The five little villages of the “Cinque Terre” are visually simply stunning. Laboriously carved out of rock and earth, their buildings are built in incredible terraces, one above the other, hanging on to the cliffs or nestling below them.
Steeped in fairytale atmosphere, the fishing villages of MONTEROSSO AL MARE, VERNAZZA, CORNIGLIA, MANAROLA and RIOMAGGIORE have been known as the “Cinque Terre” or “Five Lands” since medieval times and are linked together by an intricate coastal walking path (sports shoes OK, tramping boots are better).
Until relatively recently they could only be reached by sea or foot and even now that they are more accessible (regional train from Genoa or La Spezia – departure every 30 minutes or so), they still retain much of their charm and unique character. Their houses are coloured in weathered pastels and ochre set amidst silver olive trees. Blessed with a fine mild climate, the almost vertical vineyards produce the region’s finest most fragrant wines.
The first of the five villages, MONTEROSSO AL MARE is the largest and the most accessible of them all and has several hotels and many fine restaurants. Originally a Roman colony, one legend has it that it takes its name from the first lord of its castle, Rufus – Marquis of Obertenghi who had thick red hair.
Perhaps, and more romantically, it is named after the sunset hues which turn the mountains from a gentle rose to a rich red each evening. The original village first made an appearance in the public records in 1056 when it donated land for a monastery, but it was actually first formed in the foot hills in 641 by mountain folk escaping an invasion by the Rotaris.
Today most modern amenities are in the new quarter, Fegina which is separated from the old quarter by a hill crowned with the 1622 Convento dei Cappuccini and a medieval tower. At the 18th century Sanctuary of Soviore a music festival is hosted each summer. At the water’s edge, there are pleasant beaches and boats bob hypnotically ready for hire to those who want a personal tour of this wonderful coast.
From Monterosso the other “Cinque Terre” towns are within easy reach. Vernazza is nearest – a short train ride or a lovely hour-and-a-half walk away. Corniglia is the hardest to reach as it, unlike all the others is high on the cliffs rather than by the sea. The scenery en route to Manarola is stunning and from there, it is a 20-minute walk to Riomaggiore – the last, and probably the prettiest, of the five villages.