While it might not be as famous as the French Riviera, Cinque Terre is a stunning coastal paradise that remains a popular European tourist destination. Located on the Italian Riviera, this northwest section of rugged shoreline is composed of five villages connected only by foot paths, trains and boats. Devoid of any corporate businesses or structures, the Italian Riviera is dotted with beautifully constructed terraces, sunny bell towers and cozy main streets that exude old-world charm.
It was hidden from the outside world until its railroad was built about 100 years ago, so visiting Cinque Terre today is like stepping back into time. Plan a relaxing coastal vacation to this atypical seaside resort with the help of these travel tips:
Five towns, five personalities
Cinque Terre means “Five Lands” in Italian, so it’s no wonder that the five villages that make up the coastline each feel like a different world. The five towns all possess their own allure to outsiders. The northernmost village, Monterosso, is home to idyllic white beaches and the most wine shops out of all five towns, while Vernazza is perhaps the most picture-perfect due to its natural U-shaped pier. Corniglia is located on a steep cliff and is accessible by a long flight of stairs, making it the most exclusive town. Although Monterosso has the most wine shops, Manarola is most famous for its fermented grape juice, as well as its beautiful vines and terraces. The southernmost town of Vernazza is home to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Montenero, a tranquil religious site hidden atop of a steep promontory that features a 19th century church.
Seafood is the region’s primary cuisine - with good reason. Situated on the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, Cinque Terre has incredible access to some of the freshest seafood in the world. One of the local specialties of the region is anchovies, which are protected under a Protection Designation Origin ordinance from the European Union. Further back in the mountains, the terraces grow plentiful grapes and olives. However, the region’s most well-known culinary contribution is pesto, a thick and creamy sauce made from basil, garlic and pecorino cheese. As the birthplace of pesto, Cinque Terre features numerous venues for pasta cooking classes, where visitors attempt to make their very own pesto sauce.
The houses are built high into the landscape, their facades painted in an array of dazzling yet soft pastels. Many of the homes lead right to the crashing waves, with docks for their boats just outside their doors and windows. Some villages, such as Vernazza, have quaint waterfront piazzas watched over by bell towers, while 100-year-old churches dot the top of the cliffs.
With no access to cars or traditional roads, most residents of Cinque Terre take to the sea. The villages all provide nautical tours that feature awe-inspiring views of the coastline. Some cruises last all day and include a lunch of pasta al pesto and focaccia, while others last for only several hours during the morning or afternoon. If you’re not a fan of the ocean, then head inland - the promontories of Cinque Terre are worth the climb. There are numerous cobblestone trails that wind up the steep hills or connect the cities to one another, including the 2-kilometre-long path from Manarola to Riomaggiore. Known as the Via dell’ Amore, the paved path runs along the edge of a high cliff, overlooking the Ligurian Sea.