Cinque Terre is a one-of-a-kind getaway with cliffside hiking trails, enticing swimming holes and fresh local fare. A renowned tourist destination, getting trapped in this cozy corner of the Mediterranean is a treat. Meander along country trails, ascend stone staircases, contour hillsides, and descend into new harbors.
Located on the rugged Italian Riviera, The Land of Five – as translated – consists of cinque quaint, coastal villages connected by train, trail and ferry. Remote and car-free, Cinque Terre is also easily accessible from Genoa or Pisa. The picturesque villages, dramatic seascape, marine life, and surrounding hillsides are all protected within the Cinque Terre National Park, a UENESCO World Heritage Site.
Hiking here has many perks. Visit a medieval castle or 12th Century church, fuel up at a nearby bakery, ascend into the forested wilderness, then cool off with an afternoon swim in the succulent sea. Tired of hiking, no need to retrace your footsteps. Take the train or ferry back to your hotel. Dinner awaits with antipasti ai fruitti di mare, an assortment of shellfish, followed by tegame alla vernazzano, layers of anchovies and tomatoes in a bubbling hot white wine and olive oil sauce.
The Five Villages
The region of Liguria is rich in medieval history, pirate tales and poetic romance. It also claims the five hamlets of Cinque Terre: Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore. Dating back to the conclusion of the Punic War in 177 BC, the area was already coveted and divvied up to the wealthiest families as a prize. In the 19th century, the introduction of the railroad increased visitation.
Today, the car-free locale transports tourists to another time. Sit back on the sandy beach of Monterosso then head to the rustic harbor of Portovenere. Four of the towns are fishing ports excluding Corniglia, lofted high above the waterside on a rocky perch. The villages all share colorful arrays of pastel houses stacked tightly together with narrow streets and alleyways.
Monterosso, on Cinque Terre’s Westernmost edge, is the most bustling town. A great base for exploring the region, it also boasts a charming old town and 12th Century church San Giovanni Battista.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
The Sentiero Azzurro trail connects the villages. Prized for its panoramic views, the 11-kilometer trail winds 500 to 1,000 feet above the sea. Crisscrossing hillsides and linking up with other routes, travel throughout the terraced landscape with cultural sites like the 16th-century-old Andrea Doria Castle overlooking the Gulf of the Poets. Since train and ferry access the region regularly, there’s always the options to make every hike a loop.
The landscape is steep, rising right from the water’s edge. The countryside is lush with white and yellow buttercups, shooting spears of asparagus and prickly purple thistles as well as a local farms, orchards and vineyards. The hiking is mostly moderate, but also adaptable depending on goals for distance and ardor. You can return to the same town each night or hike to your next night’s lodging using convenient luggage transfers.
The mild climate in Cinque Terre means a light packing list. The most important item in your day pack may very well be your bathing suit. After a dip in the sea, it’s also good to have some Euros for a cappuccino. Only in Cinque Terre do hikes include breathtaking scenery, swimming, shopping, fresh food, vibrant-colored villages and visits to churches and castles.
The cuisine of Cinque Terre is exceptional. Chefs root their menus in fine local ingredients from the land and sea. With multiple ports, the Mediterranean manifests seafood like anchovies, acciughe, which are not only fresh and delicious, but sustainable and high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Another option ciuppin, combines fresh-caught mussels and squid in an aromatic broth – highly restorative after a long’s day trek.
Cinque Terre thrives on farm-to-table food. The food is simple, yet intensely flavored. Local farms supply an array of fruits, herbs, vegetables and meat such as tomatoes, chervil, squash and lamb. Chestnut orchards dot the hillsides. A labyrinth of stone walls marks one family’s winery from another family’s beloved lemon grove. Various vineyards grow grapes for the aptly-named Cinque Terre wine, a crisp white that pairs nicely with Branzino. Or try a carafe of the house red wine with macheronis, a tube-like pasta invented by the Genoese, in a rabbit ragu, for lunch at the trattoria.
Start each day at the village bakery with focaccia, a favorite crusty, flatbread served either plain or lightly seasoned. Another local specialty, pesto, consists of basil, garlic, olive oil, parmigiana and pine nuts with many variations. For dinner, Trofie al Pesto is another pasta unique to the region. Crafted from potato, the starchy noodles coat nicely with the unctuous green sauce. Complete the meal with a glass Schiacchetra, a sweet white dessert wine from Liguria. Finally, as the sun sets from the rocky-top village of Corniglia, get a scoop of gelato flavored with local honey and watch the ruby waves of the sea disappear into the dark night.
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