Located on the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre is a rugged coastline, made up of “The Five Lands” or the five villages: Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Manarola.
The Cinque Terre is so appealing because it does not display any modern developments in its architecture. Many of the residents over the centuries have built terraces on the cliffs that overlook the sea from the coast. The villages are only connected by paths (specifically the Blue Path of Cinque Terre that connects all five villages and is a famous hiking trail), boats, or trains—nope, no cars.
You definitely will not need to spend more money renting a car if you choose to visit the Cinque Terre; you can just focus on these almost mythical lands themselves.
One of the truest fishing villages of Italy’s Riviera, Vernazza is a gem with no car traffic on its streets. There are quite a few sites to see in this coastal town. The Santa Margherita d’Antiochia is a famous church in Vernazza, which was built in 1318. It’s built on a rock right in front of the sea.
Appropriately, it has a rich story behind it—traditionally, it’s said that this church was built because the bones of Saint Margaret were found in a box on the beach. Another unique place to visit is the Doria Castle which was built in the 15th century, strategically placed to protect Vernazza from piracy.
In Vernazza, as in each of the villages, there are not only hotels to stay in, but B&Bs, and farmhouses, not to mention wine bars andrestaurants.
Corniglia is a village that dates back to Roman times, and sits on a steep cliff, surrounded by vineyards. It’s divided into four sides, with the first three overlooking land, and the fourth above the coast. From this height, you can see the four other towns.
The only village not reachable by boat, one must climb up the Lardarina staircase (33 flights and 337 steps) in order to reach it. If you don’t want to brave the stairs, there is also a road and a bus that will take you into the village.
The Church of San Pietro is certainly a place to go—built in 1334 over a ruined 6th century building, the church was constructed in beautiful Baroque style with some Gothic elements as well. The ruins of a Genoise fortification, documented to have existed in 1556, and located on a cliff overlooking the sea, is another sight not to be missed.
Like the other towns of Cinque Terre, Corniglia life is centered around history and the coast.
Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare, the most modern and resort like of all the towns, is uniquely protected by hills and olive groves. In the 16th century, Monterosso defended itself from vikings by erecting 13 towers, of which only three remain today.
One of these remaining buildings, the Aurora Tower, separates the old part of this village from the new part. Aurora is definitely a must see.
There are also quite a few unique churches to explore like the Abbey and Church of San Francesco, which was once transformed into a hospital, and then into a warehouse in the 1800s. But in 1894 it was restored, and now houses important art like The Crucifiction (attributed to the painter Van Dyck).
For anyone more interested in nature or lounging, Monterosso actually has the only beach (with sand) in all of the Cinque Terre, and is beautifully preserved. An anchovy musuem and aquarium add to the interesting activities in what I would call the busiest town.
Riomaggiore is known for its wine, which is produced by the village’s local vineyards. It is also known for its history, which dates back to the 13th century. You can still visit the Castle of Riomaggiore, originally built in 1260 after the dominion of Nicolo Fieschi.
Back then it was used as a fortress. Now it is used for cultural activities. For adventurous souls, scuba diving off the coast is also offered. Besides Monterosso, Riomaggiore is the only other Cinque Terre village to have diving available.
Manarola is the calmest of the five towns, perhaps because it was the last to be discovered by tourists. There are natural paths to hike, including one called Via della Amore (The Lovers Path), which is a very scenic and easy path that leads to Riomaggiore.
You can also go swimming in the Mediterranean in a little cove on the coast. It’s very calm, cool water—and virtually a Mediterranean swimming pool. Once you dry off, there are plenty of historic churches to visit, as well as the ancient 8th century bastion/castle of Manarola.
As for wine, Manarola’s local Sciacchetra was even lauded for its high quality in early Roman documents. When in Manarola, drink like the ancient Romans do!
Which is your favorite Cinque Terre town and why?
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