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Cinque Terre Or Lake Como? Salty Marina Or Alpine Escape?

Cinque Terre Or Lake Como? Now that’s a jet-setter dilemma if we’ve ever heard one! You’re weighing up two of the most coveted and elegant destinations on the whole boot of Italy here, folks. Both have their own magnetic draws and wonders…

On the one hand there’s Cinque Terre, a string of five gorgeous villages wedged into the nooks and crannies of the Ligurian shoreline beneath ancient wine terraces. On the other there’s Lake Como, a dash of clear alpine water that cuts through the snow-capped mountains north of Milan.

We think that all Italian bucket lists should have both places. However, if that’s not doable and you have to pick one, keep reading. This guide will run through seven major facts about each place to help you home in on the one that’s right for you and your travel crew this year…

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for type of destination?

Cinque Terre
Photo by Aleksandra Zelena/Unsplash

First thing’s first – let’s take a look at what sort of destinations these are. Truth is, they’re quite different. Cinque Terre, meaning “five lands” in English, is a stretch of the coastline of the region of Liguria that goes from the city of La Spezia to the headland just south of Levanto. It runs for about 13 miles in all and contains a series of marina towns that are famed for their colorful buildings and charming ports. The whole region is knitted together by hiking paths and is notable for its centuries-old wine terraces.

Lake Como is Italy’s third-largest lake. It spreads like a spider with various legs through the Alps of the Lombardy region north of Milan, measuring nearly 30 miles from end to end (that’s almost double Cinque Terre). What the region lacks in salty beaches, it more than makes up for in dramatic mountain scenery – the 3,350-meter-high Piz Cengalo and other Swiss massifs keep watch over Como to the north. There are handsome medieval towns dotting the whole lakeside to boot.

Winner: Draw.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for ease of travel?

boat on Lake Como
Photo by Ellena McGuinness/Unsplash

We have to say that Lake Como is the easier of the two destinations to get to here. That’s largely down to one thing and one thing only: The proximity of Milan. That large metropolis doesn’t just have one airport, but three. The closest to Como itself is Milan Malpensa, but you could also fly into Bergamo or Linate, from where the lake is about 50 minutes’ driving. Como can also be reached by road from Switzerland – the main pass at Montespluga crosses over the border on the north side of the lake.

To get to Cinque Terre, you should first aim to fly into Pisa. That city might be in Tuscany, but it’s actually the closest of all the arrival points. Plus, it’s got an ever-growing range of arrival options from all over Europe, including regular summer links to London. It’s also possible to catch national train services into Cinque Terre from Genoa and Florence. To get between the villages themselves, most people hike (it’s one of the main activities), but it’s also possible to go via train or car.

Winner: Lake Como.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for towns?

lake como sunset
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Here’s a hard one. Photogenic towns come thick and fast in both these destinations. Let’s begin with Lake Como, where it’s Bellagio and Varenna that usually top the ticket. These are medieval shoreline escapes that have cobbled streets and elegant promenades. In the 1900s, many were transformed into jet-setter getaways, which brought the casinos and elegant aperitivo stops. Other towns worth seeing are Tremezzo, also old and handsome, and Colico, which is more modern but has quiet urban beaches under the high mountains.

There are five main towns to know about in Cinque Terre. They are ALL wonderful. Our favorite is probably Manarola. It’s a tiny horseshoe of pink and ochre houses that clusters in a gap in the Ligurian shore, a bijou marina tucked underneath. We’d say there’s hardly anywhere more handsome on the boot! Following that is the beachfront resort of Monterosso and cliff-ringed Riomaggiore.

Winner: The Cinque Terre – the towns there are famous. Como has some serious stunners of its own though.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for nature and adventure?

snowy alps
Photo by Azzedine Rouichi/Unsplash

Most people come to Cinque Terre to hike through the Cinque Terre National Park from village to village. The whole route usually takes six to eight hours, and it’s downright gorgeous, showcasing visions of lush cliffs and wine terraces that date back to the 1400s as it goes. Everything here is part of the aforementioned national park, including the beaches, where there’s lots of great snorkeling to be done between the sea caves and reefs.

