Cinque Tere consists of five small villages (“cinque terre” means “five lands” in Italian) which cling to the Ligurian cliffs along Italy’s western coast. They are usually thought of and visited collectively, mostly because they’re so close to one another that you can walk from the first to the fifth in a matter of hours, but there are five different towns and each does have its own personality. Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colorful houses and vineyards cling to steep terraces, harbors are filled with fishing boats and trattorias turn out seafood specialties along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. The Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail links the villages and offers sweeping sea vistas.
The Five Villages
We were staying in Florence and got to Spezia by private car. We decided to visit Cinque Terre by land and to fully appreciate the towns, we returned by sea. We began in La Spezia, a harbor to the south of Cinque Terre, and arrived in Riomaggiore by private car. We walked along the “Via dell’Amore” (Walk of Love) between Riomaggiore and Manarola (about an hour walk) before having lunch in Manarola. We then took the train to Vernazza and enjoyed the sights for a couple of hours before boarding the boat which took us back along the coast to Porto Venere in the port of La Spezia. If you are not staying in Cinque Terre this is a lovely way to visit for the day. Unfortunately the Via dell’Amore has been closed lately do to rock slides. If you decide to walk along the seaside trail connecting the five villages, it takes about eight hours.
The first historical documents on the Cinque Terre date back to the 11th century. Monterosso and Vernazza sprang up first, while the other villages grew later, under military and political supremacy of the Republic of Genoa. In the 16th century to oppose the attacks by the Turks, the inhabitants reinforced the old forts and built new defence towers. From the year 1600, the Cinque Terre experienced a decline which reversed only in the 19th century, thanks to the construction of the Military Arsenal of La Spezia and to the building of the railway line between Genoa and La Spezia. The railway allowed the inhabitants to escape their isolation, but also brought about abandonment of traditional activities. The consequence was an increase in poverty which pushed many to emigrate abroad, at least up to the 1970s, when the development of tourism brought back wealth.
Cinque Terre are the five Italian fishing villages that tourists often hike through one at a time. The one that starts the chain is called Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the five Cinque Terre, all connected by trails. The water and mountainside have been declared national parks. The village, dating from the early thirteenth century, is known for its historic character and its wine, produced by the town’s vineyards. The easternmost village of the Cinque Terre clings to the steep valley walls of the creek from which it took its name (now underground). Legend has it that it was founded by a group of Greek refugees around the 8th century. This is the starting point for the romantic Via dell′Amore, a path cut into the rock that leads to Manarola.
We stopped at a local outdoor café for refreshments and sampled the freshly made lemonade. In this variety, it was straight freshly squeezed lemon juice, no sugar. A tart but refreshing treat. The vino delle Cinque Terre, while not one of Italy’s top wines, flows cheap and easy throughout the region. It’s white, great with seafood.
Walk of Love
Dug into the rock between 1926 and 1928, the first section of the trail, the “Via dell’Amore”, was originally used by railway workers to move between Riomaggiore and Manarola railway stations – which were then under construction on foot. Today it is a pleasant and romantic walk, suitable for everyone. Roughly halfway, but slightly closer to Manarola, is the so-called “Bar dell’Amore”, a café perched high on the rocks with a sea-view terrace. Part of the charm of the lover’s path were all the locks of love displayed on fences all different shape, colors and sizes. The path leads you right to the Manarola train station. The actual town can be reached by tunnel that deposits you midway in the village. It was easy to make our way down to the shore line to watch the locals sun bathing and swimming in the little rocky cove.
There are a surprising number of succulents along the trail, including the giant Agave angustifolia (Caribbean Agave) inflorescence seen above. These are obviously “tourists” from the new world, planted sometime after 1492.
Manarola is the oldest and the second smallest of the towns in the Cinque Terre, with the cornerstone of the church, San Lorenzo, dating from 1338. On the west end, there is a little harbor and on the east side lies the San Lorenzo church and a square where the townsmen meet for various activities. And as most of Cinque Terre, there are vineyards everywhere. The local dialect is Manarolese, which is marginally different from the dialects in the nearby area. The name “Manarola” is probably a dialectical evolution of the Latin, “magna rota”. In the Manarolese dialect this was changed to “magna roea” which means “large wheel”, in reference to the mill wheel in the town. Manarola’s primary industries have traditionally been fishing and wine-making. The local wine, called Sciacchetrà, is especially renowned; references from Roman writings mention the high quality of the wine produced in the region. The tiny harbor at Manarola features a boat ramp, picturesque buildings tripping down the ravine and the town’s swimming hole. Although there is no real beach here, it has some of the best deep-water swimming around. A ladder up the rocks and a shower are provided for those who love a little adventuresome swimming.
