A warm aura of romance and mystique hangs over the five villages. Inset like gems in the craggy coastline these villages will have you feeling like you’ve wandered onto a movie set. I had never heard of this place until I asked a young Italian in Queenstown “what is the best place to visit in Italy’ She answered without doubt Cinque Terre. I’d never heard of it let alone knew where it was. What I did know was I had to go there.
It isn’t exactly a secret of Italy any more, there’s seems to be plenty of visitors joining us for this magical journey. There are five villages…Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, the names themselves exude intrigue.
Each village offers you something slightly different, each will delight you in a unique way.
Manorola, unlike Vernazza or Rio has no beach but that doesn’t stop the locals jumping off the rocks into some of the best deep water swimming around there. Slightly mad I thought.. but I could have watched them for hours.
Manarola is connected to Riomaggorie by the famous Via Dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane); a footpath carved into the rocks above the sea.
Next up is Corniglia, the only town without access from the sea. The tiny village is connected to its train station by a footpath known as Lardarina (377 stairs) whew! The village is surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces. It looks more like a rural inland village than something you would find on the coast.
There are no roads directly into the villages and more to the point no cars in the villages – only boats, so when the sea is rough the boats park on the street – only in Italy!
If you drive, you must leave your car at a car park high above each village and hike down to it. We choose to train to the end and hike the 12 k between the villages. It proved to be a great choice, just look at this track!
The attractions of the Cinque Terre or in English, ‘The Five Lands’, are the pretty villages themselves. Pastel coloured houses jostle each other for space on the steep slopes and spill down to the sea. Narrow streets and alleys twist and turn at unexpected angles.
Small fishing boats sit on the streets where you might expect cars to be. Maybe the reason the Cinque Terre is so charming is because although it is a popular tourist destination, it seems untouched by the outside world.
The embrace of commercial development hasn’t yet tarnished the five villages. In place of tacky gift shops and t-shirt stores, you’ll be warmly greeted by friendly locals who will show you their way of life and culture.
The Cinque Terre is a beautiful region and I wish that we had more time here to relax and take it all in. Although they are all traditional fishing villages, terraces surrounding each village abound with fresh produce from vineyards, and olive and lemon groves. Accommodation ranges from hotels to rooms for rent in the locals houses. You can arrange for accommodations once you are there, but it could involve hiking into more than one village.
The abundance of local produce and the care with which it is grown means that the local food and wine is spectacular. There is a white wine grown in the terraced vineyards called Cinque Terre. Pair it with from Monterosso anchovies which are a local specialty (and will be better than you expect because they are fresh) or with a pasta dish topped with pesto. This area is the birthplace of pesto, and it doesn’t get any better. Top your meal off with another local specialty – a dessert wine called Sciacchetra. If you feel like a little something sweet after your meal, the town of Corniglia is particularly popular for “miele di Corniglia,” gelato made from local honey.
To work off the effects of your sumptuous dining, various local hikes offer the opportunity to get your blood pumping. The main one being the rugged path follows the 12km shoreline between the Southernmost Riomaggiore and Monterosso in the North. For the energetic, tackling the whole thing in a day is not a problem. The best time to go is in the spring to avoid the scorching summer sun, we were fairly hot in summer!
If your holiday is more for relaxing, and you’d rather not exert yourself too much, it’s possible to just do parts of the trail. Consider a stroll along the Via dell’ Amore (Lovers’ Way) between Riomaggiore and Manorola. Since it’s paved and fairly flat, it is the easiest stretch of the trail. An easy morning’s hike will take you both ways without difficulty. Since the Cinque Terre region is actually part of a national park and is a UNESCO heritage site, a nominal fee for walking this section will help to pay for the upkeep.
There are whole lots of options to see Cinque Terre. You can hike between just two or three of the towns and take the train back to your starting point or catch one of the ferries that run from village to village in the spring and summer. If you don’t feel up to a hike at all, a spectacular view of all each villages and the rugged coastline can be seen from the ferry. The ferries stop at all but Corniglia since Corniglia sits high above the sea. While we were there, the sea was uncharacteristically rough, so we walked instead but still managed to get some breathtaking views.
While getting there takes a little more effort than other Italian destinations, your efforts will be well rewarded.
If you’re planning a holiday to Europe, and want somewhere traditional and relaxed to unwind from the bustling metropolitan life, the Cinque Terre is for you. Whether you drive to one, hike to all five or view them from the sea, you’ll come away from the lively villages of the Cinque Terre with a smile on your face, and a newfound appreciation for the Italian saying “La vita è bella” – Life is beautiful.