Tucked into the eastern end of Italy’s Riviera is the area called the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is made up of five distinct fishing villages and the most iconic view is that of the colorful homes perched precariously on the side of rocky cliffs as they’ve clung for centuries. Of course any view in the Cinque Terre is gorgeous.
The Cinque Terre is a gem hanging high above Italy’s coast in the region of Liguria. This dramatic landscape has long served up inspiration to artists and poets. The picturesque villages appear in countless photographs, each one an homage to the colorful and light reflecting beauty of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is celebrated for its golden beaches, sparkling water, excellent hiking trails, history and nature. Of course it wouldn’t be Italy without the friendly and warm hospitality extended to a stranger-come-friend.
A Popular Destination
Once a very remote area due to the somewhat isolated setting the Cinque Terre has grown to be a very popular area-and certainly destinations- in Italy. This formerly-hidden gem is burgeoning with culture, unmatched natural beauty and fun activity that lures many visitors to trod its rocky and sinuous paths.
Cars are not allowed in the Cinque Terre villages for safety reasons . The villages are quite walkable with appropriate shoes and there are trains that connect the villages as well. You can also travel by boat between the villages and enjoy the views from the coastline.
The Five Villages of Cinque Terre
While Cinque Terre’s five villages are not so remote these days they are the epitome of authenticity. The architecture is amazingly well-preserved and the sun-drenched and lemon-scented trails provide picture-perfect postcard vistas. Here’s a look at each of the five villages.
The easternmost town of Riomaggiore is the most populated of the villages. As the unofficial “capital” of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore dates back to the 8th century. The town you see today was erected in the 13th century and is known for its production of exquisite wines and luscious olive oils.
The 13th century castle of Riomaggiore was once a necessary fortification and defense. Today the castle is popular as an event space and wedding venue. The castle is open to visitors and the view from atop the stronghold is absolutely magnificent.
Riomaggiore also boasts a lively botanical garden which sits upon a bluff just above the beach. Visitors and locals alike enjoy this spot for bird watching as well.
Manarola claims to be the oldest of the five villages and the copious collection of medieval relics supports this claim. This lovely village is also the most prolific grape growing among the five. Manarola is famous for the sweet wine produced here, Sciacchetra. Stroll the waterfront promenade at midday and witness daily life in this lovely fishing town. Take a short hike up to Punta Bonfiglio and enjoy impressive views and a lovely libation.
In the middle of the five villages is Corniglia, the quiet village. Although Corniglia has no direct sea access, it’s quite beautiful as it sits on a 330 feet high bluff surrounded by vineyards and terraces, a testimony to the long and rich tradition of agriculture for which Corniglia is known.
Corniglia is characterized by its colorful four-story homes, narrow alleyways and twists and turns that take you down to the sea terrace. This breezy vantage point is the only spot in the Cinque Terre where you can see all five of the unique and captivating villages.
Perhaps one of the most authentic of the fishing villages that dot the Italian Riviera, Vernazza is the only natural secure port. Vernazza is the steepest of the villages in the Cinque Terre and it’s also exceptionally charming. The cobbled streets are lined with quaint cafes and shops and the narrow trails offer gorgeous sea views at every opportunity.
Lovely Monterosso is a popular holiday and vacation destination for many Italians. The beach is stunning and the warm sea-kissed air is a balm for the weary soul. The water is crystal blue with reefs just perfect for the snorkeler.
Monterosso is the largest in terms of land of the five villages of the Cinque Terre. Lemon groves span out across the hills surrounding the village and olives and grape vines are almost as prolific.
The village is known far and wide for its anchovies and plays host to a Lemon Festival in early summer. People come from all over the world to sample the luscious lemon cake, lemon cream, lemon marmalade and Italy’s ubiquitous lemon liqueur, Limoncino (or limoncello in other regions of Italy). For those who can’t make it to the festival rest assured you can find all things lemon for sale in shops all over Cinque Terre.
Experiencing the Cinque Terre
There are a few different ways to experience the Cinque Terre; by boat, by train and by hiking the connecting trails. Most visitors opt for a combination of the three. Of course each has its own benefit. The train offers a speedy and easy way to get from one village to the next. Going by boat will give you a quite different perspective and is a wonderful way to enjoy the splendour of the area. Boarding a boat in Riomaggiore and disembarking in Vernazza grants visitors the most picturesque and iconic views of the Cinque Terre.
Hiking allows for an up close and personal vantage point of the five villages. Experienced walkers enjoy the steep and precipitous climbs if only for the vistas-and bragging rights! But you needn’t be an olympian to hike the Cinque Terre. There is an easy paved trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola and you will be rewarded with breathtaking coastal views.
A day trip to Cinque Terre is included in our Secrets of Tuscany itinerary.