Five picture-perfect pastel- tinted villages on the edge of a mountain slope, the Mediterranean Sea lapping below. This is the Cinque Terre for you: a place where reality is even better than your wildest imagination!
Situated in between Pisa and Genoa, the Cinque Terre are Italy’s answer to the French Riviera. Known for great walking, beautiful scenery and tasty food, the five villages (Monterosso, Corniglia, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore) are very well interconnected by train and walking paths. Most people even walk to all of them in one day! But the slow traveller in me wanted to see beyond the villages, so I decided to stay for a week, camping in nearby Levanto to truly experience a maximum of what this stunning area has to offer! Read on and discover the best things to do in Cinque Terre!
1/ Discover life before tourism
There’s no doubt that the Cinque Terre thrive on tourism nowadays, but not so long ago, the villages were mostly known for wine-making. The numerous vineyards, especially around Manarola, still bear witness to that time and walking through them, with the blue Mediterranean below, is an experience not to be missed! Little details like the old wine press in Corniglia take you back to a time not that long gone…
2/ Go hiking and get lost
Don’t limit yourself to the walking trail that connects all five villages. Go higher up into the woods and you’ll have the area all to yourself! I attempted the walk from Manarola to Corniglia , but got horribly lost somewhere along the way. Hitching a ride to the nearest bus station I ended up in La Spezia, an overlooked hard-working port town. It is here that I tasted the best food of my whole stay: a delicious plate of “ravioli di spinaci burro e salvia” (that’s spinach ravioli with a sage-butter sauce to you and me) in a local restaurant next to the station. An experience I would never have had if I would have rushed through the region and stayed on the well-trodden path…
3/ Take time for an aperitivo on the beach
Half an hour walk from where I stayed, is the village of Bonassola. Tourism is still very low key here and in September there’s plenty of space on the beach for everyone. I enjoyed numerous sunsets in one of the bars, enjoying the IItalian “aperitivo” habit, where you order a drink and get a range of snacks with it for free. Reading the local newspaper, do some writing, do some people-watching: life can be blissfully simple in the Cinque Terre!
4/ Experiment cooking with local food
I love camping -in sunny weather that is- and occasionally I like to cook my own food on a little stove, enjoying a glass of wine and some cheese and olives as a starter. There is a lot to be said about going to the local supermarket, buying the local veg and cheese. You get a true feeling of the everyday products that are used, you get new ideas for recipes at home and above all, you get to enjoy the gossip of the Italian housewives!
5/ Discover the hidden sanctuaries
Italy is considered as a pretty religious country and the Cinque Terre are no exception to that. Churches can be found on the main square of every village, but more interesting are the sanctuaries you come across when venturing into the countryside. I was accompanied by a few fellow travellers at the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Soviore, but the rest was very much deserted. As a bonus, most of the sanctuaries offer exceptional views over the surroundings!
The Cinque Terre is a region to be enjoyed slowly! Don’t limit yourself to strolling through the villages, as beautiful as they might be! Take time to immerse yourself in the “dolce vita” and reminisce about how good life can be!
And why not venture inland to discover some of the most beautiful villages of Liguria, with hardly a soul in sight!
Have you been to the Cinque Terre? Or a similar charming region? Looking forward to hearing your stories!