The other motive of my affection for Liguria is because I once spent an unrepeatably wonderful weekend in the area known as the Cinqueterre (the Five Lands; also spelled Cinque Terre), located just north of La Spezia. Like virtually all Ligurian coastal towns, the Cinqueterre seems to balance precariously on the last fingertips of land jutting out from the continental landmass before it definitively sinks into the sea. Liguria has been defined as a "corridor" of land caught between the Apennines and the sea, and the Cinqueterre is the epitome of that description.
When my two friends and I rendezvoused in Milan (each coming from a separate part of the globe: Rome, Melbourne, Los Angeles), they informed me that instead of driving to Nice as we had previously discussed, "we" (meaning they) had decided to go to the Cinqueterre. Perhaps the element of surprise has influenced my opinion because, although I had heard many good things about the area, I did not really know what to expect. On arriving, I was immediately overwhelmed with the rugged beauty.
The Cinqueterre takes its name from five small villages
- Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore and Vernazza
- that defiantly cling to the inhospitably rugged Ligurian
coastline. They are, and have been for many centuries, practically inaccessible
by land due to the harsh, steep terrain which juts up at their backs.
The best way to see them is to take the little train that runs between them.
As it goes at frequent intervals, one can hop and skip from one village to the
next: have a coffee in one, lunch in the next and a digestivo further on. For the latter, I suggest the terrace of the little bar at the end of the promontory in Vernazza. If you are there in late afternoon and can stay until sunset, it is an unforgettable spectacle.
of the Cinqueterre towns has something different to offer. Monterosso has the most famous beach, a 16th-century Capucchin monastery with some fine paintings, and an ancient castle.
There are great views of the other towns in Corniglia, along with a more secluded beach (you'll have to walk through an abandoned railway tunnel to get there). Vernazza, perhaps the most dramatic, juts straight out over the water, with crashing waves below to the left and a postage stamp boat harbor to the right. High above are the ramparts of a ruined medieval tower. Riomaggiore is hopelessly picturesque, a beehive of crumbling pastel-colored houses tumbling down to the horseshoe-shaped dock. This is the best place for those who wish to rent a room in someone's home, and there's great snorkeling. Manarola also has excellent swimming off the rocks. An authentic fishing village, it is probably the most genuine of the "lands."
One of the best ways to see the Cinqueterre is to hike the many trails that join them. All Riviera di Levante tourist offices can supply maps of the sentieri (paths), many of which have been marked by the Italian Alpine Club. Be sure to ask about the current status of the trail you choose: they are constantly being closed for improvements. The most famous is the Via dell'Amore, which needs no translation. It departs from Riomaggiore, passing tidy vineyards, fragrant herb bushes and rocky outcrops for half an hour on its way to Manarola. The cactus-lined Via delle Agavi links Monterosso al Mare with Vernazza.
While you are staying in the Cinqueterre, take time to visit nearby Levanto, Portovenere and/or Lerici. Portovenere is at the very tip of the Cinqueterre promontory, reachable by car and just as picturesque. While there, don't miss the port and the castle, whence you'll enjoy a superb view of the Gulf of La Spezia, the Cinqueterre and the islands of Palmaria and Tino. Though not as well known as many of Italy's other regional cuisines, the food along the Ligurian coast is second to none. Seafood, seafood and more seafood, and remember to try the local wines. First and foremost among them is the famous sciacchetrà from the Cinqueterre.
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You can park your car in Monterosso or Manarola, but the best way to get to the Cinqueterre is by train (make sure you take the local) or ferry (from Genoa, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Levanto or Portovenere).
Purchase the Cinque Terre Card Treno (see below) that allows you unlimited daily travel between the villages. Since they are only a minute or so apart, you'll probably use it often. When you board the train, try to find out which carriage stops at the platform in your destination. Otherwise you'll have to walk through passageways in the tunnel.
The Via dell'Amore was recently reopened after being closed for five years due to a landslide. The endangered part has now been enclosed in a tunnel for future safety, and a ticket is needed in order to walk along it. Another recently restored path is the Sentiero Azzurro. Tickets are also needed for the electric buses which connect the parking lots to the village centers and the Guardiola Tower Naturalistic Observation Center. To make your visit easier and more affordable, you may purchase one or more of the three different types of card available:
Cinque Terre Card
Cinque Terre Card Treno (Train)
Cinque Terre Card Battello (Ferry)
These cards provide the following services:
The Cinque Terre Card Treno also includes a railway timetable and allows unlimited train travel on the Levanto - La Spezia Centrale - Levanto line (on Direct Regional and Interregional trains in 2° class) for the dates stated on the user's card.
The Cinque Terre Card Battello also includes a ferry timetable and allows unlimited ferry travel within the Marine Protected Area of the Cinque Terre. It also allows unlimited train travel on the Levanto-La Spezia Centrale – Levanto line (on Direct Regional and Interregional trains in 2° class).
The Cinque Terre Card and Cinque Terre Card Treno are valid for 1, 2, 3 or 7 days. The Cinque Terre Card Battello is valid for 1 day only.
Proceeds from the sale of the cards are directed towards the recovery and maintenance of the territory in order to prevent its widespread hydro-geological breakdown. Proceeds are also used to provide transport and information services, and to develop the typical products of the Cinque Terre territory.The Cinqueterre tourist office is in Monterosso al Mare, in Piazza Colombo. Cinqueterre is on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a program of the World Monuments Fund, issued every other year. The World Monuments Fund is a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered works of historic art and architecture around the world.