CINQUETERRE vacation LIGURIAN COAST

 
 

Cinqueterre - Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre (So called because the area includes five villages). Another delightful itinerary is the one that leaves from La Spezia and goes through the Cinque Terre as far as Levanto, Bonassola, Framura, Deiva and Moneglia. The coast road takes one to Riomaggiore and Manarola where, the sea, the hills, the vineyards, the old fishing villages and the Genovese style churches add together to result in enthralling scenery. From Riomaggiore to Manarola there is the renowned Via dell'Amore (lover's pathway) cut out of the costal rock.

A unique characteristic of the area are the terraced vineyards sustained by dry walling, a perfect example of landscape architecture created by man in inacessible surroundings. The rare and disappering species of flora and fauna are protected throughout the Cinque Terre as far as Porto Venere in a park that is both nature and marine. Panoramic foot paths that have been cared for and clearly indicated by the C.A.I. Association, are well used by walkers and trekkers alike, and along some paths one is likely to meet up with horseriders. Corniglia winding up the hillside and Monterosso spreading out at sea level both have notable artistic scenic references.
At Monterosso are the Medioeval "Torre Aurora" (The Dawn Tower) which divides the old part of the town from the new part (Fegina) and the Van Dyck Crucifix in the San Francesco church and on the hillside the 18th century Sanctuary of Soviore.
 
Liguria is best known for its major city Genoa La Superba (the Proud), for its most famous sons Cristopher Columbus, Andrea Doria and Pope Julius II, and for pesto.
I have a particularly fond memory of the region for two very special reasons of my own. The first is that Genoa continually reminds me of my home town, San Francisco. The only real similarity between the two is that they are both built overlooking their respective bays. The objective similarities stop there. Genoa (like most Ligurian coastal settlements) is perched on the slopes that shoot up from the water's edge while San Francisco gradually ascends from the flat marina area to encroach upon and cover the gentle and not-so-gentle hills that stand at some distance from the water's edge. Nevertheless, when I am in Genoa, there is something intangible which brings to mind my city by the bay.

The other motive of my affection for Liguria is because I once spent an unrepeatably wonderful weekend in the area known as the Cinqueterre (the Five Lands; also spelled Cinque Terre), located just north of La Spezia. Like virtually all Ligurian coastal towns, the Cinqueterre seems to balance precariously on the last fingertips of land jutting out from the continental landmass before it definitively sinks into the sea. Liguria has been defined as a "corridor" of land caught between the Apennines and the sea, and the Cinqueterre is the epitome of that description.
When my two friends and I rendezvoused in Milan (each coming from a separate part of the globe: Rome, Melbourne, Los Angeles), they informed me that instead of driving to Nice as we had previously discussed, "we" (meaning they) had decided to go to the Cinqueterre. Perhaps the element of surprise has influenced my opinion because, although I had heard many good things about the area, I did not really know what to expect. On arriving, I was immediately overwhelmed with the rugged beauty.
The Cinqueterre takes its name from five small villages - Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore (pictured below) and Vernazza (pictured at left) - that defiantly cling to the inhospitably rugged Ligurian coastline. They are, and have been for many centuries, practically inaccessible by land due to the harsh, steep terrain which juts up at their backs. The best way to see them is to take the little train that runs between them. As it goes at frequent intervals, one can hop and skip from one village to the next: have a coffee in one, lunch in the next and a digestivo further on. For the latter, I suggest the terrace of the little bar at the end of the promontory in Vernazza. If you are there in late afternoon and can stay until sunset, it is an unforgettable spectacle.
Each of the Cinqueterre towns has something different to offer. Monterosso has the most famous beach, a 16th-century Capucchin monastery with some fine paintings, and an ancient castle. There are great views of the other towns in Corniglia, along with a more secluded beach (you'll have to walk through an abandoned railway tunnel to get there). Vernazza, perhaps the most dramatic, juts straight out over the water, with crashing waves below to the left and a postage stamp boat harbor to the right. High above are the ramparts of a ruined medieval tower. Riomaggiore is hopelessly picturesque, a beehive of crumbling pastel-colored houses tumbling down to the horseshoe-shaped dock. This is the best place for those who wish to rent a room in someone's home, and there's great snorkeling. Manarola (pictured left) also has excellent swimming off the rocks. An authentic fishing village, it is probably the most genuine of the "lands."

One of the best way to see the Cinqueterre is to hike the many trails that join them. All Riviera di Levante tourist offices can supply maps of the sentieri (paths), many of which have been marked by the Italian Alpine Club. Be sure to ask about the current status of the trail you choose: they are constantly being closed for improvements. The most famous is the Via dell'Amore, which needs no translation. It departs from Riomaggiore, passing tidy vineyards, fragrant herb bushes and rocky outcrops for half an hour on its way to Manarola. The cactus-lined Via delle Agavi links Monterosso al Mare with Vernazza.

There are places to stay in the Cinqueterre suitable for all prices and pocketbooks, but it is probably more practical to sojourn in Levanto, Portovenere or Lerici. Portovenere is at the very tip of the Cinqueterre promontory, reachable by car and just as picturesque. While there, don't forget to visit the port and the castle, whence you'll enjoy a superb view of the Gulf of La Spezia, the Cinqueterre and the islands of Palmaria and Tino.

Though not as well known as many of Italy's other regional cuisines, the food along the Ligurian coast is second to none. Seafood, seafood and more seafood, and remember to try the local wines. First and foremost among them is the famous sciacchetrà from the Cinqueterre.

You can park your car in Monterosso or Manarola, but the best way to get to the Cinqueterre is by train (make sure you take the local) or ferry (from Genoa, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Levanto or Portovenere). Purchase a special train ticket that allows you unlimited daily travel between the villages, and since they are only a minute or so apart, you'll probably use it often. When you board the train, try to find out which carriage stops at the platform in your destination. Otherwise you'll have to walk through passageways in the tunnel.

The Via dell'Amore was recently reopened after being closed for five years due to a landslide. The endangered part has now been enclosed in a tunnel for future safety. Another recently restored path is the Sentiero Azzurro.

If you'd like to to stay in this area for a few days consider
Charme Hotel I Pini far from Cinqueterre : 50 km
or
Villa Paradise next to Tuscany/Ligurian coast (distance from cinqueterre : 60 km).

The Cinqueterre tourist office is in Monterosso al Mare, in Piazza Colombo. Cinqueterre is on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a program of the World Monuments Fund, issued every other year. The World Monuments Fund is a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered works of historic art and architecture around the world.

 

 


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Five miles of rocky coast in eastern Liguria, two promontories lie at each extremity, thousands of kilometres of dry walling, cultivated into vineyards, five southerly villages castled up on spurs of stone or disposed in clusters of very small inlets. These are the co-ordinates of the Cinque Terre (Five lands). Recognized finally as a National Park in 1999 and UNESCO protected territory since 1997 as a system of naturalistic environmental interest. This zone is characterized by the presence of precipitous slopes which have been cultivated into vineyards by means of fatiguing system of terracing the only evidence of transformation operated by the laborious human activity on the territory. The suggestive type of coastal projections on the sea with sheer cliffs that often overtake the verticality alternated with bays, winding paths and enchanting small beaches between cliffs with a profound back drop, a rich variety of ichthyic (fishing) all of which make this district an authentic natural "opera of art".
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