This is a bonus article to complement our special report on the Cinque Terre. Updated 2018.
The Cinque Terre are at their best during the shoulder seasons of summer. Late-April and May offer less crowds and cooler walking temperatures but the weather can be unpredictable. The second half of September and all of October are usually beautiful. After the kids go back to school, the towns clear out a little and you can have the beach all to yourself. After all of the summer’s heat, the water is still warm enough to swim in, often until early November.
The summer months, from mid-June until mid-September, are the peak times for tourists, so expect lots of activity along with heavy crowds and high-season prices.
Between Halloween and Easter, the towns revert back to their sleepy winter hibernation and it might be more difficult to find open restaurants and hotels. Days are shorter but can be beautiful so off-season can be a wonderful time for hardcore hikers who aren’t interested in lounging on the beach.
Both the locals and tourists enjoy the events that take place during the summer months. The town tourist offices will be happy to inform you of special events taking place during your stay so inquire as soon as you come in to town. Certain events, such as patron saint festivals, take place annually. These can be involve religious processions, fireworks, candles in the sea and dancing in the piazzas.
Cinque Terre Events
December 8 through end of January in Manarola: Since 1961, local retired railroad man Mario Andreoli has been gradually building this hillside lighted Nativity scene, which comes to life every December 8th. Hundreds of figures cover the vineyards above Manarola during the Christmas season. During the rest of the year, you can find photographs of it around town.
Easter and the Holy Week leading up to Easter in all of the villages: Easter is a big deal in Italy, and the villages go all out to celebrate it. From Palm Sunday through to Easter, you can see processions and traditional rituals in each of the Cinque Terre towns. Easter in Manarola also includes a hillside passion play scene which recycles some of the Nativity scene figures to create the 12 scenarios of the passion of Christ.
3rd Saturday in May in Monterosso: La Sagra del Limone or the Lemon Festival. Monterosso turns yellow with this celebration of the Cinque Terre’s favorite and most fragrant fruit. Stands sell lemonade and lemon-marinated anchovies and the tourist board sponsors a walk through the lemon groves above town.
3rd Sunday in May in Levanto: La Mangialonga. To get a real feeling of the valley and a good dose of full-immersion Italian, try and participate in this progressive lunch, which passes from hamlet to hamlet above the town of Levanto. Each hamlet offers live music, a dish of food and, of course, lots of wine! Participation is limited to 1,000 people so plan ahead.
In June in Monterosso and Vernazza: Corpus Domini is a religious festival that changes date each year according to the religious calendar. The morning of the festival, locals decorate the streets of the villages with elaborate designs created from flower petals, colored salt, coffee grounds and flour. In the late afternoon, a procession complete with the giant crosses and confraternities passes through the village, destroying all of the hard work accomplished during the day.
3rd Saturday in June in Monterosso: La Sagra dell’Acciuga Fritta, the Festival of the Fried Anchovy. Don’t shy away from these finger-sized fish. Their bad reputation is completely unwarranted. Fresh anchovies are a delight, particularly when they are dredged in flour and fried in olive oil. The locals eat them whole.
June 24 in Monterosso and Riomaggiore: Saint John the Baptist Day. St. John the Baptist is very popular all over Italy and in many cities and villages you can find celebrations honoring him. Both churches of Monterosso and Riomaggiore are dedicated to this saint so during the week leading up to the 24th, the towns celebrate with dancing, bands, holy processions, bonfires and fireworks. After the procession in Monterosso, the local children light luminaries and push them out to sea, a particularly beautiful ending to the ceremony.
June 29 in Corniglia: The feast of Saints Peter and Paul festivities.
3rd Saturday in July in Monterosso: La Festa del Vino. During the afternoon, small local producers of Cinque Terre wine set up tables along the streets of Monterosso and remain throughout the evening. A fun way to sample these unique wines and chat with the producers face to face.
July 20th in Vernazza: Festa di Santa Margherita. Vernazza celebrates its patron saint’s day with festivities, which include processions and fireworks on the harbor
July 25 in Levanto: Monterosso’s neighboring town, celebrates one of its patron saints, Saint James, with a huge evening market and medieval procession complete with horses and fireworks. Definitely worth the 6-minute train ride from Monterosso.
August 5 in Volastra (above Manarola — easily reached by bus or on foot): Enjoy the festival of the ancient santuary of Nostra Signora della Salute.
August 10 in Manarola: Festivities of San Lorenzo, the patron saint of Manarola.
August 14 in Monterosso: Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Savior. After a procession through the village, local children dressed in traditional costumes bring flowers to the revered statue of the Madonna of the Savior, located above town.
Late August through mid-September in the Cinque Terre: The grape harvest takes place at a different time each year depending on weather conditions. If you are lucky to be here when it happens, you’ll see the towns in a flurry of movement as people bring their grapes into the villages where the winemaking takes place.
3rd Saturday in September in Monterosso: La Festa dell’Acciuga Salata. The festival of the salted anchovy. Anchovies have been part of the economic backbone of Monterosso for generations. It’s only natural that there would be a festival to celebrate them. This precious commodity not only was bartered for products from traveling merchants, it was also the main protein for Monterossini in the winter. On top of that, they are delicious.
November 11 in Monterosso: The feast of Saint Martin, the patron saint of cuckolds? This unusual festival is a locals-only tradition, celebrating the husbands whose wives have cheated on them. A mock procession and a series of speeches in the local dialect end with dancing and a seemingly endless supply of wine in the main square.