Great Italian Hill Towns Near Cinque Terre for 2018

Seven Pretty Liguria and Tuscany Hill Towns near Cinque Terre. 

Explore Evocative Old Italian Hill Villages with Castles & Medieval Streets.

Stay In a Castle Hotel / A Hotel In an Ex-Convent / or A Room with a 10 Mile View.

Malaspina Castle & Fosdinovo Tuscany near Cinque Terre
Fosdinovo & the Malaspina Castle/Hotel with Portovenere & the Gulf of La Spezia  . Giorgio Freschi /Turismo In Toscana
Good news, fellow travelers. If you thought you didn't have time to see the Cinque Terre fishing villages and an Italian hill town, you're in luck. You can easily see some wonderful hill towns as you drive to or from Cinque Terre, Lucca or Pisa. We guarantee they are authentic, evocative, pretty, historic, and five other adjectives of your choice.

These seven diverse hill towns are in the border area of Tuscany and Liguria - the part of Italy referred to as Lunigiana. They sit on hills around the lower valley of the Magra River adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea and the dramatic Apuan Alps. They are much older than the Cinque Terre villages and you can enjoy them without a crowd.  We recommend them all, and we've visited each many times. See our Liguria & Tuscany Hill Town Map for orientation and the Getting There section below.

Italian hill towns are a fascinating example of human adaptation, so don't miss the opportunity to explore one or two to imagine and appreciate this unique way of life. They developed first and foremost for defense from attack, but continued to develop for other factors - access to pastures, escape from malaria, to control trade routes, as a visible symbol of power, and more. Modern life and modern economies have passed them by, but they are still available for you. Take the time to visit - you'll be rewarded with timeless sights and memories.

Scroll down or Click the hill town name to jump to the description. Note: We use these names to refer to the Historic Center (Centro Storico). You may also see the name used on maps to refer to the larger comune.

Fosdinovo                 Great views, good churches, and the region's best castle (and a unique hotel).
Castelnuovo Magra   Panoramic views and the ruin of an historic castle with a maze of lanes.
Ortonovo                   In the foothills of the Apuan Alps, it also has a prominent sanctuary and forest paths.
Nicola                         Occupying its own knobby hill, it's the most medieval town and has a good restaurant.
Vezzano Ligure        Two towns - the older perched above the valley; the newer, at age 400, is higher still.
Ameglia                      Ex-home to the Counts of Luni, its castle is surrounded by medieval lanes and houses.
Montemarcello           A Roman army outpost became a movie-set-pretty Ligurian village.

Independent Car Rental Price Comparisons for Italy.

Economy & Compact Size Car Hire Prices Compared. 

 Easily Find the Best Car Hire Deals with our Price Tables. 

Beware 'cheap car rental' offers, fly-by-night internet brokers & unknown car rental companies. 

Of course you are looking for the best and lowest price for a car rental in Italy. But if you just take the cheapest price, you may well regret it as the car hire industry has some bad actors and bad practices.

One danger: low ball quotes are used to hook you, but later you may find expensive add-ons, intense 'upselling' of insurance, high mileage cars, and off-airport facilities.  Another danger - car classes can be deceptive - be sure you're comparing similar models. For example, the Fiat Panda is separate below because it is smaller than the other Economy models - especially for baggage. More danger: don't decide from the initial quote - look at the final total including tax and deceptive 'franchise' and refueling fees. Hertz quoted $141. for a Panda on the first web page, but the total to pay at the reservation page was $381.00 !
Fiat 500 Mini and Renault Captur Compact, Carrara,  Italy.
Blue parking lines signal pay parking.  Carrara, Tuscany.
Shown are a Fiat 500 Mini (not the 'L' or 'X') & a Renault Captur Compact.

In the 1980's, we hired our first rental in Italy:  a VW Beetle with no seat belts and a full ashtray. Since then we've learned a lot that can help you. We've rented cars in Italy over 50 times since that first dog - from every major car rental company and all over the country. We also monitor Italian news, related Italian & English blogs, and several Italian traveler forums.

