Cinque Terre, Italy
The Cinque Terre — the Ligurian Time-Machine
A dozen kilometers of rocky coastline and half a dozen of settlements — either towns or hamlets. So why do tourists from all over the world come there? Let's clear it up.
Would you like to find yourself in a place where little multicoloured houses climb the steep rocks, slopes are covered with vineyards and underneath there are emerald-green sea waves? Where there are no cars, but many boats? Where you can ramble through narrow streets for a long time? So there is such a place as Natural Reserve of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) that is situated on the Ligurian shore in Italy.
Five Lands refer to five tiny towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Each of them has its own recognisable appearance and doesn't look like each other.
The Cinque Terre has been under the protection of UNESCO since 1997. Here one can find piled up boats instead of parked cars we got used to. The sea that washes the Ligurian shore is considered to be one the purest in the Mediterranean. The natural reserve has been existing for more than ten years. During this time local marine life has regenerated, so the natural reserve has become attractive not only to common holiday makers, but also to divers.
You can get the Cinque Terre by water (using either boat or small ship) or by rail. In case you go there by train, which goes almost all the way through the tunnel, you will have a feeling you are on the subway. The train goes out only near the stations, so that not to spoil the beauties of the landscape.
Riomaggiore, the largest of the five towns, was founded in the beginning of the 13th century. Its population is about 1700 people. It is where the famous Love Walk (Via Dell'Amore) begins (or ends, depending on where are you going or coming from), but I shall tell about it a bit later. Riomaggiore is also famous for its wine. Well, actually, it can be said about all the five towns.
Several trekking routes are created to connect the towns. The distances are not long, but if you finally decide to follow these routes you should be prepared to hike mountain paths which require more time than simple smooth roads. To warm-up you can try Via Dell'Amore, the Love Walk which connects Riomaggiore and Manarola. This town has the population of 450 people and has preserved medieval fortifications which protected citizens from pirates.
Here is one of the legends that can be heard about this place. A long time ago young fellows from Manarola used to come to the river near Riomaggiore to get water. As in any common ancient legend, the residents of these towns were hostile to each other. One of the fellows met a beautiful young girl from Riomaggiore, so they, having fallen in love with each other, started to date secretly. Brothers of the girl found out about it and locked her in the house. She managed to get out and went to her beloved. But their rendezvous ended tragically: both of them slipped and fell into the sea. Since then residents of both towns have lived in peace, and the path has got its name — Via Dell'Amore. The 2011 flood significantly damaged the Cinque Terre, but by now everything has been completely restored. Unfortunately, landslides and rockfalls sometimes result in closing the road.
If you happen to visit Manarola, follow Via Dell'Amore and recall this ancient legend. And if the evening takes you by surprise, it is better to spend it on a hill. You will be able to enjoy the splendid view which is ‘advertised' on post-cards. Furthermore, there is one more curious thing in Manarola — the elevator for boats. To carry a boat from a stony bay it should be hanged on a block and lifted upwards, then placed on the square.
Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns (only 245 residents) and the one which has no access to the sea as it is situated on a hill. To get there you have to climb a high staircase (probably it is the reason why there are fewer tourists). But if you finally conquer the steep slope you will be awarded with magnificent panoramic view; and the stroll along narrow streets will bring you pleasure even on a hot day. Corniglia is famous not only for its vineyards, but for the way the harvest is delivered. It is impossible to carry it by car as the slopes are too steep, so grapes are delivered by a single-rail device that resembles a bike riding on a roller coaster.
Vernazza is a pearl of the Cinque Terre, the most splendid of all five towns. The beautiful church of Margaret of Antioch dated the beginning of the 14th century is standing near the Belforte Tower and the ruins of the castle that was created in the 9th century. On the square facing the bay there are many Italian cuisine restaurants. The population of Vernazza is slightly more than 1000 people.
And finally, Monterosso al Mare. This town has the population of 1563 residents and differs from other fellow-towns by the sandy beach, which attracts a lot of tourists. If you change your way, in 600 meters you will find yourself in the old town. There are also a remote beach and a trekking route to Vernazza.
During one of my previous journeys I managed to pass it all the way through. For me it was a pleasure, but my companions refused flatly to come over there again. However, even unprepared tourists can climb up the Cristoforo Hill to reach the monastery of Capuchin and an old castle built in the 16th century to protect the town from the Saracens.
If you are fond of romantic landscapes, hiking the mountains, sound of the sea and Italian cuisine, you definitely should go to the Cinque Terre. But you should note that on high season the number of amateurs of local beauties rises dramatically, so you should book a hotel in advance.
The easiest way to travel between all the five towns is by train which leaves from the station La Spezia. But you should bear in mind that the Italian sun and the breath of idleness in the air make the timetable rather unreliable, so trains can leave earlier or be late. For amateurs of trekking there are many routes of different difficulty. The longest one (40 kilometers) will take an experienced traveller at least 12 hours to complete. The shortest way between all the five towns can take you about 5 hours. But to be honest, I have never met a person who would visit all of them at once. You can't help stopping to drop in any of these cosy Italian restaurants, haste is absolutely inappropriate here.
There are no luxurious hotels and huge restaurants. It is the place with its own rules and laws. But the hospitality of people who paint their houses in bright colours, the magnificent nature of Liguria, and the sense of time travelling are the precious treasures of the Cinque Terre.
See also: 360° video of Cinque Terre.