Cinque Terre (Five Lands in English) is a scenic stretch of the Ligurian eastern coast leading to the boundary with Tuscany, extending for less than 20 km.
Thanks to its location, Cinque Terre is a favorite Italian destination both for a one-day trip and longer stays. In fact, they are a must when visiting northern Tuscany, but they can be easily visited coming from Genoa or the rest of North of Italy, as well.
Cinque Terre has been declared Unesco World Heritage Site for its suggestive and uncontaminated territory, rich in history and natural beauty.
Tourism here is different from the attractions offered by the Riviera di Ponente or resorts near Genoa, Portofino and Sestri Levante. Crowded beaches, elegant shops, disco pubs, lively night life and noisy streets are a dimension more appropriated to whom who do not choose Cinque Terre for an holiday or an excursion. This is a fortune for tourists who are fond of nature and search for a smoothest approach to the sea, of course.
On the other hand, some difficulties may arise for example when moving from one village to another or find a parking that may turn out to be a little more complicated than on the Riviera di Ponente. Roads are usually tortuous, narrow and steep, so private vehicles are forbidden to enter historical centres. They must be parked in paying areas or free parking zones along straight stretches, a little far from the centre. All in all, Cinque Terre mean walking, and not always on a flat road.
Certainly, estimators like them just the way they are and would not see them changed for the worse. The name Cinque Terre derives from five villages located at the foot of cliffs falling sheer to the sea. They are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola e Riomaggiore. Each of them has maintained the typical atmosphere of seaside small centres with colored and tower-shaped houses along narrow streets, even though with their own peculiarities.
Monterosso is the main resort with the greatest number of accommodations as well as the most extensive sandy beach of Cinque Terre. In addition to the modern district of Fegina which extends along the promenade and represents the touristic area of Monterosso, the historical part has some important monuments worth visiting. San Giovanni Battista’s church was built between the 13th and 14th centuries. Its facade is in typical Ligurian gothic style and creates a beautiful two-tone effect alternating white and dark green marbles. The main portal is adorned by by a wide rose window adding elegance to the whole building. Precious artworks are kept in San Francesco’s church on the hill of Capuccini, where the former castle of the ancient noble family Fieschi from Genoa, and the monastery are situated. Paintings attributed to Van Dick and Guido Reni are only a few of the artistic treasures that can be seen.
The sanctuary of Soviore is another religious building situated at 4 km from Monterosso. It was founded in the 14th century with contribution of local residents, who considered it as their own pilgrimage destination. Inside the beautiful church,which still attracts many visitors and devotees, a valuable historical organ Agati offers the occasion for fine concerts. The Sanctuary of Soviore is part of a track solely dedicated to sanctuaries, since each of the five village situated in Cinque Terre has a local religious church for pilgrimages. The sacred buildings are often located at a distance above sea level and therefore they offer striking views on the sea and hills around.
The only natural harbor of Cinque Terre is Vernazza, extended up the rocky spur immediately behind it. The Blue Guide 2013 of Legambiente, the Italian association promoting the environmental protection, has included it among the more characteristic villages of Cinque Terre. The small port was an important wharf at the time of Genoa Republic and now it is the scenario which can be seen from the little square, where a number of stepped narrow streets converge. At the same time, a striking view of Vernazza with the typical Ligurian houses can be seen just from the seaside or climbing up the small lanes towards the great tower of the former medieval castle. From there, the view opens on the hills and the sea as far as Corsica by clear sky. This is a privilege of modern times, considering that castles and towers are spread all around Liguria and many other Italian seaside regions. They were built in ancient times to sight ships approaching the shore for incursions, especially from Saracens and rival maritime republics.
The most important monument of Vernazza is the church dedicated to Santa Margherita di Antiochia which was built in the 13th century in Genoan-romanic style. The village has its own sanctuary located at 300 m above sea level. The image of a black Madonna is kept inside the religious complex named "Nostra Signora di Reggio". Pilgrims have been venerating the so-called African Madonna since the 15th century owing to some miraculous events said to be occurred in the past.
