Cinque Terre: The Five Lands on the Italian Riviera

Written by Brian

Cinque Terre is located in the North West corner of Italy, along the Ligurian Sea, which forms part of the Mediterranean Sea.  It is considered to be part of the Italian Riviera, which continues westward to join up to the French Riviera.  A World UNESCO site, Cinque Terre (pronounced Cheen-kwe Tehr-a) is famous for the 5 little picturesque towns that hug the rugged coastline.  In fact, that’s exactly what Cinque Terre means – five lands.  The towns are so close together that you can stand in either the 1st or 5th town and look along the coastline to see the other end of the National Park, and each of the other 4 towns along the coast.  There is a hiking trail running alongside the coast that connects each town to the next, thereby you are able to hike from the first town to the fifth, and it apparently takes less than a day.

After stopping off in Florence for a few days, the next stop on our itinerary was a visit to the National Park of Cinque Terre.  We had heard from friends and family that hiking between the towns was a sure way to see some spectacular scenery, and being that we love hiking anyway, it was natural to include it on our itinerary.

Trying to find accommodations for a group of 6 inside the National Park proved to be ludicrously expensive, so we stayed in a rural B&B named Villa Luisa in Sestri Levante, which is located just outside the north boundary of the park.  The B&B owners, Luisa and Lello, were kind enough to shuttle our group back and forth to the train station whenever we needed it.

We had been looking forward to the entire hike between the 1st and 5th town, and had planned on breaking the hike into two days since we had youngsters in tow.  However on our first scheduled day of hiking, we took the train back through the park to the southernmost of the five towns, called Riomaggiore, and were sadly disappointed when the tourist information center informed us that only the trail between the first town of Riomaggiore and the second town, Manarola, was open.  We discovered that the remaining trails were closed due to a landslide.  That meant that we would have to take the train between each of the towns after Manarola, which was not how we had envisioned “hiking” the trail, but we were left with no option.  It did however mean that we could condense the whole thing into just one day.

After buying our trail hiking pass, we walked around Riomaggiore and proceeded to start down the pathway to Manarola.  The path is not really what you’d consider “a hike” as it is all paved and very easy to navigate.  You could have taken a wheelchair through it if you were so inclined, that’s how easy it was.  But the scenery was fantastic.  Wherever there was chain-link fence or some other metal link that could hold a lock, somebody had fastened a lock to it and thrown away the key.  This is a tradition that we first saw in Southern Spain, where two lovers will either write or engrave their names on a lock, similar to what you’d put on a garden shed, and then lock it onto a bridge or walkway overhanging the ocean or a river, and then throw the key into the water, forever binding their names and love together for all to see.  Railings and cables are a favourite place to put these, and over time, these locks become plentiful.

Each of the five towns, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, had its own different style and feel.  Our personal favourite was Vernazza, where the kids played on the rocks in the water, trying to catch sea creatures.  We spent a couple of hours there just relaxing and enjoying the beauty.

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