The Cinque Terre are five fishing villages surrounded by green hills descending steeply into the Mediterranean Sea. They are located in Italy, in Liguria and have become famous for their beauty in the last few years.
People coming to this area easily fall in love with the Cinque Terre not only for their characteristic pastel-colored houses, but also for the network of paths that connect them. The Cinque Terre have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1997 and are a jewel of the eastern Ligurian Riviera.
Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are the five hamlets that make up the popular Cinque Terre in Italy.
Cinque Terre: A Unique Landscape
Cinque Terre in Italian literally means “five lands” or “five hamlets”. These hamlets lie in the protected area of the Cinque Terre National Park. This area of Italy is mainly characterized by coastal and mountainous territories where different natural environments coexist with seaside villages.
Every habitat has its own unique animals and plant species that vary depending on the altitude and distance from the sea. In the area closest to the coast, the landscape is generally rocky with shrubs. This makes it perfect for small reptiles and birds that are used to a sunny environment.
Moving upwards, you can find Mediterranean scrub with its evergreen woods of maritime pines and holm oaks. Badgers, foxes and squirrels are the main inhabitants of this area. In the highest part of the territory a deciduous forest of chestnut and hornbeam trees grows.
Ancient Traditions of Cinque Terre
Due to their position, close to the sea and hills, fishing and agriculture are the main historical activities carried out continuously in Cinque Terre.
The landscape surrounding the hamlets has been influenced by agricultural activity. Man has modified the territory in order to increase and improve the cultivable areas. He worked on the steep hills and slopes creating pieces of arable land supported by millenary dry stone walls.
These walls are known as “terrazza” the typical terraces that characterize the Cinque Terre’s landscape. Farmers grow vineyards, olive groves, fruit trees and fragrant lemon trees here. This is an ancient tradition that dates back millennia and gives rise to high quality local products.
These include precious extra virgin olive oil, the Sciacchetra sweet wine, the Cinque Terre DOC white wine, the Cinque Terre honey and the Limoncino Cinque Terre (a liquor made with fresh locally produced lemons).
Five Villages of Cinque Terre
The historical center of Monterosso can be reached by walking along a beautiful panoramic road that runs along the hamlet’s ancient defensive walls. You will find the remains of the castle and towers, while the imposing Torre Aurora (Dawn Tower) is still perched on the cliff.
The heart of Monterosso presents a succession of narrow alleys that offer wonderful views over the colorful houses of the village. That’s where the Church of San Giovanni Battista stands. Walking down the alleyway, you’ll find many shops selling handcraft products and typical restaurants.
The first historical evidence of Vernazza dates back to 1080 when it’s bay was used by ships as a strategic point to defend against Saracen attacks. The history of the village boasts ancient origins. As you walk down the narrow streets, you will perceive all of the village’s medieval charm.
Among the most characteristic places are: the picturesque harbour overlooked by Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church, the Doria Castle, the 11th century watchtower, the Belforte and the Convent of the Franciscans.
The most beautiful views of Vernazza can be seen along the paths that connect it to Monterosso or Corniglia. You can admire Vernazza in all its splendor from these scenic viewpoints. The best moment of the day is right before sunset when the landscape is tinged with golden light.
Corniglia, a suburb of Vernazza, is the highest village of the Cinque Terre. It lies on top of a promontory overlooking the sea and is therefore the only one of the five hamlets that doesn’t have direct access to the sea. For this reason agricultural activity is more developed than that of fishing.
The territory is characterized by green slopes planted with vines, olive groves and fruit trees. Corniglia has Roman origins and can be reached by a long stairway called “Lardarina” which begins near the railway station.
Walking down its historical center, you’ll find stone houses and pastel-colored buildings crossed by narrow alleys. Most of these lanes lead to scenic terraces overlooking the sea from where you can enjoy the views.
Manarola is the most iconic village of the Cinque Terre. Its pastel-colored houses leaning on each other seem to come straight out of the steep cliff. They are the most loved view by visitors. Manarola has ancient origins too.
The first testimonies date back to the first half of the 11th century. Manarola experienced a growing development in this period, thanks to products such as olive oil and local wines. This agricultural tradition has not been lost over the centuries but has been passed on for generations until today.
The name of the village itself is linked to agriculture: some argue that the name Manarola comes from “magna rota” meaning in Latin a “large water mill wheel”. In the lower part of the hamlet it is still possible to admire this ancient wheel that has been completely restored.
To enjoy a breathtaking view, there’s nothing better than walking along the promenade on the right side of the marina that winds along the cliff.
The brightly colored houses leaning on each other are the highlight of Riomaggiore. The inhabited center develops itself between two steep hills that descend towards the sea where fishermen’s boats rest.
Some of the first historical signs of the village date back to 1200 when the people who were living on the heights decided to move to the mouth of the torrent giving rise to Riomaggiore. The hamlet is divided into two parts.
The picturesque marina is located in the lower part. In the highest part of the village, there are buildings of great historical importance such as the ancient castle and the Church of San Giovanni Battista.
From Riomaggiore it is possible to reach the Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero located in a panoramic position. This path, which crosses splendid vineyards, proceeds uphill until a church surrounded by a large green space. That’s where you can enjoy an extraordinary view.
The Paths and Trails of Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre area is particularly popular among trekking lovers. Many trails can be walked in the National Park. Most of them were once the only way of communication among the villages. This dense network of paths winds for 120 km allowing you to discover every aspect of this territory.
This is also an awesome opportunity to spend pleasant moments in nature, while surrounded by an enchanting landscape. The most famous hiking path is the “Sentiero Azzurro” that – connecting Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia – offers spectacular views over the hamlets.
The romantic “Via dell’Amore” pedestrian path, on the other hand, is still closed due to a landslide which occurred after the terrible flood of 2012.
10 Best Things To Do in Cinque Terre
- Swimming or snorkeling in Monterosso’s crystal-clear waters
- Take a boat tour around the Cinque Terre
- Walk at least one of the paths of the Cinque Terre National Park
- Enjoy an Italian aperitivo tasting of the local Cinque Terre wines
- Take pictures from both beautiful panoramic viewpoints in Vernazza
- Wait for sunset in Manarola and lookout at the pastel-colour houses
- Have a Ligurian-style breakfast with focaccia bread and cappuccino
- Take beautiful pictures in Riomaggiore
- Admire the sea from the terraces of Corniglia
- Attend a cooking class and learn how to prepare the famous pesto
How to Visit and Reach Cinque Terre
If you are travelling by car you have to know that the closest highway exits are La Spezia and Carrodano. In both cases you’ll have to follow the signs to reach the Cinque Terre National Park. The hamlets are very small so it could be hard to find a parking space especially during the peak season.
The best way to visit the Cinque Terre is by train. The rides are frequent and each village is only 5 minutes away from the other. If you are looking for a more panoramic experience, then the boat tour is the perfect solution.
There are boat connections to reach the Cinque Terre departing from La Spezia, Portovenere, Lerici and Levanto in spring and summer. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy your visit to the amazing Cinque Terre.