One of the most anticipated parts of our trip, visiting the famed Cinque Terre Italy, was not a disappointment. Let me tell you all about it…
One of the places I was most excited to visit in all of Italy was the Cinque Terre.
These 5 colorful villages clinging to the cliffs, sounded so inviting, I felt I needed to spend several days at least, unraveling their secrets.
A little history on the Cinque Terre (5 lands)…
These coastal villages were the brunt of a lot of abuse throughout history, according to local tales.
They were not always painted bright colors. All five villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore (from North to South) were built into the cliffs facing north and painted the colors of the rock, to camouflage them from the pirates that used to sail the Ligurian coastline from south to north, looking for villages to plunder.
The hearty people of the Cinque Terre learned quickly that everything about their village had to be designed to protect against attacks. Even the narrow winding staircases throughout the towns were intentionally built thin, so only one pirate could come up the stairs at a time.
There are stories that the women of Cinque Terre always kept pasta water boiling so they could throw scalding water on pirates at a moment’s notice.
Later, Genoa and Florence also tried to overthrow Cinque Terre for their resources along the coast.
Hundreds of years after the attacks have stopped, and the buildings have been painted the striking colors of the Italian Riviera, the steep terraced hillsides and dramatic architecture still show signs of a land with resilience and hard-fought independence.
There is a winding road that snakes through the towns of the Cinque Terre, but the easiest ways to see them all is to take the train or hike.
The train runs from La Spezia all the way up to Levanto, and you can buy tickets that allow you to move from town to town as often as you want. Just be very aware of pick pockets; this seemed to be one of the worst areas for them.
Cinque Terre is now a national park. There are easy trails the run the length of the coast and you can hike from one town to the next. This year, certain sections of the easy (blue) trail are closed due to landslides.
However we hiked the upper, more difficult, trail one day from Manarola to Corniglia. It was an amazing experience with breath-taking views and climbs through vineyards and forest land.
My kids loved it! Yet, if you are traveling with children under 8, I would stick to the easy trails. Some of the upper trails have narrow spots with drop-offs. Also do not try to hike the upper trails after it rains.
As with the Tuscan hill towns, in Cinque Terre, the towns themselves are the attraction. This is a great place to forget about your agenda and just relax.
Take a hike, dip in the Ligurian Sea, get lost down narrow side streets, eat some good seafood.
Swimming in Cinque Terre, and along most of the Ligurian coastline, is unique. Due to the rocking coast, there are very few beaches, as we think of them in the US. The “beaches” are often boulders, or small areas made of gravel.
Although this is less enticing to sit on (never stops the Italians) it ensures crystal clear water, because the sand is not mucking it up.
Of the five villages, we probably enjoyed Manarola the most, followed closely by Corniglia, the least visited village that sits high on a cliff.
The two villages furthest north are the most developed and most crowded… but they are beautiful!
Our friends at CulturalItaly.com set up a private tour for us one day in Cinque Terre. Our guide was able to tell us historical tidbits and stories that made our time in Cinque Terre come alive. After a historical hike through each town our guide led us to a quiet cliff-hanging wine bar to taste some of the wines produced on the hills of Cinque Terre.
We would have never found this place on our own… thanks Cultural Italy!
Our favorite restaurant in all of Cinque Terre was Trattoria Dal Billy in Manarola. We had a meal I will never forget, with fresh-caught whole seabass, spicy prawn pasta, octopus and potato salad, and flash fried Frutti di Mare, mixed seafood.
Here Carson is discovering the wonders of fresh fried anchovies!
My final thoughts today are on accommodations…
It’s fun to stay in the quaint hotels of Cinque Terre. Yet if they are booked, or you are trying to save money, consider staying just North or South of Cinque Terre.
Remember, the train runs from La Spezia, a less picturesque town just south of Cinque Terre (yet way more practical) up to Levanto. There are numerous towns all along the Ligurian coastline. Many of the towns just north of Cinque Terre, from Levanto to Portofino, are beautiful and slightly less expensive.
We discovered the little town of Porto Venere south of Cinque Terre, and found it to be one of our favorite spots, because there weren’t nearly as many tourists.
Here are some shots of Porto Venere.
See you next #TravelTuesady! We’ll be sharing our time in Verona.
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