If this article is not for you, see the Car Rental Help tab above, but be sure to read our most popular car hire article:
Link: Independent Car Rental Reviews for Italy

Independent Car Hire Price Comparisons
Read the three tables below with price comparisons and you'll quickly see why you need this research - the price spreads are BIG. The prices are shown for: Compact Size, Economy Size, and Economy Fiat Panda.  We list the assumptions used below the price comparisons.  In particular, we have not reported some companies' lower prices because - in our opinion - they have way too many complaints. Also, your travel circumstances might have different needs - an additional driver, a child seat, or a different pick-up city could change the price balance.

The Day Italy Tried to Stop Mussolini's Fascism.

The Unsung Story of a Small City's Resistance to Fascism. 
  The 'Facts of Sarzana' Begin With A Fascist / Socialist Confrontation. 

It Ends with Fourteen Fascists Killed by Carabinieri or Political Opponents. 


Fatti di Sarzana  Memorial to Fascist Victim
First victim of fascist violence, here fell Luigi
 Gastardelli, June 12, 1921. Sarzana, Liguria. 
On a back street in the peaceful Ligurian city of Sarzana, a little plaque marks an infamous event in Italian history. It is the spot where an innocent man, Luigi Gastardelli, became the area's first victim of fascist violence - shot by a squadrista firing carelessly as fascists rampaged in Sarzana's streets. Italian politics in 1921 were chaotic and political violence between rival groups was becoming common, but the symbolism of this death was clear: Mussolini's new political ideology had evolved and the fascist squadrons felt they could act with impunity.

The violence that erupted in Sarzana on June 12, 1921, was the opening of a series of conflicts over several weeks known as  'I Fatti di Sarzana' (The Facts of Sarzana).  It is historically important as one of the few armed resistance efforts against the rise of fascism in Italy. Reflecting the times, it involved armed fascists, the Royal Army, police, socialists, communists, anarchists, farmers, workers, and a paramilitary group known as the Arditi del Popolo (comprised of socialist-communist workers). The Sarzana conflict culminated on July 21 with the death of 14 fascists by carabinieri rifle fire or sectarian assault, and of one corporal of the Royal Army by fascist fire.  Ominously, although the events drew national attention, the example of the event at Sarzana did not serve as a spur for meaningful resistance to fascism by the King, the government, or other political parties.

The Cinque Terre Express Train Service Begins.

The '5 Terre Express' Train Runs Every 30 Minutes to All Five Cinque Terre Villages. 

Stops: La Spezia Migliarina, Centrale,  Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso, Levanto. 

Manarola at Twilight  Cinque Terre
Manarola at Twilight                                                     CC By Lorraine Tan
Just in time for the long Easter weekend in the Cinque Terre, the new "Cinque Terre Express" train service begins Saturday, March 26, 2016. Operated by Trenitalia Regionale with support from the Region of Liguria, the new service will enhance transportation options to the famous five villages comprising part of the Ligurian UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There will be 44 daily trips in both directions between Levanto and La Spezia Migliarina Station* every half hour with intermediate stops at La Spezia Centrale, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia,Vernazza, and Monterosso. Trenitalia Regionale Liguria is to provide reception, information and assistance to passengers, and enhanced 'customer care' during busy times.

Crowded Vernazza Train Station Cinque Terre
For 2016 the new 'Cinque Terre Express' train will mean much less crowding.
Vernazza Train Station.    CC By Kylie & Rob (and Helen)

In the first phase of the service, fares will be kept unchanged at the current rates for all, both residents and tourists.   The "5 Terre Express" will remain active until 1 November and will benefit both commuters and tourists with less crowded trains.

It is expected that La Spezia's many cruise ship passengers travelling to the Cinque Terre will be boarded at Migliarina Station, thus relieving congestion at La Spezia's Centrale Station.

See our map of La Spezia for the Centrale and Migliarina train station locations. Map: La Spezia Transportation Hubs

* Traveler beware. We visited Migliarina station on May 30, and there was no notice on the schedule board or other signs about CT trains. There's also no one to ask, as there's no ticket window.

