“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.”
– Debra Lavinson-
The Cinque Terre, in Liguria, Italy, is a place where perfection of nature and man collide. The turquoise of the Ligurian Sea, the green of the wine field terraces and the blue of an endless sky play background to vibrantly colored buildings clinging to the cliffs. If you suffer from wanderlust, then prepare yourself for a ferocious itch. It’s a historical gem, hiker’s mecca, artist’s inspiration, beach lover’s sunspot, foodie’s paradise and all around dream destination.
Cinque Terre means “5 Lands” and is comprised of Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore. While offering the luxuries of the modern world, the only traffic you will find in these historic fishing villages is that of foot soles. Throngs of tourists gracing cobblestone alleys in search of pesto, seafood and wine, and hikers setting out to tackle world renowned hiking trails, the iconic shot of Vernazza coming into full view and making every uneven stone and step worth it. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, now easily accessible by train and ferry, is an absolute must for any traveler. There are places on earth that will connect your family, unique experiences that create lifelong memories, places where you feel inspired by the colors and the views, and nature serves to rejuvenate your soul. The Cinque Terre is one of those places.
The villages are connected by hundreds of trails, the most famous being the Sentiero Azzurro (or Blue Path) a 12 km trail running along the Italian Riviera. The entire trek can be done in approximately 5-6 hours, but is easily broken up into smaller sections by the villages. You can also choose to take the 35 km High Path that runs from Portovenere to Levanto.
***Declared a National Park in 2001, you will be required to purchase a Cinque Terre Card to explore (and yes, they are checked along the way!) The cards include things like use of the park, wifi services, bus and train usage and even bathroom facility use. You can find more information about the cards, fees and what they include HERE.
The oldest and largest of the villages, Monterosso was founded in AD 643. The first of the village stops coming from the north, Monterosso tends to be very congested with it’s huge beach and popular shops. We toured around an outdoor market, purchased our Cinque Terre Card and began the hike towards Vernazza.
HIKING MONETROSSO TO VERNAZZA:
We did this section shortly after we arrived, and while it was alot more difficult than we anticipated, it was extremely rewarding and my favorite part of the day. Hundreds of steps and narrow donkey paths wind up and down between the two villages, the 1 1/2 hour trek offers spectacular views of the Ligurian Sea and the ruggedly picturesque coastline. Brooke, our 7 year old, received rounds of applause from strangers on more than one occasion for being such a trooper! We had frequent breaks, and one such stop near the end stands out in my mind. Sitting on the stairs to rest, a lady came around the corner and Sam stood up to move out of her way, issuing a quick “Sorry”. She laughed and replied “You must be from Canada. I love you guys.” I guess it’s not a bad thing to have a reputation for apologetic behavior!
You’re exhausted, hot and thirsty…..And then Vernazza comes into view….For me, this next photo is more than just any snapshot. It’s a memory of so many awestruck faces, smiling to have reached such an iconic spot, waiting in line for this exact shot. And the pleasant strangers all making the remark that this exact moment of our family was “Christmas Card material”. And it absolutely is.
Dating back to around 1000 AD, the village of Vernazza is the epitome of Italian charm. Offering the only true harbour in the Cinque Terre, Vernazza is famous for it’s medieval castle, built in the 1500’s to protect the village from pirate invasions. Also known for fantastic winter storms, one such storm in October of 2011 caused deadly mud slides, devastating Vernazza and Monterosso. While swift cleanup and restoration ensued, some trails remain closed today. Upon leaving Vernazza, we chose to take the train to Manarola.
Fun with the kids: Climb Castello Doria for incredible views and a fun history lesson for the kids. There is a minimal fee to climb the tower, and also a very well rated restaurant on the way up.
While small in size, this little village is postcard worthy. Traditionally known as a fishing village, Manarola is famous for it’s tower houses and it’s Sciacchetra, a sweet, white wine. We had intended to hike the infamous Via dell’amore (The Way of Love) between Manarola and Riomaggiore. We were disappointed when we arrived at a looming locked gate, unaware that the stretch known for it’s easy paved trail and love locks had been closed since a rock slide in 2012 that injured 4 tourists.
If you arrive by train from Manarola, you will pass thru a tunnel, a long art gallery of sorts with oil paintings and water colors, you will then cross through the church square and head down the main street towards the water. Make sure you also take the path that goes back towards the south for fantastic views of the village like the ones we took below.
I absolutely fell in love with this little village at the end of the line. There is something about the layout, the colors, the views and the tiny boats lined up that draw you in. We enjoyed sitting along the edge with our feet in the water, resting and people watching, and we enjoyed our conversation with a young man behind the counter as we purchased a bottle of the renowned Sciacchetra. (The store is actually the tall white building on the right hand side of the photo below) Finding out we were from Western Canada, he explained it is akin to our British Columbia Ice Wines (a must try for visitors our way!) He explained that he had married a Canadian girl and happily spends winters snowboarding in Whistler. Best of both worlds if you ask me!
Sitting perched on a 100 meter promontory, Corniglia is the only village that is not directly on the coast, and the only village we did not visit. We had just finished the hike from Monterosso, and the thought of another 382 steps was simply too daunting, especially for the kids. I figure we are simply saving something for next time….
The Cinque Terre is a place that needs to be experienced to be fully understood, or even appreciated. While it would be easy to immerse yourself, and make the Cinque Terre your entire vacation, we chose to spend a full day here as part of a 6 day adventure in the area (Read more about our adventures in my recent blog Falling for Framura ) As with the rest of Italy, there is always a surplus on the side of food, wine, history, paths and people ,and an unfortunate deficit of time. Whether you stay a moment or a month, do yourself the favor and relish in the vibrancy, walk the winding paths and stare in awe of the views, drink sweet white wine, eat fresh pesto, watch for pirates, and enjoy the connection as a family over every.single.amazing.moment.