonfiglio (once you reach the sea, make a right and follow the walking path out to the point). This is the place to take that gorgeous, post card picture of the village.
If you are traveling with children, there’s a beautiful parco giochi (playground) that can be reached if you take the stairs up from the point (if you’re traveling with little ones, see my previous post with recommendations here).
During the Christmas holiday season, Manarola is known throughout Italy for its vast, illuminated nativity scene which lights up the hilltop vineyards above the village. The nativity scene is the passion and creation of local Manarolese Mario Andreoli. Mario started creating the nativity pieces from recycled materials (he was upcycling before it was the cool thing to do!) and placing them in the vineyards above the village nearly 50 years ago. Each year, Mario adds additional pieces (by the way, even outside of the holiday season you’ll still see the figurines throughout the vineyards, they just won’t be illuminated). If you happen to be in the Cinque Terre in December/early January, don’t miss seeing it lit up!
My personal recommendations in Manarola
Trattoria dal Billy via Aldo Rollandi 122, tel. +39 0187 920 628
Off the beaten path, this restaurant is located at the top of the village of Manarola (on a medieval lane that is accessed from the church square), and offers sweeping views over the village. I’ve always felt confident sending guests to dal Billy and hearing their positive feedback after dining there just reinforces my recommendation. There’s indoor and outdoor seating so if you’re wanting to sit outdoors (which, of course, you do!) you’ll want to book in advance (as there are only 7 small tables available outside). As with just about every restaurant in the Cinque Terre, seafood is their pièce de résistance. Keep in mind that their weekly day of closure is on Thursdays.
La Cantina dello Zio Bramante via Renato Birolli, 110, tel. +39 0187 920 442
This is the place for drinks, live music (most every night during peak-season) and a kick back atmosphere. It’s a favorite with locals, too (which is always a good sign).
Cinque Terre Trekking via Discovolo 136, tel. +39 0187 920 715
Owned and operated by local Nicola and his American expat wife Christine, this little mom & pop shop has all the equipment that one might need for hiking and trail running (including shoes, clothing and gear). They have a passion for what they do and it shows (they were a driving force behind the SciaccheTrail marathon held in the Cinque Terre earlier this year). Christine is also the creator of some really awesome videos on our area (which I’ve previously shared here and here). Even if you don’t need equipment you can pick up one of their nifty logo shirts and share with the world that you’ve crossed “hike the Cinque Terre” off of your bucket list.
The primary source of accommodation in Manarola is through small, family-run affittacamere (room rentals) and vacation apartment rentals. This is a great option for those seeking an authentic experience where they will be staying side-by-side with locals.
Da Baranin offers private rooms with breakfast as well as self-catering apartments. This is a budget-friendly option ranging in price from €70-€110 per night for a double.