Five villages perched precariously on clifftops, sloping down to jagged volcanic rocks and the crashing sea below, and almost cut off from the outside world. It seems a mystery why the area was settled in the first place – although its impregnability to all but the most determined invaders may provide a clue – but it is easy to see why it is so popular with modern day visitors.
A Harmonious Interaction Between People and Landscape
In making this area a World Heritage Site, UNESCO cited the “harmonious interaction between people and landscape”, referring not only to the outstanding natural beauty of the coastline, but also to the way in which the landscape has been harnessed for the benefit of those who live here. As you walk around, you will be astonished by what grows in seemingly inhospitable spaces: fig trees, lemon groves, vineyards and olives, to say nothing of the luscious vegetables coaxed out of stony gardens.
Even in the 19th century, when the only way of arriving here was by boat, the area was frequented by foreign visitors, the poets Byron and Shelley among them. Today the tourists continue to arrive, drawn by the landscape and the car-free villages with their narrow lanes, steep alleyways and staircases linking one street to another.
Activities in the Cinque Terre
For many people, the absence of the motor car is a major attraction of this area, leaving them free to wander around the villages, dipping into every nook and cranny and exploring the food and speciality shops. There are longer walks, too, into the surrounding countryside, or on the coastal path that connects the villages. Particularly popular is the Via dell’Amore, an easy paved path that runs between Riomaggiore and Manarola.
Those who do not wish to walk can hop between the villages by train or boat. There are castles and churches to visit, and a long sloping botanic garden in Riomaggiore. You can find places for sea swimming, or simply sit in one of the numerous cafés and restaurants to enjoy excellent Italian food and wine.
Visiting the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre are mostly car-free, although there is limited parking outside the towns. The best way to arrive is by train from Genoa or La Spezia to Monterosso, taking the local train to the other villages. Although you can travel between the villages by train or boat, and some buses are available, you need to be aware that there will be a lot of walking involved, much of it up and down slopes or stairways. If you plan to walk the coastal path, check beforehand as parts may be temporarily closed due to landslides.