Cinque Terre - 16 Tips for Avoiding the Crowds in 2018

How You Can Skip the Lines in Cinque Terre

Pointers on Where to Stay, When to Go, Where to Hike, What to Do for the Best Visit

Night scene Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola, Cinque Terre                                                   CC By Lorraine Tan
The Best Advice to Minimize or Avoid Cinque Terre Crowding
You are going to love the Cinque Terre (CT), but you should realize these five small villages are very popular so they can get too crowded. As in lining-up-to-walk-down-the-main-street crowded; as in 2.5 million visitors in 2016. Rick Steves and the New York Times have written about the Cinque Terre so many times, you need to visit the Cinque Terre places and activities that are less well known. We hope these tips will lead you in that direction. They are presented to help you make informed decisions, not to worry you. Plan ahead for sure, but don't plan every hour, and remember you'll be in wonderful, fabulous Italy - the land that invented gelato and dolce far niente.*

Recent News: The five train stations of the Cinque Terre were upgraded off-season 2016/2017. All now have a toilet facility and improved handicap access. This does not mean that the villages or the train stations all have full handicap access.
   New train service started in 2016, the 'Cinque Terre Express' runs every 30 minutes from Migliarina station in La Spezia to Levanto and vice versa. It stops at all five Cinque Terre villages and La Spezia's Centrale station. The extra service terminates November 1. This is decreasing overcrowding on the trains overall, but crowding still occurs at peak times and especially around holidays.

We've gathered the best 16 ideas from our own experience, from guidebooks and traveler forums, from both English and Italian websites, to insure you enjoy this enchanting part of Italy. Below are suggestions for Crowd Timing,  How to Travel, Hiking, Activities, Where to Stay, When to Go, When Not to Go, and More Info. We hope they help you. Happy Trails.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre Ferry Boat Arrival
Vernazza, Cinque Terre Ferry Boat Arrival     CC By Darren & Brad 

1. Get Up Early / Stay Out Late.  Adjusting your day's schedule will greatly help you avoid crowds, keep you cooler, and the angled light will enhance your photos. The surge of short-term visitors on the trains and in the village centers is greatest from about 10 am to 4 pm. Schedule and route your activities to accommodate. Visit one of the lesser crowded CT towns in the middle of the day - Corniglia or Riomaggiore, or nearby Portovenere, Levanto, or La Spezia. Start your hike in the fresh morning, and stop for a picnic or up-slope restaurant lunch for midday. Enjoy the beach or rent a kayak when the sun is high.

2. Take the Boat. The ferry boats are a great way to see the Ligurian coast and reach the villages. While they are very popular, they are not as crowded as the trains (especially true of the 1st boat of the day). A full day ticket (with stopovers allowed) is about 33 Euro and they operate to the CT from La Spezia, Lerici, Portovenere, and Levanto. There are also excursions from the Portofino and Viareggio areas. See our Ferry / Getting Around Page for links to all our articles with complete schedules and prices. Ferries can sometimes be canceled due to wind & waves, but that's unusual in the high season.

Virtuous Reality - Teaching Religion 800 Years Ago.

Chiaravalle Abbey, Fidenza Duomo, Vigoleno Castle & Lunch!

Visit the Attractions In & Around Fidenza - Fidenza Cathedral, Chiaravalle, Vigoleno Castle.

Column Capital on Central Portal to Fidenza Cathedral Duomo.
A Fidenza Duomo Capital: Elizabeth, Two Virgins of the Temple, the High Priest. 
We really had no good reason to leave Lunigiana - just sheer wanderlust. But one clear October day, we found ourselves driving over the Apennine Alps from Tuscany into Parma Province hoping to perpetuate our masquerade as travel writers.  You can help our cause by reading along as we see some wonderful buildings, some jaw-dropping art, and enjoy a great lunch. This article visits:

Chiaravalle della Colomba   A Cistercian Monastery founded by St. Bernard himself in 1135 AD. The large church is Romanesque-Gothic with a notable cloister.

Fidenza  Historic town on the Roman Via Emilia and the medieval Via Francigena. The best attraction is an  important formative Cathedral with narrative statuary from the 1100's.