Cinque Terre in Italian means ‘Five Lands’. Located in Italy’s northwestern coastal region of Liguria, the cluster of five villages of Cinque Terre features country’s most unique landscape. Hanging onto the edge of the cliff, overlooking the blue waters of Mediterranean, every town of Cinque Terre is distinct. While some boast of medieval historical quarters, others are adorned with colorful houses stuck to the steep cliff sides, and then there are some with wine terraces dating back to hundreds of years.
About Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre comprises of five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso from the east towards the northwest. Riomaggiore is accessible by 20 minutes drive from La Spezia. Local trains from La Spezia to Genoa pass through these world famous villages. A hike through Cinque Terre offers some of Italy’s most stunning coastal views. A railway line cutting through series of tunnels connect all the villages and it is quite a popular alternative to hop from one to the other.
Each village of Cinque Terre exudes unique blend of Italian culture. The easternmost village of Riomaggiore is the prettiest of them all with stunning cliffside fishermen’s residences, creating a colorful backdrop against azure blue waters. Manarola is a smaller version of Riomaggiore with steep cliffs adorned with chiselled terraces. Corniglia is the ‘quiet’ middle village with rocky cliff front covered with vineyards. Vernazza boasts historical vibes with narrow streets, a church and Piazza Marconi adding to the medieval charm. Monterosso is the most different of all with a real beach.
History of Cinque Terre
Besides the stunning vistas, the villages enjoy fascinating history. Most of the villages date back to medieval period, with the village of Monterosso being the oldest. It was founded in 643 AD by the fishing community in the region. Riomaggiore was the last one to be inhabited. It was established in the 8th century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium. The locals lived off vineyards and olive cultivation for centuries. They built towers, piazza and illustrious parish churches. Much of what remains in the villages today date from the late Middle Ages. Nothing much has changed in Cinque Terre landscape barring the introduction of modern connectivity bringing millions of tourists.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
I visited Cinque Terre the first time more than a decade ago. After that i have been there two more times, but the memory from the first trip as vivid as yesterday. During my first visit, I hiked across five villages to explore the uniqueness of Cinque Terre. The hike from the first village of Riomaggiore to the fifth village of Monterosso took around 6 hours, of course with few breaks soaking up the pristine beauty of the Mediterranean at every pit stop. There were many walking trails connecting all the five towns, but the sinuous path running by the coastline was the most stunning of all. Hiking along the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail) revealed the beauty of Cinque Terre at its glorious best. Back in those days, hiking on the coastal trail marked as No2 didn’t require purchasing a pass. Now a pass is needed to use this path.
Riomaggiore to Manarola
The most memorable part of the entire hike was Via dell’Amore (Love Walk) which ran by the edge of the cliff. The unhindered view of the mediterranean from the narrow covered lane is still imprinted on my mind. A light lunch at La Cantina Dello Zio Bramante provided enough fuel to last for next few hours of the hike. The serving of fresh tuna salad with lemon, olive oil and crusty bread was a gentle reminder of how simple pleasures of the world is all you need to feel in heaven!
Via dell’Amore, the most beautiful coastal route from Riomaggiore to Manarola is now closed for tourists. The alternate route of hiking through the mountains takes 35 to 45 minutes to reach Manarola. ‘The Lover’s Lock’ situated in the mid-way down the path is where tourists and locals tie love locks to seal their eternal love.
Manarola to Corniglia
Though it was possible to reach Corniglia by train, we opted for the step route passing through the vineyards. The arduous climb of 365 steps up the hill from the station deterred even the fittest tourists. It took us around 2 hours of non stop climbing to reach Corniglia. Our efforts were rewarded by a splendid panorama of the bay. Sitting on top of a large hill, the elevation offered great view of both Corniglia and Manarola from Prevo in the middle.
Corniglia to Vernazza
The Blue Trail from Corniglia to Vernazza was a dusty path that started from an olive grove above the town. This was the greenest trail and took around 90 minutes to cover the distance. The Sentiero Azzurro twisting at 208 meters above sea level, the highest spot during the hike, offered spectacular cliff facing panorama of Vernazza. The scenic route passing through charming vineyards was worth the entire excursion. My shutter was clicking non-stop. The bell towers at Vernazza was a reminder of the medieval origin of Cinque Terre.
Vernazza to Monterosso
Again the Blue Trail No2 was an ideal route to cover the last leg of the hike. On the steepest and most arduous of all trails, it took around 2 hours to reach Monterosso. The alternate hillside route 7 was longer, but can be considered as lesser number of tourists take this trail. The northernmost town of Monterosso was completely different from other four villages. The trail seemed to end abruptly on a pretty beach dotted with deck chairs, cafe and lounge bars. It was time to cool off. We enjoyed some negronis on the beach while reminiscing over the uniqueness of Cinque Terre. Taking a dip in the Mediterranean at Monterosso was surely the ultimate way to unwind after a hike.
The fun part of hiking in Cinque Terre was to take multiple breaks at smaller restaurants and grab the essentials and quintessential panini. There were lovely pizzeria and diners to eat and drink in every village.
Interesting facts about Cinque Terre
- This is Italy but it is about hiking, so dress up for rough terrain with running shoes or hiking boots.
- Purchasing a hike and train pass together gives flexibility of getting on and off the train or the trail whenever you wish.
- The most beautiful coastal route of Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia is closed because of landslides in 2011.
- Start early to avoid harsh sun in June, July, August; it gets pretty warm around the coastal areas with no shade.
- Taking a ferry ride across the sea passing by five villages is another way to explore Cinque Terre from the water front.
The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The entire area is a car free zone. And with relative isolation from the industrial and corporate developments, Cinque Terre has still retained its pristine glory. But with 2.5 million visitors in 2015, the cruise liners dumping swaths of tourists everyday, Cinque Terre is getting over exposed making it impossible to sustain the ecology of the villages and the marine balance. The authority is taking stringent measures to prevent Cinque Terre from loosing its charm. The entry has been limited to Cinque Terre. The tickets need to be bought well in advance as only specific numbers of tourists are allowed everyday. The tickets can be booked here on the Official Website of Cinque Terre National Park.
Despite of all the over exposure and hype, Cinque Terre still features as one of the great escapes in Italy. Buon Viaggio!
Like Cinque Terre, Venice is overexposed and faces similar ecological consequences. Visiting the islands around Venice is a great way to escape the crazy crowds and heat of Venice. Read more about Island hopping around Venice!