Situated along an isolated corner of Italy’s northern coast, Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh) is a beautiful oceanside destination that consists of five picturesque villages, linked by a network of stunning coastal- and mountain trails and rural railways. Travellers who join us on tour to Italy are always thrilled to enjoy a day of exploration in this magnificent location, here’s why…
It’s an UNESCO World Heritage site
This spellbinding destination is set amidst some of the world’s most dramatic coastal scenery and has been deemed iconic enough to receive UNESCO World Heritage status, due to its role in preserving a traditional way of life that has existed for millennia. In fact, the Italians are so serious about maintaining Cinque Terre’s natural and cultural wonders that the entire region has been declared a park – towns and all!
There are no cars at all!
If you want to experience Fiat-free Italy, Cinque Terre is the place to be. Due to the region’s isolated nature and steep, rugged terrain, it’s very hard to traverse with any type of vehicle, which means everyone gets around by foot or by rail. This of course begs the question – how on earth do you get there? The simplest way to make your way there is by rail – a well-maintained train line connects the villages directly with Genoa, Pisa and Rome. The value-for-money Cinque Terre Pass covers travel between Levanto and La Spezia, as well as the fees to hike the scenic trails that laces together the unique communities. You could also arrive by sea if that floats your boat – from mid-March to September there are ferries that bring visitors from Genoa, Portofino and Portovenere. Alternatively, you could always rent a yacht from one of these ports and sidle up to Cinque Terre in true Italian style.
Each town has a singular character
Cinque Terre, which loosely translates to ‘five lands’, comprises the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso and Vernazza. The truly great thing is that each of these towns has a singular character that sets it apart from the rest despite its relative proximity to the others.
RIOMAGGIORE is the easternmost of the five villages and known as the region’s unofficial capital. Here, a remarkable tangle of pastel-hued homes lean on one another like sailors on leave, making for exceptional photo opportunities and an unbeatable romantic ambience at sunset. The town’s most popular sights include the Torre Guardiola, a nature reserve and botanical garden where local birdlife and flora can be observed from a bird-watching centre located in the former La Batteria Racchia – a WWII naval installation.
MANAROLA is popular with foodies and wine aficionados – the vineyards that surround the village produce Sciacchetrà, a quintessential Cinque Terre wine, and the waterfront promenade is lined with fishing boats that drop off fresh seafood at port. Most visitors take the time to hike up to Punta Bonfiglio, a stunning viewpoint on a rocky promontory on the way out of town towards Corniglia where you can enjoy a refreshing beverage on a bar between a cemetery and the ocean.
CORNIGLIA is the only one of the five towns that is not situated directly on the water, although you are welcome to climb down the 400+ steep stairs that descend down to the train station if that is your cup of tea. Quiet and tranquil, with a leafy central square where you can drink in the region’s slow and steady culture, Corniglia also has the distinction of being the only one of the towns that has a vantage point from where you can view (and photograph!) all five of the villages at once.
MONTEROSSO is the most vibrant and bustling of the five villages, with a thriving nightlife and resort atmosphere. It’s the only town with a strip of beach, where you can rent an umbrella and buy plump anchovies straight off the boat. Monterosso is the westernmost of the Cinque Terre villages and the most easily accessible by vehicle. Antique enthusiasts will enjoy the old world charm of is historic city centre that features ambling lanes and throngs of little shops.
If Cinque Terre was a crown, VERNAZZA would be the crown jewel. The village boasts the region’s only secure harbourside landing space, which is flanked by the spellbinding Piazza Marconi with its delightful eateries and beautiful promenade where locals and visitors enjoy passeggiata (evening strolls) when dusk descends. Whatever you do, make time to enjoy the singular vista from Doria Castle, a 15th century lookout tower that was built to protect the village from pirates.
We love stopping over at Cinque Terre on our Expat Explore coach tours of Italy. Have you ever been to the Five Lands? Get in touch – we’d love to hear all about your experience and find out which attractions you enjoyed the most.
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