Corniglia: Ligurian Underdog and Home Away from Home

room with a view

Cinque Terre is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Made up of five villages (“five lands”) which make up Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Cinque Terre sits in the Liguria region of Italy. Amongst these five towns, four of them are highly praised for their beauty, production of wine, and easy access to the Mediterranean sea. However, there is one town which often goes unnoticed: Corniglia.

Considered the underdog of the five villages, Corniglia sits 100 meters above sea level on a steep, rocky promontory. To gain access to the town, you have to climb up the 380 steps of Lardarina, which is no easy feat if you don’t have the proper luggage and a husband who is afraid of heights. (Poor Leon never gets a break. And yes, we traveled with rolling suitcases. Major fail.)

Corniglia is the quietest of the five villages. Included as a stop on the Liguria rail line, people pass through on their way to pretty Manarola or dramatic Vernazza, the two villages that sit to the north and south of Corniglia. However, when given the chance, quiet Corniglia may just win you over.

private gardens
Private gardens in front of each home are seen all over Corniglia.

Undeniably Gorgeous Views

I’m not going to lie: one of the main reasons why I booked a room in Corniglia was because of the view. Leon and I used AirBnB throughout our entire trip, and Corniglia did not disappoint. (Ironically, after we booked, we found out that our host had been given a glowing review by Rick Steves in his 2011 Best of Italy guide-book.) The room was small, but it was clean and quiet. However, the view from the balcony was all I needed to know that I just had to stay there for two nights.

view of corniglia
View of Corniglia from our balcony.

Finding Adventure in the Most Unexpected of Places

After settling into our room, Leon and I grabbed a quick bite and began to wander the streets of Corniglia. Just across the walkway from Cristiana’s café “Pan e Vin”, we found old, cement steps leading downstairs. Curious, we decided that it couldn’t hurt to see where they led and descended the staircase into the unknown.

Sometimes, it is the path least taken that lets you see the world’s true beauty.

lime trees in corniglia
Trees filled with limes dot the walkways in Corniglia

As we descended the steep, cracked steps in our unprepared footwear–did I mention we were wearing flip-flops?–Corniglia introduced herself to us. We stumbled upon old home after old home, replete with secret gardens. The aroma of fresh olives, lemons, and limes hanging from the trees filled the air. Vines and green overgrowth covered the cement blocks, obstructing the end of each passageway so that we didn’t know what lay at the end of the walkway.

path least taken
The path least taken often leads to the best surprises.
homes built into corniglia
Old stone steps of Corniglia with homes built into its rolling green hills.
We passed by private yards framed by wooden doorways that were decades old. Small wooden benches sat overlooking the cliff tops, the rocky shoreline, and the Mediterranean sea. Cats and dogs out for their daily stroll ambled up to us for a quick pat on the head before returning to their owners. All I kept thinking was how lovely it would be to own a home in Corniglia.

private corniglian backyards
Discovering private backyards that overlook the Mediterranean sea.

Finally, as we kept moving closer to the sea, a visual feast awaited us. We turned back towards our starting point and saw Corniglia at her finest. Surrounded by green cliffs and lined with private gardens that sit at the front of each building, Corniglia stared back as if daring us to compare her to her counterparts. Gazing up at Corniglia, we realized the full impact of this region’s magnificence.

green cliffs of corniglia
Corniglia framed by its green cliffs looks out to the Mediterranean
kayaking cinque terre
Kayaks lined the rocky edges and people jump into the sea at the bottom of Corniglia.

A handful of people passed us along the staircase, so we basically had the entire place to ourselves. Once we reached the water’s edge, there were only three other people jumping into the sea. The waves crashed violently against the pier as the wind picked up speed. With a full view of the Mediterranean sea on one side and Corniglia’s mountainous landscape on the other, I found my bliss. It took a lot of coaxing and prodding from Leon to convince me to climb the stairs and leave this little slice of heaven.

outdoor cat
An outdoor cat stops for a pat on the head before finding its way home.

Fresh, Delicious Seafood

You can never go wrong when eating in Italy, and Cinque Terre was no exception. If you love seafood, you’ve come to the right place. The locals take their boats out to sea to bring in a fresh catch every morning. The dishes sell so quickly that it’s impossible for anyone to eat food that has aged more than a few hours.

In addition to Pan e Vin, which has some of the most delicious pastries and coffee in Italy, we treated ourselves to a delicious seafood dinner on our first night. (After multiple train rides from Verona, we figured that we could splurge on this one meal.) We settled on Bar Nunzio for their mouth-watering seafood risotto. I can still remember the flavors exploding on my tongue: the creamy white sauce, the sharp blend of basil and lemon, and the fresh mussels steaming as their shells cracked open. (I think I just had a foodgasm.)

lemons on doorsteps
Fresh lemons sit in baskets placed at doorsteps, giving off an aromatic fragrance throughout the village.

Best of all, the atmosphere was perfect. Dimly lit and quiet, Leon and I could have a full conversation without shouting to each other over the din of the restaurant. After visiting the other four towns, it would have been difficult to enjoy a similar meal as much as we did in Corniglia because of the large crowds.

Corniglia is Home Away From Home

Each of the five villages of Cinque Terre has their own personality. Monterosso welcomes backpackers and offers resort style accommodation, along with an exciting nightlife. The dramatic beauty of Vernazza and Manarola are seductive and make you feel like you’ve entered heaven. Riomaggiore with it’s rocky edges jutting out into sea, has colorful buildings that seem like they lean into the Mediterranean sea, leaving you wondering if you’re still on planet Earth.

dramatic clouds over Monterosso
Storm clouds create a dramatic atmosphere as they roll over Monterosso’s boulder.
vernazza
Beautiful Vernazza reveals herself to us as we finish our hike from Corniglia

manarola
Tiny Manarola sits pretty against the Mediterranean sea.

 

fisherman in riomaggiore
A fisherman sets out for the morning’s catch in Riomaggiore.

However, Corniglia opened her arms to us and graciously made us feel right at home. She kept us safe from the swarms of crowds who passed through without a second glance at her secret passageways and gardens. The locals spoke to us every time we popped in for a gelato or a cafe without any hesitation. The easy, relaxed atmosphere was so inviting and lovely. Though quiet and difficult to reach, the underdog always reaches up and surprises you. Of all the villages, I could picture myself living in Corniglia.

corniglia
Corniglia sits at the highest point in Cinque Terre, but remains one of the best places to stay out of the five lands.

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