Set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the planet, these five ingeniously constructed fishing villages can bolster the most jaded of spirits. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, Cinque Terre isn’t the undiscovered Eden it once was but, frankly, who cares? Sinuous paths traverse seemingly impregnable cliffsides, while a 19th-century railway line cut through a series of coastal tunnels ferries the footsore from village to village. Thankfully cars were banned over a decade ago.
WITH MASCHARTER TO 5 TERRE : BEACHES, SUN, NATURE & ADVETURES
The Italian Riviera is not short of rugged coastline or romantic towns and villages, but the five fishing communities of the Cinque Terre are its most iconic highlight. The five villages are no longer the isolated hamlets they once were, but there’s still a feeling of remote authenticity, with few roads, perfectly preserved architecture and a network of stunning coastal and mountain trails. Tucked away in a particularly mountainous kink of the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre villages were shaped by their profound isolation. Today the villages’ exquisite ruggedness still presents a few challenges for accessibility. Although all the villages can be reached by car, you’ll need nerves of steel for the narrow, twisting cliff-edge roads and deep pockets to pay for parking.
If you’re travelling with a car, leaving it here in Chiavari is a smart move – there are secure parking facilities at the train station. The easiest way to reach and travel between the villages is by train. A train line connects all five villages directly from Railway Station of CHIAVARI. The good-value Cinque Terre Pass (parconazionale5terre.it) covers all train travel between Levanto and La Spezia, as well as hiking fees. The Cinque Terre is a destination with timeless appeal, It really is the kind of place that rewards taking it slow, whether you’re kicking back at a waterfront table in Vernazza, glass of wine in hand, or listening to birdsong and resting your weary legs at an ancient sanctuary on a clifftop high above. One of the best way to see them is a boat tour with us.
THE FIVE VILLAGES, FROM WEST TO EAST:
MONTEROSSO only rates as ‘swoon-worthy’ until you catch sight of the competition around the corner, but it’s the only village that has a proper strip of beach. Known for its lemon trees and plump anchovies served right off the boat, it’s the furthest west of the villages and the most easily accessible by car.
VERNAZZA ‘s small harbour – the Cinque Terre’s only secure landing place – has long been its raison d’etre, but it is Piazza Marconi with its sea-facing amphitheater of pastel houses that brings on the sighs. The village’s trademark caruggi (narrow lanes) rise almost vertically from here, a maze of stairs and tiny terraces, with big blue sea views popping at every turn.
CORNIGLIA Sitting atop a 100m-high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards, Corniglia is the only village that lacks direct access to the sea, although steep steps wind from a rocky cove and its waterfront train station far below. Its tranquil, tangled streets lead to a broad and breezy sea-facing terrace, the only vantage point from where you can clock (and photograph) all five villages at once.
MANAROLA The grapevines that surround Manarola produce the Cinque Terre wine, Sciacchetrà. The bustling main street and waterfront promenade are still lined with fishing boats and other such reminders of everyday village life. Punta Bonfiglio, a short uphill hike, has fabulous views and a playground with a bar (or a bar with a playground, depending on your priorities).
RIOMAGGIORE Easternmost Riomaggiore is the largest of all five villages and acts as the Cinque Terre’s unofficial capital. Peeling buildings line up down a steep ravine to a tiny harbor. Their pastel glow at sunset, best appreciated from the sea, is one of the Cinque Terre’s most romantic sights. A botanical garden and bird watching centre sits on a rocky promontory up the hill from its pebbly beach.