The Cinque Terre are five little, coastal villages set in steep valleys surrounded by rugged, mountainous terrain. This region remained isolated until roughly 100 years ago, when a railway line was built, but the area’s unique landscape and culture has been well preserved, and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Cinque Terre region is characterized by a multitude of terraces carved into the hillsides over hundreds of years. Vineyards and olives groves are cultivated here, and the villages are linked via a maze of footpaths. The main, coastal path, or Sentiero Azzuro, is the most direct, but there is another, more difficult ridge path too, and many shorter, ancient tracks up to the village sanctuaries.
Starting in the west, at Monterosso al Mare, the cactus lined trail climbs through terraces to Vernazza. This is the toughest section of the coastal path, but Vernazza is stunning – rose and ochre painted houses nestle at the base of the mountain, jutting out on a promontory beside a natural harbour, with the ruins of an ancient castle high above. Corniglia offers the Gothic-Ligurian style church of San Pietro (1334) while Manarola, situated beside a stream, is known for its wine. The famous ‘Lovers Walk’ starts here: a paved path through vineyards to Riomaggiore, the most easterly of the five villages. Here a picturesque cascade of pastel houses tumble down to the small dock below.
Whether you decide to walk the coastal path directly, or stay in one or two of the villages on the way, this is a magical place. The air is fragrant with wild herbs, the views inspiring, the wine and food delicious. Take your time, walk and swim, drink local wine in the sunshine, visit some beautiful churches – this is a splendid place for a break.
WHEN TO GO:
April to November, but avoid July and August if you don’t like crowds.
TIME IT TAKES:
Five to six hours direct, but so much more pleasurable to stay a night or two along the way.
Vernazzo – Santa Margherita d’ Antioch la Manarola – San Lorenzo
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
You don’t have to walk the whole way. instead, use the train, or go by boat, for part of the way. A small fee is payable to use some of the most popular trails.