What clearly differs Corniglia from the other villages of Cinque Terre is its elevated position. In fact, a flight of 377 steps, called Lardarina, must be ascended to reach the village lying on a large terrace at 100 mt from sea level. To avoid climbing the village on foot, a carriage road is available, too. Corniglia shows more refined architectural elements as a consequence of his past, since the noble Genoese family Fieschi had their residence there in the 13th century. This is the reason why the main street of Corniglia, along which the village extends, is named Via Fieschi. To protect the village a fortress was built, but only some ruins remain nowadays on a cliff sheer to the sea. Largo Taragio is the small square in the centre of the village, where San Pietro’s Church is situated. Among various decorations on the facade in Genoese-gothic style, a deer was engraved as the symbol of Corniglia. Like the other villages of Cinque Terre, Corniglia has a sanctuary, too. It is situated at 300 m above sea level at San Bernardino and its present aspect is due to the restoration works effected in the 18th century.
Manarola is a small village leaning against a dark slope and pertaining to Riomaggiore administration. The village is characterized by the typical Ligurian tower-shaped houses and extends along two main roads, one of which covers a torrent filled up in the past. The most important monument of Manarola is the Church of San Lorenzo, whose bell tower distinctly rises from the main part. Most of the hill back to Manarola is illuminated in December and January so that the village looks like a huge Christmas crib standing out in the dark. At the top of the hill, Volastra is a small centre where settlers of Roman origins probably lived before moving downhill to found present Manarola. The name Volastra means the village of oil and not for nothing it lies quietly among olive groves and vineyards. The sanctuary in Romanesque style situated at Volastra is dedicated to the Madonna of the Health and overlooks the entire landscape of Cinque Terre. Manarola station is the starting point of the famous Walk of Love reaching Riomaggiore, the last village of Cinque Terre.
Riomaggiore was founded in the 13th century when the inhabitants living above the coastline allied with the powerful republic of Genoa. Thus, defending the village from eventual invaders coming from the sea. The castle overlooks the historical centre, where the church of San Giovanni Battista of the 14th century and the Oratorio of Santa Maria Assunta represent the main monuments worth visiting. Not differently from the other villages of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore has a sanctuary, too. It was built to venerate the Madonna of Montenero, a religious figure of Byzantine tardition.
Trekking in Cinque Terre
Several tracks join all the villages of Cinque Terre, but three itineraries are the most popular. The high trail or Sentiero del Crinale covers a distance of 40 km from Levanto to Portovenere. It arrives as high as 800 m with a medium level of difficulty. The Blue track or Sentiero Azzurro includes the worldwide famous Walk of Love or Via dell’Amore. The trail joins Manarola with Riomaggiore with a 30 minutes’ walk along a suggestive itinerary excavated in the sheer rocks with a fantastic view on the blue sea.
The sanctuaries track passes through each single sanctuary of the five Cinque Terre villages. The trail net is so wide that numerous intersections offer the opportunity to walk in every direction and, when possible, to bike and horse ride as well. Anyway, the surroundings are marked be the typical low walls made of unrefined stones supporting wide terraced lands on which orchards, olive groves and vineyards grow. Produce is simple and genuine, including aromatic herbs, best quality of Italian olive oil and famous strong sweet wine Sciacchetrà.
How to get to Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre can be easily reached by railway, since a numbers of local trains from Genova to Pisa stop at all villages, but Monterosso and Riomaggiore are connected by direct Intercity trains from important cities such as Milan and La Spezia, as well.
By plane, through the nearest international airports Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa and Galileo Galilei in Pisa is possible to reach the stations by bus or shuttle service and take a local or an Intercity train to Cinque Terre according to destination.
By car, with destinations Monterosso and Vernazza, take the Highway A12 Genoa-Livorno, exit Carrodano- Levanto and follow road instructions for Levanto and Monterosso. With destinations Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore take the Highway A12 and then A15, exit La Spezia and follow road instructions for Cinque Terre along the panoramic road SP 370.
For moving across Cinque Terre and its National Park it is advisable to by a Cinque Terre Card available with train option, too. Basically, the cost varies from a minimum rate of €.2,50 for children to €.5,00 for adults with one-day validity. By addition of train option the cost is €.6,00 for up to twelve-year children and €.10,00 for adults. Cinque Terre Card includes the entrance ticket to the National Park, access to equipped areas and various museums on the territory as well the possibility to take trains on the line Levanto-La Spezia with no limit of journeys. The card can be purchased at the touristic info points within the National Park and at the stations of the Cinque Terre villages, Levanto and La Spezia, where all card conditions and options will be thoroughly explained.
The unforgettable views of Cinque Terre will remain for a long time, once the journey is ended.