Be it the rugged simplicity of its five fishing towns, Vernazza, Manarola, Monterosso, Corniglia and Riomaggiore, or the clear blue sea and multi-coloured buildings, Cinque Terre is exceptionally beautiful. These five villages have given the region its name, Cinque Terre, which means “five lands” in Italian. The rocky mountains that rise precipitously from the pristine turquoise sea and the sloping vine and olive yards that cling onto the steep cliffs add to the mystic scenery of the region. The near impossibility of any real technological advancements in the region due to its unique geography, has proven to be a boon – Cinque Terre has managed to keep its enchantment intact.
The villages are connected by a 19th century railway that cuts through a series of coastal tunnels, traversing the seemingly impregnable cliff-sides. Cars are not allowed since over a decade back. The villages are also connected by the winding pathways along cliff edges above the sea side.
UNESCO’s recognition has made Cinque Terre one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. Each town has maintained its distinct charm and continues to draw visitors, in spite of some damages that were caused by the flash floods of 2011. Some of these coastal trails were closed for some years due repair work, but most of them have opened since and the remaining ones are expected to open in summer, 2016.
The other villages that were later established in due course of history were Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola.
The area provides with an excellent understanding of architecture during the High Middle ages as most of the castles and churches date back to the this era and have been preserved immaculately with almost no change from the those times.
During the unfortunate flash floods of 2011, many historic streets and houses in Vernazza and Monterosso were buried and there were many casualties. The people of this area, resilient as ever, bounced back to normal life in no time, though some walking trails are still fragile and hence closed to visitors. Most of them are scheduled to open by summer 2016.
But, late spring or early fall could be a good option so that you can avoid the crowds. It could be impossible to get a room in Cinque Terre in summer unless you book far in advance. The weather is also more agreeable and you could walk around and hike up the hills without much of a sweat. There could be a threat of rains during April, May or September, but it should not deter you from visiting Cinque Terre at this time.
The Malpensa International Airport at Milan serves as a major intercontinental base for the Italian airline Alitalia. You can reach the train station either by an express train which takes half an hour or by the airport bus from which takes about an hour.
Even though Milan is the major airport in the area, Pisa and Genova are the closest airports to Cinque Terre and Firenze is also not that far off, but you may not have the luxury of many international connections to these airports from outside Europe.
Trains from Genova and La Spezia are regular and run frequently. Trenitalia which is the state carrier, operates all trains. A tourism office in a hallway off platform 1, in La Spezia, sells passes for Cinque Terre including the hiking passes for the sea hugging walkways.
Getting around the five villages is the easiest by the local train that connects all the villages. The next best option is to hike and is highly recommended for the scenic walks. You could even hire a cab in Monterosso, Vernazza and Manarola.
Walking between villages is highly recommended for the excellent sights that the walks provide, even though there is an entrance fee to access the walkways. It is also an excellent activity to hike up to the higher pathways to Volastra, Monte Negro or paths beginning outside the park like the one between Levanto and Monterosso, which fortunately are off the tourist radars and can be very rewarding indeed.
Boats are a very scenic though expensive option to travel between villages. Two ferry lines operate along the Cinque Terre coast that cost 30 euros per day. Golfo Paradiso runs from Genova and Camogli to Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, between June and September. Golfo dei Poeti runs from Lerici to Monterosso, except Corniglia, stopping at each village, four times a day.
The village is literally built on one single road, which is thankfully, dotted with a variety of shops, gelaterias, bars and restaurants. Largo Taragio is the main square and is located midway along Via Fieschi, where you can find the 14th century church, Chiesa di San Pietro. Of note is the exquisite rose marble adorning its window that was brought from Carrara, a task that must have taken some serious effort to achieve in those days.
Monterosso al Mare
The village celebrates the most festivals of the five villages with the Lemon Feast on the Saturday preceding Ascension Sunday kicking off the events calendar and the annual flower festival of Corpus Christi, on the second Sunday after Pentecost. The alleyways are decorated with colourful petals during the evening procession.
You even have a salted anchovy and the olive oil festival that are celebrated annually during the second weekend of September.
Unfortunately, easy accessibility has brought in more visitors and modern construction that has diminished some of the old-world charm of the place.
Though a bit more crowded among the five villages, Vernazza excels the others with its beauty and its narrow streets and quaint squares. Being the only one village with a natural port, Vernazza became more important and wealthier than its neighbours. The enchanting arcades, loggias and marble work lining via Roma and Piazza Marconi are evidence to its historic importance.
The remains of the medieval fort, castle and the two towers in the Old Town, stand in stark contrast to the pink slate-roof houses and the colourful squares. Romans were the first settlers here in the 1st century.
With a lively social scene, Vernazza’s sandy beach is across Monterosso, visible from the Piazza Marconi. Dotted by many restaurants and bars, the outskirts of the piazza presents a busy visual treat, which is very unique to Vernazza.