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The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre

A Brief Introduction for your Itinerary Planning

Cinque Terre, which translates to "five lands" is perhaps one of the more popular destinations just outside the boundaries of Tuscany.  An easy day trip via train for those staying near or in Florence and Pisa, these five picturesque towns offer a unique and enchanting panorama of the traditions, landscapes, and culture along the coast of Italy. Though similar in many respects, each and every one of these little "lands" has a history and personality of its own, and they are all beautiful to visit. If you are planning a trip on your own, we have organized a brief outline of info and personal considerations. Check out this page for more information on how to arrive and more around Cinque Terre. However, if you would prefer to let someone else do the planning with an organized tour, then this info will give you an insider peek into what you are about to explore. 

Riomaggiore

The southernmost town, Riomaggiore gets its name from the position of the characteristic tower homes built along the river (rio). It is the largest of the five towns and is often the starting point for exploring the other four and the over 120 km of trails along the coast and in the hills. Some will say that the town goes as far back at the 8th century, but there is only news of it starting in the 1200’s - in any case it has grown in importance and presence with its pastel-shaded homes that climb the steep incline.

Personal Comment: The main streets has many restaurants and shops, the castle above is used for special events - charming and quaint, but Riomaggiore's main attraction is the start of the Via dell'Amore, the flat trail called "The Way of Love" is right alongside the cliffs that was built to connect Riomaggiore to Manarola. When the rest of the trails are closed, usually this one still remains open. We highly recommend it, particulaly at sunset. It is manmade, so it is very flat and easy to walk, and at night is lit.

Manarola

The colorful buildings and houses that slide down the rocky and rugged coast of Manarola, make it hard to imagine that this town was (and still is) famous for its wine production. The name itself is proof of the agriculture society that went hand in hand with the fisherman, as it derives for the dialect word for mill wheel (you will see the wheel along the main street right below the church tower - and the river that flows down to the sea). The picturesque terrace farming surrounds the hidden and isolated city.

As with all of the small towns, Manarola has many picturesque trails that make a great activity for those looking for those special views, photos and prefer to enjoy exploring by getting close to nature. Many trails in this area will take you into the local vineyards and olive groves.

Personal Comment: We chose to stay in this village, which we enjoyed. If you have time, take some detours off the crowded main street and wander around the narrow lanes and you will see that just a few minutes away you are almost alone and will be able to enjoy the village more quietly, discover how the village is constructed and get some good views. You can also take a dip in the sea from the rocks by the small harbor.

Corniglia

Perhaps one of the older of the five cities, the town of Corniglia was a strong producer of wine and agricultural goods. The origins as a Roman borgo was confirmed by the findings in Pompeii of anforas that were labeled with the Roman name for this town “gens Cornelia”. The only town with no natural port, you need to climb the “Lardarina” with more than 300 steps to admire the streets and alleyways of this little hamlet (or you can catch a bus :-P).

Personal Comment: This little village lies on the top of a rock surrounded by vineyards, making it a beautiful sight from the outside. It is the smallest of the villages; very charming with very narrow alleys. Following the main alley, you will reach a viewpoint with spectacular views of all five settlements. Arriving by train, you will need to take the 382-step staircase to get to the village. If you want an extra hike or just an even more astonishing view, walk to San Bernadino along the asphalt road, take a coffee in the bar and enjoy the views on the descent back to Corniglia.

Vernazza

It grew as a powerful fortified town that with a strong military defense, and probably Vernazza was used as a port for defense against invading pirates. Boasting the only natural port in the Cinque Terre, try to Imagine the boats tied up next to the houses, in medieval times there wasn’t a beach or a “proper” port like there is today. Without any car traffic within the city center, this little town is characterized with pastel colored homes that look out towards the water.

Personal Comment: The main street leading from the train station to the charming harbor is full of cafes, stores and tourists! However, sitting at one of the restaurants at the piazza by the harbor enjoying fresh seafood is worth the trouble. If time allows, get off the main street and explore the narrow lanes.

Monterosso

Divided into an old and new section, Monterosso has a small tunnel of about 10 meters that connect the two sections. Once only accessible via water or the mule trails that led inland, this town was truly isolated until the railway came through in the late 1800’s. A visit to the sandy beaches will also reveal the remains of the colossal giant statue of Neptune, sculpted in 1910 and who has withstood the test of time, war, and the weather.

Personal Comment: If you want a day on the beach – go here. This is the only village with  a real sandy beach. It is split in two parts (old and new) linked by an underground tunnel. If you travel with children it has a very nice, large playground (located close to the beach) which also has a café next to it, making it a perfect break for everyone.

These notes about Cinque Terre are just a brief summary to give you some guidance when planning your itinerary, click on the links above to view a full article, information on monuments, beaches and directions on how to arrive via car, train or ferry boat.


Author: Donna Scharnagl

It has been over 24 years since I took my first steps in Italy and I still haven’t found a good reason to leave.  Between the food, the culture, the history, the art, the landscapes … did I mention the food? I have become a lifelong student. And I soon learned that Italians all have stories that long to be told; stories that paint a picture of how hard work produces character, how life is made of ups and downs and how good it feels to laugh.



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