One of the iconic dishes of Cinque Terre is pesto with pasta and potatoes. Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto. Basil, which loves the temperate Ligurian climate, is ground with cheese (half parmigiano cow cheese and half pecorino sheep cheese), garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts, and then poured over pasta. Try it on spaghetti or, better yet, on trenette (the long, flat Ligurian noodle ruffled on one side) or trofie (short, dense twists made of flour with a bit of potato), both designed specifically for pesto to cling to.
Unlike the other localities of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia is not directly adjacent to the sea. Instead, it is on the top of a promontory about 100 metres high, surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces, the fourth side descends steeply to the sea. To reach Corniglia, it is necessary to climb the Lardarina, a long brick flight of steps composed of 33 flights with 382 steps or, otherwise follow a vehicular road that, from the station, leads to the village. Sometimes a small bus runs. We skipped Corniglia due to the stairs.
Vernazza is one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre region. Vernazza is the fourth town heading north, has no car traffic, and remains one of the truest “fishing villages” on the Italian Riviera. Vernazza’s name is derived from the Latin adjective verna meaning “native” and the aptly named indigenous wine, vernaccia (“local” or “ours”), helped give birth to the village’s moniker. The first records recognizing Vernazza as a fortified town date back to the year 1080. Referred to as an active maritime base of the Obertenghi, a family of Italian nobility, it was a likely point of departure for naval forces in defence of pirates. The first documented presence of a church dates back to 1251, with the parish of San Pietro cited in 1267. Reference to the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia of Vernazza occurs in 1318. Some scholars are of the opinion, due to the use of materials and mode of construction, that the actual creation of the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia took place earlier, some time in the 12th century. In the 19th century the construction of the Genova–La Spezia rail line put an end to Vernazza’s long isolation. The population of Vernazza increased by 60% as a result. Meanwhile, the construction of La Spezia’s naval base also proved important to Vernazza in providing employment for many members of the community.
Porto Venere (Portovenere)
Porto Venere, until 1991 Portovenere, is a town and comune located on the Ligurian coast of Italy in the province of La Spezia. It comprises the three villages of Fezzano, Le Grazie and Porto Venere, and the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The ancient Portus Veneris is believed to date back to at least the middle of the 1st century BC. It has been said that the name refers to a temple to the goddess Venus which was sited on the promontory where the church of Peter the Apostle now stands. It was officially consecrated in 1198. The part in white and black bands dates from the thirteenth century (probably made between 1256 and 1277), and was restored between 1931 and 1935.
The Doria Castle was built by the Genoese in 1161 for the extremely wealthy Doria family, who played a major role in the political, military, and economic life within the Republic of Genoa in Italy from the 12th to 16th century. The Doria family helped finance the Portuguese and Spanish navigations in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Francesco Doria, a banker at Seville, financed Christopher Columbus’s expeditions, and his son Aleramo Doria was a banker to King John III of Portugal until 1556. Finally, Aleramo’s daughter Clemenza Doria was one of the earliest settlers in the 16th-century Portuguese colonization of Brazil.
If Cinque Terre were ever to pick up an honorary sixth member, Porto Venere would surely be it. Portovenere, on the Gulf of Poets, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its picturesque harbor is lined with brightly colored houses while narrow medieval streets lined with shops lead up the hill from the ancient city gate to the castle. The Golfo dei Poeti is a dramatically beautiful area full of little villages, gorgeous colors and steep cliffs that disappear into the blue waters below. Also known as the Gulf of La Spezia this area of the Ligurian Riviera begins at the Magra river and finishes at the town of Portovenere. The Bay, so called because it was a favorite of writers like Shelley, Byron, Petrarca and Montale, includes the picturesque villages of Lerici, Sarzana, Tellaro, San Terenzo, Montemarcello, the city of La Spezia, and the islands of Palmaria, Tinoand Tinetto.
Cinque Terra is a mix of medieval buildings, history, natural beauty and exceptional food. As an aside, the Lord Byron restaurant in Portovenere has the most delicious gelato. Cinque Terre is one of those rare places in the world not to be missed, you should visit. I hope you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment.
Cinque Tere: http://www.italylogue.com/cinque-terre
Cinque Tere Park: http://www.italy-tours-in-nature.com/cinque-terre-national-park.html
Gulf of Poets: http://www.lifeinitaly.com/tourism/liguria/gulf-poets
Lord Byron Restaurant Porto Venere: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g194862-d4521080-Reviews-Bar_Pizzeria_Lord_Byron-Porto_Venere_Italian_Riviera_Liguria.html
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