Between the bustling cities of Genoa and Pisa, there exists a short stretch of Mediterranean coastline that when visited, will more than likely become your favorite place on earth. A bold claim; however centuries of rich and unique history, spectacular vistas, warm people and simple, fresh food will allow no other affect.
Le Cinque Terre, or the Five Lands, are traffic-free, cliff-hugging villages perched above the Mediterranean Sea and guarded by 1000 year old castles towering over the towns. Villagers once used the castle walls for protection from Turkish pirates.
The world has taken notice of this special spot. The Cinque Terre has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a national park and a protected marine area. You can experience nature, land and sea, all with that Italian sense of good taste.
Walking is the best way to experience the five villages. A well-maintained footpath guides you through the terraced landscape. Some sections are easier to walk than others and you never know the surprise awaiting you around the next corner; an open Mediterranean view, an ancient stone wall, or the 368 steps up between you and the town of Corniglia.
The easiest section may be to follow the path of love, the Via Dell'Amore, between Manarola and Riomaggiore and which is wheelchair friendly. Before internet dating, the ancient path of lovers was once the only way to meet your intended.
A train runs between all five cities allowing you to alternate between walking and train transportation as you make your way from Riomaggiore in the South to Monterosso int eh North. From Monteroso, you can return south by ferry with stunning views of the cliff-side villages from the water.
This is white wine, pesto and anchovy land. When the sun sets you can watch the lights of the anchovy fisherman as they perform their nightly dance to encourage the small fish into their nets. You can hike through olive groves and grape vines to your restaurant and then dip your bread in the oil and sip wine made from Cinque Terre grapes.
From North to South – A Village Primer
Pick a village, any village. From Monterosso at the northern end to Riomaggiore at the southern end, each village offers the quintessential Italian experience. Traditions survive in these small isolated towns, church bells ring and Tuesday is market day.
Monterosso is the busiest town and does allow some cars but once you get to Vernazza, with its hillsides of grapevines, olive trees and cactus you will begin to feel you have come upon something special.
Corniglia sits a little higher than the others and if arriving after the midday meal you may see few people, but lots of napping dogs stretched out in corners or right along the path to Manarola. You may want to take a quick dip into the Med to refresh yourself before the final stretch to Riomaggiore with its pastel-colored houses, which are approved by the Commissioner of Good Taste.
Whether it becomes your favorite place on earth or not, memories are made on the Ligurian cliffs of the pedestrian paradise known as the Cinque Terre.
You can catch these spectacular sites as an optional excursion in our 12-day Treasures of Italy Tour.