Riomaggiore, First of Five Cinque Terre Villages
A rugged and charming landscape with five villages that line the coast like jewels, the medieval Cinque Terre towns rise up in the middle of a fierce and beautiful landscape.
Cinque Terre is in the Italian Riviera, in the north-western coastal region of Liguria and it is made up of five fishing villages located on a coastal strip of 15 km (under 10 miles). From West to East, they are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Although Italy Cinque Terre feels the pressure of its many visitors, efforts have been made to protect its precious heritage as much as possible.
The five cliff-side towns, the surrounding hills and the coast are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also a part of the Cinque Terre National Park, the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, which was the first Italian national park.
We advise you to get to Cinque Terre by train from La Spezia, so you don’t have to worry about the shortage of parking spaces.
If you want to visit the different towns, the passenger ferry that runs between the Cinque Terre villages, except Corniglia is a good option.
Where Does the Name Cinque Terre Come from?
Literally translated, Cinque Terre means Five Lands. Cinque is Italian for five and according to some terra was the medieval name for village in the Ligurian language. Another view is that the term was rather a hint at the isolation of the remote, distant Cinque Terre villages.
In the past, the small Cinque Terre towns were only accessible by sea or through tortuous paths and mule paths, and the term terre referred to those inaccessible fishing villages. As the five villages didn’t have a collective name, people started calling them The Cinque Terre, the same term we still use today.
Invigorating Cinque Terre Hiking
One of the best things to do in Cinque Terre is hiking and one of the most popular trails is the Sentiero Azzurro, a walking path that crosses Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. But remember that you have to buy a day ticket to walk the Sentiero Azzurro.
Unfortunately, as we are writing this some sections of the Azure Trail are closed for repairs due to floods and landslides, like a large part of the Via dell’Amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore.
The stretch between Manarola and Corniglia is rather easy, although it finishes with 386 steps and sometimes it is also closed. The only sure thing is to find out once you get there, before getting too excited about hiking Cinque Terre.
For those of you who love hiking, there’s another hiking trail known as Alta via delle Cinque Terre. This old mule path runs along the watershed that separates the Cinque Terre coastline from Val di Vara and is a part of the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, which in turn is a part of the Sentiero Italia that runs through the whole of Italy.
What’s Up with Via dell’Amore
The Via dell’Amore is the most popular stretch of the Sentiero Azzurro, the coastal trail with splendid views that links the five Cinque Terre villages. Compared to the other parts of the Sentiero Azzuro, it’s an easy one-km stroll of about 20 minutes —not even a mile.
Until mid-20th century the Cinque Terre towns were very isolated and hardly anyone married someone from another village. The relationships between the two Cinque Terre towns were virtually non-existent as shown by the significant differences between the dialects from both villages and the Ligurian language.
The trail that links Riomaggiore and Manarola that we know as Via dell’Amore, Pathway of Love or Lover’s Lane in English, was built in the early 1900s and it had a significant impact in the relationships between people of both villages.
Because of dangerous rock and landslides the trail was often closed. The rocky terrain and steep cliffs made it a continuous struggle to hold slides at bay but even so it became a vital meeting point.
After a serious accident in 2012 the Lover’s Path was closed until 2015 when it partially reopened, but only the 200 m that run from the Manarola train station to the Bar Via dell’Amore, still closed to the public.
For tourists the whole or partial closure of the Lover’s trail can be an inconvenience, but for the residents of both villages it is upsetting as it interrupts a lifeline between the two villages —a place for courting couples, where families stroll together, young people meet and older people sit in the sun and chat.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to know when the entire Lover’s Path will open again.
In the meantime, an alternative hiking trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is the Beccara trail #531, which offers astounding views by the way. Keep in mind though that this isn’t an easy walk like the Via dell’Amore but a rather strenuous hike that requires proper footwear and fitness.
The Five Cinque Terre Villages
The five villages of Cinque Terre date back to medieval times, offering the visitor the opportunity to visit well-preserved castles, lovely parish churches, admire works of art, eat good food or just roam the streets and take in the amazing constructions and the exhilarating proximity of the azure Mediterranean Sea.
Most beaches are rather rocky but even so swimming in the deep blue water is a delightful, revitalizing experience for body and mind.
