Seductive Italian Riviera Coastline ~ Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands), a six-mile stretch of coastline along the Italian Riviera, seductively draws tourists, her allure building every year.  Hanging off the cliff sides, this grouping of five villages, the coastline that hugs them, and the surrounding hillsides all coalesce to form the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leave your vehicle at your hotel, if you came in one as we did, and join the tourists who use her walking paths, trains, shuttles, and boats to move from village to village.  At least these tourists seem more laid-back than those we had seen in other large cities.

Although Cinque Terre has been “discovered”, there remains an air of authenticity here.  The enchantment of the Cinque Terre is found in the colorful houses and shops, appearing to be stacked one on top of another, running down the ravines and hillsides to the shore.  Her real charm is in the lack of corporate development.  There is something provocative about the locals refusing to give in to the trappings of the modern world.  Their philosophy of living a good life is through religious devotion, family ties, hard work, and lots of wine and laughter.  Throughout the centuries these hardy locals have terraced the hillsides, building houses, planting vineyards, olive groves, and family gardens, tending and harvesting them.

Nets tied up under olive groves awaiting a new harvest.
Nets tied up under olive groves awaiting a new harvest.

We had hoped to be spontaneous about sleeping arrangements here but the more we read of the Cinque Terre, even in the shoulder months of September and October, the more we thought an advance hotel reservation may be in order.  Knowing we might be crowd weary at day’s end, I chose a hotel above the Cinque Terre, in the small village of Volastra.   We couldn’t have been more pleased with Hotel Il Saraceno and her proprietress, Antonella. Arriving late afternoon when restaurants were closed, we walked to the market for local fare of cheeses, salami, bread, antipasto, and wine.  The terrace back at the hotel became our banquet table and Antonella contributed wine glasses for the affair.  Waking to cappuccino and a wonderful breakfast spread each morning and coming back to a quiet little hotel above the bustling villages each night made this the perfect respite.

We had planned to hike the Sentiero Azzurro (Azure Trail) when we arrived, a trail that connects all five villages. Unfortunately sections have been closed for repairs since the devastating floods and mudslides of October 2011 and are yet to reopen.  We hiked all that was available and enjoyed the views from each section.  Purchasing the Cinque Terre Multi-Service Card, which included the use of walking trails within the National Park, as well as the train and shuttles, completed the logistics for navigating from village to village, and it paid for itself quickly.

Given Cinque Terre’s location on the Mediterranean, seafood is plentiful here.  Acciughe ( ah-CHOO-gay), aka anchovies, is a local specialty and not the salty version we know of in the states.  These are fresh from the sea, cooked in various dishes.  I enjoyed a layered casserole of whole anchovies, potatoes, tomatoes, white wine, oil, and herbs…very tasty!

The villages each have their own unique qualities so each draws its own special crowd. From north to south, here are the “five lands” of the Cinque Terre:

1)  Monterosso al Mare

This is the oldest of the five villages, founded in A.D. 643, when locals moved from the hills to the coast to escape barbarians.  It is the only town built on flat land, has both an old town and new town, separated by a tunnel, and is the only village with a proper beach.  It was one of two villages hit the hardest by the floods of 2011.

2)  Vernazza

Founded around the year 1000, it has the closest thing to a natural harbor and this is where the action is in town. We spent much of our time in this quaint village down at the harbor, watching old men puttering with their fishing boats and students sketching and watercoloring, as we enjoyed  sunny days, picnic lunches of friggitoria (bite-sized seafood piled into a paper cone), and gelato (of course).  Many feel Vernazza is the jewel of the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza was hit the hardest on  October 25, 2011, when 22″ of rain fell, burying much of the town under ten feet of mud.  With the affluence brought on by tourism, some locals had abandoned their land, leaving vineyards unworked and stone walls crumbling, all which slid into the village, adding to the devastation – a tough lesson for the residents.

3)  Corniglia

The quiet middle village, Corniglia is the only town not on the water, although steps lead down to a rocky cove. Some say that vases of wine found at Pompeii were those made in this peaceful little village.  Wine is still the life blood today.

