Cinque Terre, bringing Colour to the Italian Riviera

Cinque Terre terraces

Cinque Terre; a rather mellifluous name in its native language of Italian, but meaning simply ‘five lands’ in English. The five lands in question belong to the enchanting coastal district’s five composite villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre may be nestled on a rugged area of coastline but is constituent in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera and is unsurprisingly classed as both a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site.

As Cinque Terre is both a rustic Italian idyll and abundant in natural beauty such as the verdant hillsides, intense rock faces and crystalline Mediterranean waters, it may not even garner attention on the merit of its most unique selling point – its architecture.

The villages of Cinque Terre are comprised of buildings that stand remarkably secure on the rugged rock faces. These gravity – defying terraces are built up the increasingly steep landscape and most startlingly, they are painted in an array of attractive pastel and earth-tone colours. A similar trait is shared by the local fishing boats and the accumulative effect is a spectacle.

As night falls on Cinque Terre, and lighting becomes sparser and more focused, the colours of the terraces and boats radiate as if gemstones embroidered into the night-time horizon – the result is simply stunning.

Cinque Terre night

Cinque Terre undeniably has a surplus of charm, the very lack of corporate development funnelled into the area, means that a lot of humble but period features are kept and furthermore, inter-village travel is limited to pathways, train and boat-rides and an incredibly minimal amount of cars. Automotive congestion is simply a non-issue. Cinque Terre is like a time capsule, it has all the soul, culture and climate of rural Italy without the inconveniences of modern living.

As Cinque Terre is comprised of five distinct but inter-connected villages, it goes without saying that they arose at different times. The primary historical references too Cinque Terre are believed to root from the 11th Century wherein the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza were the first to be established. It was soon after that the other villages were built, and were done so as a military manoeuvre by the state of Genoa. As these villages were situated on the Mediterranean coast, they had ample view of any impending attacks, a tactical advantage that prompted the inhabitants to fortify their town in wait of incoming Turkish pirates in an incident that took place in the 16th Century. Cinque Terre has a history of ebbing and flowing wealth, for instance the railway built from the mother city of Genoa to La Spezia in the 14th Century and the increased tourism since the 1970s has transformed the once poor area into a thriving one.

During a visit to Cinque Terre, it is arguable that the primary point on most people’s itinerary is to engage with the landscape. The very fact that the area is home to the sunny coast and fertile hillside means that a certified wealth of Mediterranean herbs and fauna make the area a consistently rewarding visual feast. There are even remnants of the area’s antique wine terraces and vineyards threaded amongst the hills. A popular way to encounter the wealth of scenery is through the many hiking routes and many consider Cinque Terre to house some of the best coastline hiking trails in the world.

Cinque Terre landscape

The hiking trail that will take you closest to the coast is named as the ‘sentiero azzuro’ (light blue walk) or simply, ‘No.2’ and is the only one that requires a pass before being undertaken. This may because the trail requires a good amount of stamina due to the fact it takes the walker throughout the villages and lasts for the most part of a day. Granted, the No.2 walk may indeed be an engaging and inspiring way to delve into the heart of Cinque Terre’s natural history, it is not the only way to do so. A boat ferry service similarly journeys throughout all of the villages and thus rewards you with the full gamut of the area’s sight-seeing splendour.

Alternatively, there is the popular ‘via dell’amore’ (lover’s walk), a romantic and less physically demanding way to encounter the rustic Italian landscape. Throughout the duration of the lovers walk, there is the opportunity for couples to write their names in the walls of a local gallery. This is both a romantic gesture to signify a couple’s love for each other and a practical way to prevent couples carving their names into trees; an act that has become surprisingly ailing to the areas stunning plant life. An even grander way to eternalise your love is by sealing a padlock with your names engraved around the aptly named ‘lover’s lock’.

However, it must be noted that due to Cinque Terra’s cliff-top setting, the hikes here are most certainly hikes – not strolls and not promenades. This shouldn’t be a deterrent but one should ensure to keep hydrated and dress appropriately. Don’t be mistaken that a hike can be completed as an ‘after-lunch aid to digestion’, it is an activity that requires time. That being said, the beauty of the area is one that wholly deserves adequate time spent looking at and enjoying it.

Furthermore, there are a great many seasonal events that warrant visits to Cinque Terre throughout different times of the year. In other words, whenever you choose to visit the area, there will consistently be something new and interesting to draw your attention. For instance, there is the world famous ‘lighted Nativity’ in the village of Manarola which takes place from December 8th to late January. This is a charming evocation of the Biblical nativity story told in the medium of coloured light bulbs. Over 15,000 lights are used to narrate the scene atop of one of the village’s largest hills-come-canvas and it is all thanks to the endeavours of the retired rail-roader, Mario Andreoli.

Cinque Terre nativity

Whilst visiting Cinque Terre in the winter, there is also plenty opportunity to take in the breath-taking put brutal sea storms that become more frequent. This, although completely safe, is a humbling display of nature’s sheer power.

Although Cinque Terre is almost a microcosm of its own, it is important to remember that the area is a part of the wider region of Liguria and so indicative of the region’s much respected culinary pallet. In this case, expect to find abundant the region’s savoury specialities of freshly prepared pesto and masterfully baked focaccia.

Cinque Terre pesto

Similar to focaccia is ‘farinata’, a delectable snack that is half-way between the finest Italian bread and pancakes (farninata is somewhat of an oddity in Italian cuisine as it is made from the rarely used chick-pea flour). What mustn’t be forgotten about Cinque Terre is its proximity to the sea, certifying that its seafood dishes will be nothing but extremely fresh and characteristically delicious.

Some local dishes to look out for during your visit include the deliciously briny but piquant local mussels, or the hearty vegetable pies. These mouth-watering goods are often made with parsley, marjoram, local herbs, artichokes, zucchini, potatoes and ricotta cheese.

In short, Cinque Terre is hark back to the seductive notions of rustic coastal Italy that permeates the media. With an idyllic coastline, and a romantic, laissez-faire atmosphere, the area is perfect for taking a break to focus on the more enriching elements of life, wholesome cuisine, stunning scenery and the opportune environment to spend time enjoying the company of your family or partner. 

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