Thing is, no matter what Cinque Terre has up its sleeve it’s never going to be enough to match the sheer majesty of the Alps that rise around Como. They start small (relatively small) at the gnarled peak of Monte Resegone and creep upwards until you get to the 13,000-foot monsters of the Piz Bernina that bound the lake just over the Swiss border. Naturally, all this comes with more hiking than you can shake your boots at, not to mention skiing aplenty come the winter months.

Winner: Lake Como.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for beaches?

Cinque Terre beaches
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Here’s an obvious thing to say: If you want a seaside escape then head to Cinque Terre. The reason? Lake Como is a lake, so it has no saltwater. More than that, the beaches that lie in wait beneath the cliffs of the Cinque Terre National Park are pretty darn lovely. We’ve never actually found a bad one, but there are some that stand out from the crowd:

  • Fegina Beach – The main beach of Monterosso, this one’s abuzz with life in the summer. There’s an island in the middle of it that’s great for snorkeling.
  • Tragagia – The old town beach of Monterosso, smaller than Fegina, often quieter and with a deep-water swim off.
  • Riomaggiore Beach – Lord Byron is said to have had a soft spot for this pebble cove. We’re sure you will too.

Of course, there are beaches in Lake Como. They just aren’t on the Med. Here, the banks of the lake are threaded with endless runs of soft grass and pebble that make for fantastic swimming in the summer months. The water is COLD, mind – it comes down from all those Swiss glaciers, after all. Our favorite beaches in Como are mainly up north around the town of Colico Piano but we also love the one in Dervio for its views and soft ground (it’s top picnic territory!).

Winner: Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for price?

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Neither of these places will be cheap. Both are known for their A-lister credentials. Both sit in pretty pricy parts of the boot – Cinque Terre at the tail end of the Ligurian Riviera and Lake Como among the beautiful Alps of Lombardy. Whichever you choose you’re probably going to have to spend more than you would in the likes of Rome or Milan.

With that out of the way, we’ll say that Cinque Terre is probably the slightly cheaper of the two overall. Travel price collator Budget Your Trip estimates that the average visitor can get by on $107 per day hopping between the handsome five villages. Over on the lakesides of Lombardy, you’d need something closer to $166 per day!

Seasonality is also likely to play a big role here. Cinque Terre will almost certainly get pricier in the peak summer months when the bulk of the crowds come. That goes for Lake Como, too, but there’s a second peak season in the mountains when the ski resorts open, so watch out for that!

Winner: Cinque Terre. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than Como.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como for food?

Italian rosotto
Photo by Rob Wicks/Unsplash

Foodies and Italy are a match made in heaven. What’s more, these two places are famed for their exquisite dining. Take Lake Como, which is dotted from top to bottom with elegant trattorias. The name of the game in these parts is the earthy and rich cuisine of the Lombardy region. That takes a nod from Austria and Germany, but also plenty from the fertile Po Valley and the Alps. As such, you’ll be eating saffron risotto and polenta with rich forest mushrooms.

Over in Liguria, the seafood tends to take over. Each of the five villages is equipped with its own old-school fishing harbor and local fishing folk still bring in the catch of the day. Popular dishes include frutti di mar pastas and cappon magro salads that include dried biscuits and layered seafood. Liguria also claims to be the home of focaccia bread. Mmmm.

Winner: Seafood lovers should go to Cinque Terre; the rest to Lake Como.

Cinque Terre or Lake Como – our conclusion

Look – you won’t have a bad trip in either of these places. They are both truly amazing. Lake Como has jaw-dropping vistas of the Italian Alps, world-class hiking, and never-forget-me towns like Bellagio and Menaggio. Cinque Terre, meanwhile, is among the most-photographed places in Europe. It’s top in spring and summer, when you can hike between the lovely villages, swimming in the Med to cool off whenever you like.