4)  Manarola

Tucked in a ravine, mellow Manarola has a little harbor at its base.  It’s hillsides, blanketed with vineyards, have more grapes than any other village.  Great photos can be taken of the colorful village and harbor from a point on the peninsula.  Our first hike was from Volastra down to Manarola, a steep descent through olive groves and vineyards, with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean.

5)  Riomaggiore

Largest of the five villages, Riomaggiore was built in the 8th century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium.  It is the laid-back working man’s town, with colorful murals honoring the workers who built the 300 million cubic feet of stone walls, made without mortar, that runs through Cinque Terre.

I had read that Cinque Terre has a way of mesmerizing those who visit, with many planning to leave but still here. We had much yet to see in Italy so we made our escape after a fantastic 4-day visit.

Next Up:  “Under the Tuscan Sun”

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39 thoughts on “Seductive Italian Riviera Coastline ~ Cinque Terre

  • This wonderful post, full of enticing photos, brought back so many great memories for me LuAnn. When Don and I first began our nomadic life it was in Italy, first to the extraordinary underground Temples of Humankind at Damanhur near Torino, and then CinqueTerre. Our new life was so fresh and exciting then and Cinque Terre seemed like a fairytale dream.
    Alison

  • What a gorgeous and quaint place. It looks like a step back in time with some future stuff added in for good measure. The type of place you would love to spend time just exploring, and never finding the same place twice.

  • Your photos are enticing and captivating. How great your choice of being away from the crowds. Sounds like a really good decision. Fresh anchovies you say? I’m there!! Those are just yummy. Really enjoyed being back in Italy vicariously through your post.
    Enjoy!
    Peta

  • I’m sorry to hear parts of the trail are still closed. We were lucky to get there before the heavy flooding and loved that day-long stroll through the five villages (with plenty of stops for wine, food, and ice cream!). Your words and photos perfectly capture the languid spirit of the Cinque Terre.

    • Thanks David. Cinque Terre was a nice break from bigger cities and the hectic crowds. Some of the villages were a bit crowded, but they seemed to be more laid-back.

  • I love anchovies. Paul, not so much.
    Oh my gosh…how much beauty can one person experience. This is a trip I would truly LOVE! Your photos are gorgeous. I love the way you give us a taste of each of the places you two visit. Thank you for doing such a great job!

  • I have read novels set in the Cinque Terre area and got the same sense you portray, of steep hillsides with tight harbors. You hiking the steep trails takes me to places I can no longer navigate myself and thank you for the delight.

  • This looked like a wonderful few days! How very cool to be hiking between these neat villages:) This was a great stop! Such a lot beauty. I love your choice for a header photo…gorgeous! John and I both are loving following you around:)

    • Not sure why this ended up in my spam folder, which I just now found. Cinque Terre is wonderful and would have been more so had we been able to connect all 5 villages by way of a hike.

  • No problems with vertigo in the Cinque Terre! Perhaps the first words that come into my mind after seeing your beautiful photos are the overused “charming” and “picturesque” but how else to describe this area? It must have been so hard to say goodbye … We’ve grown to love the fresh sardines of Portugal and, thanks to your description, I’m looking forward to tasting the fresh anchovies. Can’t wait to visit this area when we make our way to Italy! Anita

  • How wonderful to have four days there. We squeezed what we could into a day trip from Florence. And in early July felt that crowds on the railway platforms were so intense it was dangerous! You got some great pictures!

    • The crowds at times were still pretty intense even in October, but after having escaped some larger cities, I did feel that the tourists in the CT were a bit more laid-back.

  • Your pictures bring back wonderful memories. We visited exactly one year after the mudslide and stayed in Vernazza in support of rebuilding the town’s tourism industry and were pleasantly surprised to see how quickly they cleaned up and rebuilt. We completely fell in love with the villages. -Ginette

  • This was one of my favorite places in my year of European travels. I loved hiking the gorgeous Azure Trail, wandering from one village to the next. Glad to hear they’re working on repairing the damage from the mudslides. You really captured the colorful beauty and romance of the Cinque Terre in your photos, LuAnn—I’m on my third tour through your wonderful collection. :-))

    • I loved the Cinque Terre. I think my favorite section to hike was up high in the vineyards, then down into the forest and even an easement through someone’s front yard to go from Volastra to Corniglia. We loved people watching at the harbor in Vernazza. Magical!

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