Located in Liguria (an italian region just above Tuscany and close to France), the Cinque Terre (=”five lands”) consists of five small towns (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) situated on small hills and just in front of the sea.
So for those of you that have that ever present doubt on whether to spend your holidays down by the sea or up in the mountains this place should sort out any problem.
You might even have a restoring bath in the sea or enjoying a fantastic gelato after a long day of hiking on the sorrounding rocky hills, so this could be one of the supposedly rare occasions where you have to bring flip flops in your trekking back pack or mountain shoes by your towel on the shore. And these are not your everyday somewhat boring sandy shores either: vertical cliffs of rock stand just behind you and in some cases the shore itself consists in just a very narrow sand belt sorrounded by majestic vertical rock walls and rocky natural structures you can set up your beach towel and umbrella on, adding a unique alpinistic taste to a day at the beach.
The landscape is made even more extraordinary by the man-made terraces on the rugged, steep background right up to the cliffs, crossed every few hours by the only small train line that serves the area. Let’s see now the details of each of these shining hidden jewels of the Italian Riviera.
It’s the biggest one of the five with its population of slighly more than 1500 inhabitants and the one furthest north. Coming from Tuscany this was my first stop while visiting the Cinque Terre, and my jaw literally dropped when I got out of the train station and I found myself directly by the sea (most pleasant train station environment i’ve ever seen in my young life for sure). The train journey itself from Tuscany to Monterosso is quite incredible itself and it’s probably one of the most panoramic train routes in Italy, leading you through the hills overlooking the sea, you have a magnificent view over the translucent blue water in a warm welcoming frame of olive trees.
From Monterosso you can either go directly by the beach ( here you either go for the sandy part of the shore or the more harsh looking rocky shore), from which you can observe as well as the emerald sea the Statua del Gigante, an enormous statue depicting Neptune laying on a cliff, or go for an excursion towards the Punta Mesco. This latter is a small hill by the sea, this stroll will take you in slighly more than 1 h to the Semaforo (=”traffic light”), an abandoned historic lighhouse from which you’ll have a spectacular view of the sea from a vertical wall 100 mt high (so be careful and mind your steps) . If you’re somewhat of a romantic type and know a little bit of italian, you’ll certainly enjoy the numerous quotes etched on many of the village’s architectures by the poet Eugenio Montale (Nobel laureate, 1975).
Still by the sea you also take a glance at some of the military architectures build mainly during the Second World War with the aim of protecting the shores from any attempt of d-day like invasion.
just below Monterosso, this is perhaps my favourite one of the Cinque, a little bit less touristic and overcrowded than Monterosso, this small village by the sea really gives you the impression of being in some remote tropical paradise while you’re in fact just at a bit more than 1 hour distance by train from some of the major Italian cities. From here you can take a spectacular hike to the Santuario di Nostra Signora di Reggio (325 mt over the sea level) that will lead you through the woods to a piece of religious architecture extraordinarily preserved despite being some 800 years old (!).
(a view over Vernazza shore)
From the gorgeous shore you can also take a look at your colorful next one on the list: Corniglia.
This one is the smallest and maybe the least impressive of the five lands, it has nevertheless an irresistible familiar appeal to it and the colorful houses by the sea make it look like a place taken out of a fairy tale.
As for Manarola
you can admire the village in all its splendour from the Punta Bonfiglio (you can easily reach this place on foot from the train station). At the very top of Punta Bonfiglio lays the local graveyard. One might argue that a graveyard is not exactly the kind of place you’re looking foreward to visiting while on vacation, but this particular one is definitely worth a brief visit both for the small but aesthetic church nearby and for the poetry lines etched on the sorrounding wall that add some kind of decadent appeal to it.
«O aperti ai venti e all’onde
Una rosea tristezza vi colora
quando di sera, simile ad un fiore
che marcisce, la grande luce
si va sfacendo e muore.»
(Liguria, Vincenzo Cardarelli)
bastano pochi stocchi d’erbaspada
penduli da un ciglione
sul delirio del mare.»
(Riviere, Eugenio Montale)
Last but not least we have Riomaggiore
(one could say dulcis in fundo), which is perhaps the best choice for those of you that are more the hiking type of person than the beach type, as a crowded web of panoramic paths has its start or crosses this small town. One of my favourite is the so called Via dell’Amore (Via de l’Amùu in the local dialect, street of love in english), a spectacular path over a cliff overlooking the sea you can easily walk on with your flip flops.
Of course one could not write an article about Italy without spending a couple of words on the local Cuisine
As far as street food is concerned, you cannot go to Liguria and not try the farinata, a kind of thin yellow bread made with chickpeas flour and the omnipresent olive oil. Another must of the local street food is the focaccia alla genovese, another kind of bread with salt and extra virgin olive oil that will surprise you with its simplicity and amazing flavour. Like many other towns by the sea one recurring ingredient of the local cuisine is fish, particulary appreciated here is the gianchetti (a kind of small blue fish) soup.
So whether you’re a beach lover, a die-hard hiker or a hopeless romantic and poetry enthusiast you have all the reasons to put Cinque Terre on your travel wish list!