How many places truly have something for everyone? Sure, places like Paris, Rome, London, San Francisco, New York, just to name a few obvious ones, can say it. But, a group of villages with a population less than 5,000 combined? How could that be?
Cinque Terre can deliver in the categories of exercise/fitness/sport, landscape/nature/outdoors, food and wine, history, culture/art/music, and who isn’t interested in at least one of those things? Cinque Terre is truly paradise, offering something for every type of traveler.
Exercise, Fitness, and Sport in Cinque Terre
Hiking is the most obvious and common reason that people visit Cinque Terre. Originally, trails were used by the locals as transportation routes. Now, the trails, i sentieri, are popular trails for hikers. The section between Riomaggiore and Manarola is paved, making it suitable for everyone from babies in strollers (hopefully, with someone pushing) to someone in a wheelchair. There’s nothing daunting here.
Then, there are the trails that are rather steep, narrow and rugged, for the more hardy hikers (although, I have hiked it with a 65-year-old woman who would have described herself as only a walker.) Distances are optional, from the 20-minute paved section to doing the whole trail from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (or beyond) in 1 day, again for the more hardy types.
And for another land-based sport, there is bicycling. The biking enthusiast will be happy to follow the route of the Giro d’Italia which goes through Cinque Terre. This track is not for the average cyclist, as the elevation climb is over 500 meters.
Cinque Terre is a national park and its water is protected, so the water is very clean. From June through September, the temperature of the water is perfect for swimming. While Monterosso is touted for its long public beach, Vernazza also has its own beach in the harbor, albeit a smaller one. If you’re more inclined to relax around the ocean, then the rocks of Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore, and even the small harbor area below Corniglia, offer up a perfect spot to sunbathe.
And where there is water, there is also water polo, kayaking, fishing, and sailing. Cinque Terre provides plenty of exercise and fitness options, both land and sea.
Landscape, Nature, and Outdoors in Cinque Terre
The landscape of Cinque Terre is the result of both man and mother nature. If you see the picture in the fort above Vernazza (also comes under the history category!) you’ll notice a different landscape than we see today. Locals who are
Many of the locals who have spent their life in Cinque Terre can describe a time when all of the hills were covered with vineyards. Those days are far in the past, as the grueling work of tending vineyards is no longer needed with the land being overtaken by macchia. With that said, there are still vineyards being maintained which helps maintain the supply of local wine and of course, the sciacchetra, the famous DOCG dessert wine. And yes, there are still locals who use the sentieri as they had been used for centuries, as the route to their livelihood.
History and Culture in Cinque Terre
While the landscape itself is a testament to the history of Cinque Terre, the museums showcase specific episodes of history of this long-inhabited area. At the Fort in Vernazza, above the harbor, you will see pictures of Vernazza at the turn of the 20th century as well as evidence of World War II when the Germans bombed the town to gain control of the railway. There are still bullet marks, and there are still people who can tell the stories of what it was like when the Germans succeeded and occupied the town.
Each village has some homage to its past, from the murals in Riomaggiore to the old olive oil mill in Groppio to the Castello and the fort in Vernazza and the church in Corniglia. This is an old, settled area that had its share of disruption and heartache, in such a beautiful, captivating setting
Food and Wine in Cinque Terre
And of course, we need to look at the category of food and wine in Cinque Terre as it is the landscape that has determined them. Being isolated by the mountains and being bound between the mountains and the sea, the main course here is fish.
Most important of all are the anchovies, available salted (insalata), al limone (with lemon), fritti (fried) or ripiene (stuffed), or as part of the Vernazza dish tegame, a casserole of anchovy, potato and tomato. Anchovies are the defining ingredient in Cinque Terre, so even people who think they hate them will have an epiphany.
There is also the fish caught from that glorious bay, usually orata. If you hang around the pier in Vernazza, at some point during the day you will see locals coming in with their catch. Unfortunately, it will be their dinner, not yours!
Then there is the calamari and the octopus. Meat is also available in a few restaurants, with the best being the meat “from just over the hill”, which is also the source for the local cheese, although they do not play a large part in the diet of these villages.
In the days when the only trade route inland was the sentieri, the coastal villages had to rely on their own hyper-local products. Even today, the olive oil from the hills above the towns is used far more than butter and fish from the local water is eaten far more than meat. The local specialty dishes, such as Tegame da Vernazza, came about because of what was available from the sea and hills facing the sea. To eat tegame is to eat a piece of history.
As is eating pesto. Basil grows extremely well here for a lot of the year. But, to preserve it and have it available during the winter months, it was stored in olive oil. Then just add garlic, pine nuts, and parmigiana cheese and you have pesto.
Before you dig into your acchiuge al limone and trofie, the local pasta specialty, con pesto, and the tegame, look to those hills and think with gratitude of the lives that were lived to have settled upon these as their defining dishes.
The People in Cinque Terre
As with the food, the culture first and foremost begins with the people of the villages. Again, the landscape seems to have won, as the people are more defined by the landscape than the other way around. Due to the severity of the landscape and the isolation, they have had to be independent, inter-dependent, and collaborative within each community, but also among the surrounding communities.
And yes, as in any group or family, there are jealousies and in-fighting. However, even now, even with the changing nature of their lifestyle and the affluence brought by tourism, if attacked now as they had been by the pirates over centuries, they would once again defend their own. They are close but distinct communities, and spending time in each village will show this, particularly if you happen to be with a local who can point out the differences.
In visiting Cinque Terre, you will find people who are honest, hard-working, sincere, open and welcoming. From this group, you will also find art and music. There are painters, musicians, ceramic makers and jewelry designers. (The winemakers might and could argue to be in this artistic group, too!) If you listen closely, you will hear that each town has its own dialect as well, that many are trying to preserve through their art.
If you have the chance, you should most certainly visit Cinque Terre. You’ll immediately become overwhelmed with the beauty of the landscape, the culture of the people, the history of the area, and the delicious food and wine. Visit Cinque Terre and take in everything that this historical city in Italy has to offer!