I will bless Jay's college study abroad forever for taking him here,
and giving him the desire to take me back.
We stayed in Corniglia, which next to Manarola is the quietest of the five cities, and the furthest from the ocean. But you can't beat the views, and waking up to the sound of waves and birds chirping instead of human commotion is the best thing. If you are coming with kids or want to have easy access to the beach, Corniglia probably wouldn't be your best bet but it was perfect for us. (Our second favorite is probably Vernazza, which has a great little cove area perfect for water play!)
We hiked the five cities (the walk of love on the south end is closed maybe indefinitely, which makes it a tougher hike, but so worth it) and I'm so glad we did. With the longer hike up through the mountains instead of the original path, it takes a very full day. You may think about breaking it into two. Regardless. Pictures never do justice to God's creations, but I'm getting better behind the lens to at least give you an idea. Holy moly. Because the last time Jay did this hike it was a lot easier and shorter, we didn't understand the need to hustle our way through the cities and may have been the very last insane people on the trail after dark.
Crystal blue water, tiny, wandering streets and stairways, lemon and olive trees on terraced hillsides, and pizza by the ocean.
Recommendations: "Happy breakfast" at Matteo's in Corniglia. The fresh squeezed juice and hot chocolate are amazing, and it's the closest thing to an American breakfast you'll get all over Europe.
The pizza place right on the water in Vernazza. We got ours to go and ate it with our feet in the water.
Fried seafood cones in Riomaggiore. I'll crave that for forever.