The rugged coastlines and dramatic views of Cinque Terre have appealed to visitors for centuries, but these villages have been preserved by their inaccessibility. Only in the 19th century were the towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore (the “Five Lands”) reliably connected by train to the rest of Italy, and the region remains difficult-to-impossible to access by car. Protected from modern development, sustained by local industries such as fishing, vineyards, and olive orchards, the villages of Cinque Terre are truly steeped in the architecture and history of another time.
While access to the region poses a bit of a challenge to reach, that hasn’t deterred millions of tourists from making the journey every year to enjoy the mild weather and spectacular views, escaping from modern life for a while. Wild trees and herbs spring from the stony cliffs, pebbled beaches shelter clear water, and a winding network of trails and terraces tempt exploration.
When in Cinque Terre, don’t miss these unique experiences:
Hike the Blue Path
Cinque Terre is a hiker’s paradise, with numerous trails winding through the villages and traversing the mountainside. The Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path) is the most famous trail between villages, and a must-do for visitors. While a section of the Blue Path, the Via dell’Amore is still closed, the rest of the path remains open. Foot and mule traffic over the centuries carved this path along the coastline, connecting the villages, and it remains the favorite way to experience the region. It is a total of 12km from beginning to end, and takes approximately 5-6 hours to walk straight through. However, it’s better to allow yourself plenty of time to pause and enjoy each of the unique villages along the way, and many guests space the hiking of the Blue Path over a few days.
Explore the coast by ferry
If the ancient inhabitants of Cinque Terre weren’t walking from village to village, they traveled by boat, and it remains a pleasant and popular way to experience the region, particularly in summer. The villages are well-connected by ferries, and they offer views of the landscape best seen from the water. And be sure to take a ferry across the Gulf of Poets to the spectacular Portovenere. This medieval fishing village dates back to Roman times, and is home to an 11th century castle and the 13th century Church of San Pietro atop the sheer defensive walls. Portovenere is charming and picturesque, and offers breathtaking views.
Dine on anchovies
Even if you think you don’t like anchovies, the anchovies of Monterosso are a regional specialty not to be missed. For centuries, the villagers have been harvesting and processing these fish, using skills and techniques passed down through the generations. The sea water near Monterosso has a specific salinity and microclimate that gives these small, oily fish a firmer flesh and unique sweetness. Villagers eat them simply, on warm buttered bread, paired with a local wine. Indulging in these anchovies is not only an experience unique to Cinque Terre, but it also supports local, small-scale fish processing, and the preservation of the cultural heritage of the region.
Cinque Terre is currently considering ways to cap or limit visitors in order to preserve the unique culture and heritage of the villages–which can be overwhelmed with tourists in the height of summer. The rugged terrain makes access and further development difficult, which preserves the quaintness of the villages, but limits the availability of lodging. While many visitors opt for a day-trip from Genoa or Florence, in order to truly experience the specialness of this serene, historic setting, it’s best to book well in advance and give yourself at least a few days to truly savor the combination of nature and civilization that make Cinque Terre so unique.
Be sure to check out our photo tour of all the Mediterranean’s hottest destinations for 2018!