Along a beautifully isolated six-mile stretch of the most seductive corner of the northern Italian coast lies the Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh) — five (cinque) small towns gently and steadily carving a good life out of difficult terrain. Each village fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity — busy locals and curious travelers enjoying the area’s unique mix of Italian culture and nature. With a traffic-free charm — a happy result of their natural isolation — these towns are the rugged alternative to the glitzy Riviera resorts nearby.
We opted to take a Hiking Day Trip Tour to this Heritage Sight. It was a wise decision considering we only had a day to make everything right (Since reading there could be train transit complications and car re-routing or parking issues etc.) It was well structured, informative and most enjoyable. The walking aspect of the tour was fantastic, not only for the magnificent views and wild beauty of the area but also for the joy of some slightly strenuous physical challenge.
Until the advent of tourism in this generation, the towns were poor and remote. Today, tourism stokes their economies and each is well connected by hourly trains. But traditions are resilient, there’s not a chain store anywhere, and each of the five villages comes with a distinct dialect and its own proud heritage.
To preserve the Cinque Terre’s natural and cultural wonders, Italy has declared the region a park — towns and all. Visitors buy an inexpensive day pass to hike the scenic trail that laces together the unique communities.
Corniglia, with its mellow main square, is the quiet town — the only one of the five not on the water. From the train station, a footpath zigzags up nearly 400 stairs to the hilltop town. According to legend, a Roman farmer originally settled Corniglia, naming it for his mother, Cornelia (which is how Corniglia is pronounced in Italian). Residents claim Cornelia’s son produced a wine so famous that vases found at Pompeii touted its virtues. Still, today, wine remains the town’s lifeblood.
With the closest thing to a natural harbor — overseen by a ruined castle and an old church — Vernazza is the jewel of the Cinque Terre. Its action is at the harbor, where you’ll find restaurants, a bar hanging off the edge of the castle, a breakwater with a promenade, and a tailgate-party street market every Tuesday morning. While the old men putter with their tough little boats, the old women and children tend to the shops or settle comfortably in front of the church.
Monterosso, the Cinque Terre’s only resort town, comes with cars, hotels, rentable beach umbrellas, crowds, and a thriving late-night scene. Its historic center cradles Old World charm within crooked lanes and hole-in-the-wall shops.
Riomaggiore — the most substantial non-resort of the five towns — is a fascinating tangle of pastel homes that lean on each other like drunken sailors. A cliff-hanging trail leads from the beach to old Nazi bunkers and a hilltop botanical garden.
The next town, tiny Manarola, is a tumble of buildings bunny-hopping down its ravine to the harbor. You can hike up to Punta Bonfiglio — for a bar on a bluff between the cemetery and the sea — or enjoy tasty treats born right here: pesto on your focaccia, washed down by crisp local wine sprinkled with Mediterranean twinkles. Talk about going local.
It was crucial that our guides made the whole trip enjoyable! They were quite enlightened and had great personalities. Everything was on time, well organized, and safe. Thank you for a Fantastic Day!