Although it has become more well-known among tourists over the last few years, Cinque Terre remains a charming place in Italy where visitors can escape the crowds found in many of Italy´s top tourist destinations. Located along the Riviera in the Linguria region of Italy, Cinque Terre is made up of five lovely villages nestled along the rocky coastline of the Lingurian Sea.
Hiking is perhaps the most popular tourist activity at Cinque Terre. The most frequented route is the trail closest to the water, marked Number Two. This trail takes hikers along easy, paved terrain, through orchards and olive groves, up steep zigzagging staircases, and past spectacular ocean views. More experienced hikers will enjoy getting off the beaten path and exploring some of the less-frequented paths higher up from the water.
Food and Drink
With olive trees and vineyards covering much of the Cinque Terre panorama, it should not be surprising that wine, olives, and olive oil are local staples. Typical local dishes include frittata, stuffed and fried anchovies, spiced octopus, stuffed calamari, and vegetable pies. Trofie, a type of pasta made with chestnut and wheat flour, and farinata, similar to focaccia but made with chick pea four, are two other local favorites. Dry white wine and Sciacchetra, a locally made desert wine, are two local drink specialties.
The Five Towns
Make sure to leave at least two days to visit Cinque Terre, though most visitors recommend staying for up to a week. Starting with the northernmost town, the five towns that make up Cinque Terra are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These five towns have the beautiful trails that connect them, so walking from town to town is a great option. Since many visitors will incorporate the cinque terre as part of an expansive exploration of Italy, planning head of time for this part of the trip with a rental car and insurance is necessary.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare has a fortified town center that played an important role during the Lombard invasions in the 7th century. The old town and the new town are separated by a short tunnel, and the entire town caters to pedestrians, with very few cars circulating. Unfortunately, the beautiful sand beach can become quite crowded during the summer. This town recently experienced flooding, but a wave of relief was sent to help so that it may quickly regain its vibrancy.
As the largest of the five villages, the trattorias are bustling and the streets are lively. While it may not have the same charm as the smaller villages, it has modern amenities, ample choices for lodging and beachside bars and restaurants. Sites in Monterosso al Mare that are worth a visit include:
- The church of St. John
- The ruins of the old castle
- The Capuchin monastery
The importance of the town of Vernazza dates back to 1080, when it was established as a fortified town by the Italian noble family, the Obertenghi. It served as a naval base of sorts for protection against pirates. Commerce in Vernazza was traditionally centered on fishing and the production of wine and olive oil. This lovely town is built along the rocky slopes of the coastline overlooking the sea. Sites to see include:
- The Lingurian gothic church of St. Margaret of Antiochia
- The Doria Castle
- The Sanctuary of Madonna di Reggio
- The Chapel of Santa Maria
Located on a promontory about 100 meters above the sea, Corniglia is a picturesque town surrounded by the view of the Lingurian sea on one size, and terraces and vineyards on the other three sides. From its perch, all four other towns on Cinque Terre are visible, two on each side. In order to reach Corniglia, visitors much climb a steep series of 382 steps from the trail below if they wish to access the town on foot. Main sites are:
- The church of Saint Peter
- The ruins of Genoese fortifications
In Manarola, the colorful houses, typical of Cinque Terre, are distributed along the course of the Groppo stream. The houses decend along the rocky promontory to the point where the port is enclosed by two large boulders. Often considered the quietest of the five towns, Manarola´s narrow streets and trails are high above the busy Via dell’Amore. The beaches at Manarola have caves, underwater rocks, and many other features to explore.
- The Nativity scene on the hill in front of the houses, with over 200
- The gothic parish church
Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the five villages. The lively main street, Via Colombo, features cafés, gelaterias, restaurants, and bars. Other than the quaint main street acting as the heartbeat of the town, the main attraction is the ancient stone castle that sits above the church of St. Giovanni Battista.
Cinque Terre may be becoming more well-known among tourists, but it still offers the authentic Italian experience that travelers crave. For a trip that goes beyond the crowded noise of Rome and the usual tourist destinations, these five towns are a refreshing escape that will be sure to satisfy.
Mac H. is a freelance writer and European history and culture enthusiast who loves to write about his experiences. He is preparing for a trip to Italy in May 2012 and hopes to be prepared with travel knowledge and good rental car insurance.