Cinque terre ? National Park of the cinque terre - Monterosso ? Vernazza ? Corniglia ? Menarola ? Cinque terre Lovers Lane ? Riomaggiore ? Via dei Santuari - travel links
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The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre are precisely five enchanting medieval villages clutching on to a breathtaking coastline, down slopes that lead rapidly to the shore. A marvellous sight. Over the centuries, Man has shaped the landscape, eking out just enough space from the ungenerous terrain to create precious land for cultivation. Thus were born the terraces descending towards the sea, with vine or olive cultivations, held up by almost 7000km of stonewalling. Beneath the cultivations, clutching on to the rock and the sea, rise five villages, intact, in a characteristic maze of colourful houses. Unesco has nominated the Cinque Terre a World Heritage Site, and the Italian State has created the National Park of the Cinque Terre to ensure their preservation.

The best way to understand this region is to walk through it, along the dense network of trails and muletracks that were once the only means of access. There are 21 trails to explore in the Park, one of which runs along the coast and links up all five villages. The Cinque Terre are also an ideal place for lovers of the sea: the coast is dotted with cliffs, bays, beaches and caves. The sea floor is rich and varied, a paradise for scuba divers, thanks also to three fascinating underwater itineraries designed by the Park.

The itinerary can be done in a couple of days but it is worth staying longer to explore the villages and the National Park along the unforgettable hiking trails suspended above the coast, on foot, horseback or mountain bike. For an enchanting stay you can choose from several hotels in Cinque Terre, or the simple and discreet charm of a Cinque Terre inn. For those looking for something different, there is an excellent selection of inviting rooms or bed-and-breakfasts in Cinque Terre, set in the charming towns looking out over the sea.

How to get there: The easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre is by train, thanks to frequent services along the Genoa-La Spezia line. If you are coming by car, take the A12 motorway, exit at Brugnato for Vernazza and Monterosso, or exit at La Spezia for Riomaggiore and Manarola. The roads are very narrow and winding, suitable only for expert drivers. But the most picturesque way to arrive is by boat. During the summer there is a daily ferry service between Cinque Terre and Portovenere and the Gulf of Tigullio.

Monterosso is the first village coming from Genoa and the only one to have a beach. The village holds the remains of ancient Genoese fortifications and the convent of Saint Francis dating back to the 17th century, which houses a number of paintings of significant value, such as a crucifixion from the Van Dyck school. Don't forget to taste the most famous product: Sciacchetrà raisin wine.

Vernazza is the only real port in the Cinque Terre. It preserves part of the imposing Genoese defence walls and the beautiful church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia, built on a rocky spur. It is marvellous to wander through the narrow streets and up and down the steep stairways of this charming townlet. Ask the local diving centre about the wonderful rocky seafloor.

Corniglia hangs above a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, surrounded by a basin of vines. It is reminiscent of the farmland further away from the Ligurian coast. Don't miss Saint Peters church, built in 1334 in Genoese gothic style with later reworkings from the baroque period.

Manarola is perhaps the most striking of the Cinque Terre. The houses are built sheer above the sea and descend towards the marina, suspended between two rocky spurs and inhabited by brightly coloured boats. Manarola is the starting point of the famous Lovers Lane or "Via dell'Amore", a path leading to Riomaggiore, sheer above the sea.

Riomaggiore Legend has it that was founded by Greek refugees in the 8th century. The village is set out in two formations of brightly coloured houses. The church of Saint John the Baptist has a beautiful gothic facade and a splendid rose window from the 14th century, while above the village lie the ruins of a castle. However, the most fascinating part of Riomaggiore are its houses, tall and narrow, with entrances on different levels at the front and back.

The Cinque Terre boasts yet another striking itinerary, albeit little publicised: "Via dei Santuari". It goes from Monterosso to Riomaggiore winding its way to the ancient sanctuaries built on the mountain by the devout inhabitants of these lands.

Photos courtesy of: APT Tigullio, APT Cinque Terre Golfo dei Poeti

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