Charming Corniglia Tucks Away from the Sea
Corniglia is the village in the middle, to the east of Vernazza and Monterosso, and west of Manarola and Riomaggiore. Corniglia is the smallest and the only village that doesn’t tower directly over the sea. It is on the top of a promontory surrounded by man-made terraces and vineyards on three sides and a fourth side that falls sharply into the Ligurian Sea.
From Corniglia you can reach Vernazza through a lovely walk between mountain and sea.
Westernmost Monterosso al Mare
Monterosso al Mare is at the center of a small natural gulf and it has the only large sand beach in Italy Cinque Terre.
With about 1,500 residents, Monterosso al Mare, or Monterosso for short, is the largest of the Cinque Terre towns and is famous for its large number of aromatic lemon trees.
Worth seeing is the Church of St. John the Baptist in the old town with its main portal featuring a fresco portraying the baptism of Christ.
Apart from sublime views of the sea, the omnipresent convent of Monterosso, Complesso conventuale dei Cappuccini in Italian, owns many art treasures such as the Crucifixion attributed to the Flemish painter Antoon Van Dyck.
Don’t leave without seeing the Statue of Neptune, the Monterosso Giant. This impressive sculpture of about 14 m or 46 ft in height was built by the architect Francesco Levacher and the scultpor Arrigo Minerbi, the favorite sculptor of Gabriele D’Annunzio.
No Cars in Elegant Vernazza
Vernazza remains one of the most picturesque villlages of the entire Italian Riviera with colourful houses that have clung to impossible cliffs for many centuries. Its surroundings brighten with steep terraces growing olive groves, grapes and lemon trees.
Vernazza boasts the only true harbor of Cinque Terre, nestled under the shades of the Doria castle and the Belforte bastion that was built to protect the village from the pirates.
If you are fit and like hiking, you can visit the Santuario di Nostra Signora di Reggio —about an hour or less of steep walking on a panoramic path marked with the Stations of the Cross at intervals.
Vernazza is part of the I Borghi più belli d’Italia, meaning literally The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy, an association of small Italian towns of historical interest that works to preserve and revitalize their valuable heritage.
If you are lucky you’ll be in Vernazza during the Pirate Festival, which as far as we know doesn’t have a fixed date. You’ll see pirates landing on the port and marching to town accompanied by music!
Colorful, Friendly Manarola
Manarola is the second smallest village in Cinque Terre, after tiny Corniglia, and until 2012 the first obvious thing to do for the visitor was to walk the Via dell’Amore, the popular trail overlooking the sea that links the villages of Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Sadly, as we mentioned above, the trail had to close for repairs and as we are writing this only a small section of the Love’s Trail is open to the public. You’ll need to find out about the current state of the path when you get there.
Thought to be the oldest town of Cinque Terre, Manarola is dominated by the parish Church of San Lorenzo in Gothic style and dating back to 1338. If you go up to the Church square, to the Piazza della Chiesa, you’ll be able to enjoy great views of the village.
A fantastic place to admire the impressive structure of Manarola is Punta Bonfiglio, a rocky promontory on the walking path towards Corniglia. It is from here that you can take a truly picturesque, postcard photo of the village to show to your friends.
Manarola produces a sweet wine called Sciacchetrà renowned since Roman times. This millenary dessert wine is made with grapes from the famous terraces surrounding Manarola and other villages of the Spezia province and it is worth tasting.
Genoese Tower Houses in Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is the southernmost and easternmost of the five Cinque Terre towns. The Genoese Case Torri, Italian for tower houses, lean on each other and frame deep, narrow alleys and the small, evocative quay.
The old town follows the valley of the river Rio Maggiore, the ancient Rivus Major from which the village takes its name.
There are several interesting churches you can visit: the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, the Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero and the Santuario di Nostra Signora della Salute.
Don’t forget the castle, the Castello di Riomaggiore in the old town.
Next: A Gallery of Magnetic Cinque Terre Pictures
If you want to sample the secluded natural beauty of the Cinque Terra towns, click the button below to view our photo gallery. We have selected stunning Cinque Terre images featuring that will give you MORE ideas for things to do in Italy Cinque Terre.