Undeniably there are a lot of places worth visiting in Italy. Every town or city is practically a whole new world thanks to the country’s rich history and culture. Settling on which places to visit can be difficult, but when push comes to shove, we hope Cinque Terre makes the cut.
Cinque Terre means “five lands” in Italian, and it is just that — five independent but interconnected towns along the coast of the Italian Riviera.
The towns’ names are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, and despite the multitude of tourists that flock to their exquisite scenery and relaxed vibes, the fact that the area was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 means you won’t find any tourist buses or Cinque Terre key chains here. This is the place to go when you want to experience all the romance and history of Italy in a quieter, more rustic setting.
Unlike other areas in Italy, where you have to weather a lengthy means of transportation to get to the next place you want to visit, in Cinque Terre, each town is just a hike or a brief train ride away. And every town you come upon is its own little world. If you want to lie out on a sandy beach, for example, Monterosso is the place to go. If you want to embrace your adventurous spirit, rent a kayak at Riomaggiore, and get a view of the towns from out at sea. Every town is known for something, and they’re all worth checking out.
There is a lot of rich history to observe in each of the five towns. In Monterosso, you can climb the steps to the town’s original cemetery. Riomaggiore has a free museum where you can learn all about the town’s struggles and successes. Because it’s a World Heritage site, you’ll be hard pressed to find another setting that is as traditionally kept as Cinque Terre. And the fact that the towns were built on cliffs by the water’s edge means you won’t be seeing any cars or motorcycles here — just plenty of pedestrians taking in the beautiful views.
If you have a lot of bags or are feeling a little weary, there’s a train that can take you from town to town very quickly. But if you’re up for an adventure, you simply must tackle some of the hiking trails. The trails extend through all kinds of forestry with wildlife, out to the sea and then farther inland as they connect the towns. At many points you’ll find yourself looking out over the turquoise-blue sea or even spotting the colourful town you’re heading toward in the distance. They’re the kind of exquisite views you can never get tired of looking at.
It’s no surprise that a group of Italian towns has great food, but we can guarantee that biting into a fresh, ripe peach after hours of hiking tastes like so much more than just fruit. There’s also plenty of gelato to be bought and enjoyed while gazing out at the sunset over the water. And because the towns are set in a prime growing region, the wine, olive oil and many other foods, such as lemons and pine nuts, are grown just moments away from where you’re eating. Now that’s fresh!
In cities like Rome or Milan, it might not always be easy to find a helping hand when you’re lost or seeking advice, but in Cinque Terre, that isn’t the case. Here, almost everyone is either a tourist or an inhabitant who benefits greatly from the amount of tourism generated. Those who are visiting are eager to make friends, and those who live there are happy to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. Just saying hello to someone or asking for directions could reward you with a new friend or travelling companion. And it’s that kind of kindness that makes for a great trip.
Planning your visit
In October of 2011, a severe storm hit Vernazza and Monterosso, resulting in flash floods and landslides. But they have been rebuilding consistently since that disaster, and restaurants and hotels have been reopening bit by bit. In the spring of this year, the coastline trails that have been closed for repairs will be yours to discover once again, so if you’re planning a trip this summer, we hope you add Cinque Terre to your list of possibilites!