Pastel-fronted houses, seafood trattorias, colourful fishing boats and herbaceous pesto are just a handful of reasons to visit Italy’s enigmatic Cinque Terre. Here’s why the area should be at the top of your bucket list.
The Cinque Terre is a collection of five charming towns in the Liguria region, along the Italian Riviera coastline: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore. Each town is chiselled into the dramatic, craggy cliff faces of the coastline, bisected by lush gardens and fields and tumbling down to fishing boats bobbing languidly on the Med. It would be impossible not to be enchanted by this remarkable part of the Italian coastline, a Unesco-listed site since 1997.
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It’s ridiculously pretty
Wedding cake houses stacked on top of each other, surrounded by clear blue sea and a lush, green mountain range. Romantic poets and authors from Shelley to Byron to D.H. Lawrence have all tried to capture the beauty of the Cinque Terre with their words, but it’s something that has to be seen to be understood. The medieval buildings’ facades alter throughout the day as the sky shifts hues. Stand high on the cliffs in Corniglia and get a bird’s eye view, or appreciate the historic centre of Vernazza from ground level with an aperitivo. And always have your camera on you.
Focaccia bread, topped here with anchovies and tomato, is a staple across the region of Liguria | Stu_Spivack:Flickr
The Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto
If there’s one pasta sauce that’s representative of the entire Liguria region, it’s pesto. Dark green and aromatic, made of freshly picked basil leaves and olive oil bashed into pine nuts, pecorino cheese and parmesan, it’ll ruin supermarket jars of pesto forever. Aside from pesto, seafood reigns on the menus of the Cinque Terre. These five towns were originally fishing villages, and that tradition remains strong in the area’s cuisine. Anchovies have been a primary staple since Roman times and their oily saltiness perks up dishes all over the Cinque Terre today, whether marinated in lemon and olive oil or battered and fried. Thick focaccia bread, slicked in olive oil and sprinkled with salt crystals, is eaten here as a breakfast pastry, an afternoon snack or even a midnight feast.
A hiking path built into the cliff face near Riomaggiore | ©AndreaPuggione:Flickr
Its hills are perfect for hiking
There are dozens of trails in the Cinque Terre. Start with the sedate and very popular Blue Path (sentiero azzurro), also called Trail #2, which links all five towns. If you’re still in the mood for walking you can then upgrade to more rugged mountain trails that require proper hiking gear, like #1b from Telegraph Pass to Cigoletta and #1c from the Pass of Telegrafo to Cigoletta. These paths may be harder on the knees, but you’ll be rewarded by far fewer crowds and breathtaking views.
Renting rowboats is a popular activity across the Cinque Terre | ©OmidTavallai:Flickr
You can rent a boat to explore secret coves
Don’t expect long stretches of sandy beaches in the Cinque Terre (the French Riviera is for that). Instead, get ready to explore the many small rocky coves that are only accessible via the water. Renting a boat means that you can find these much quieter spots for a private swim in the sea – you can always hire a local sailor to show you the way. Seeing the villages from the sea, with a mountain backdrop, is a totally different experience from the opposite view from a mountain hiking trail.
Limoncello for sale in the Cinque Terre | ©HermandeLangen:Flickr
It has some of Italy’s best limoncello
The Amalfi Coast and Capri get most of the limoncello attention, but some people claim that the sweet, alcoholic, lemon liquor originally hailed from Liguria. It’s not hard to believe, considering the number of lemon groves dotted around the coastline – the town of Monterosso even has a lemon festival on the third Sunday of May each year. Italians take their post-dinner drinks seriously and believe it is an essential part of digesting your meal. Never reject an icy cold shot of limoncello (or limoncino, as it’s sometimes called here) at the end of your meal. You’ll be missing out.
The statue of Neptune near Monterosso in the Cinque Terre | ©ChrisHunter:Flickr
Its history goes back for millennia
You could easily while away a week in the Cinque Terre with boat trips and slow strolls between gelato stops, but it would be a shame not to learn some of the rich history behind each of its towns. There’s the centuries-old castle in Riomaggiore; the 13th-century Church of San Lorenzo with its dramatic Gothic facade in Manarola; not to mention, in Corniglia, the Church of San Pietro, which is a remarkable example of the Ligurian Gothic style. In Vernazza, the Doria Castle has been dominating sea views since the 12th century whilst nearby Monterosso is home to the enormous statue of Neptune.
After you’ve explored the region, you’ll want to go back to one of these hotels in Cinque Terre, now bookable via Culture Trip. Or, if you’re continuing your Italian trip, head to Genoa and stay in one of the best hotels there. Discover why you should go, including the top activities to do there and which bars you should make your way towards.
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