If you ever travel by train between Genoa and La Spezia in Italy, it seems like you are in a tunnel nearly all the time. Occasionally you get little splashes of colour, the blue of the Mediterranean and glimpses of old houses, but before you know it you will be in the next big town. If this happens to you, you have missed out on some of Italy’s most extraordinary countryside, so special that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. This is the Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre Card – Now this is a national park so you do have to purchase a ticket on arrival. It allows unlimited use of the walkways of the park and unlimited use of the train system that links all five villages. The money is goes towards preserving this unique place.
Monterosso Al Mare – First stop is Monterosso, which has one of the best beaches on the Cinque Terre, and there are some large statues embedded into the rocks overlooking it. Now Monterosso is perhaps most famous for anchovies. They have an anchovy festival and you can sample this local delicacy fried, raw with lemon juice, pickled in brine, salted in a glass, or my favourite oven baked with tomatoes and potatoes.
Vernazza – This is probably the most fetching of the five villages and has a wonderful piazza by the seafront. There are also the remains of an 11th century castle. If you head inland from here the road becomes choked with Vineyards and lemon groves, real picture postcard stuff, which gives you a glimpse of its agricultural heritage
Corniglia – This village balances high on a ridge above the sea and is full of beautiful 4 storey houses, narrow lanes and stairways woven into the hill alongside La Torre, a medieval lookout tower. From the central square you can head to Belvedere Santa Maria, another tower for more fabulous views, but be warned, it’s 363 steps to the top.
Manarola – There is some great history in this village, a 13th Century church, a bell tower used as a lookout in the 14th Century and an Oratory which once served as a leper colony, and these are all just on the main square. More grapes are grown here than anywhere else in the Cinque Terre so it is a good spot for wine tasting.
Riomaggiore – This is the main village of the five and the main street appears to be a mess of house slithering down a ravine. There are tiny fishing boats tied up by the small waterside square, a nod to the once busy fishing industry here. If you arrive here by train walk through the tunnel in front of the station and you will come across some great murals which depict the lives of the farmers of this region, and how they built the Cinque Terre.
Getting around: You can get to each of the villages by train, there are also ferries between the them as well but most people opt to walk between them using the many paths and trails along the hillside, the most famous of which is the Via Dell’Amore or Lovers Lane as we would call it, which is a 1km stretch between Manarola and Riomaggiore, this path has lots of stone benches to allow you to stop and take in the views. All paths should be open again for the 2015 season.
When to go – Northern Spring and Autumn, basically avoid late July and August if you can as the crowds can be huge but as there is now this ticket system the gates can be closed when it gets too busy.
How long to stay – typically 2 or 3 full days is perfect as you can visit each of the villages and enjoy some of the walks. Serious walkers might enjoy a longer stay – see below.
For more detail on Walking the Cinque Terre – click HERE