The five lands of Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

The five lands of Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre, Italy

The charm of Cinque Terre is its isolation. This isolation is not measured in distance – the area is not far from main cities like La Spezia and the even larger Genoa. It is judged through connectivity. Historically, Cinque Terre has been cut off from the rest of the region by a lack of transport. Even today, it is virtually inaccessible by car.

Somewhat ironically, it is this historical lack of transport connections that now means so many people want to visit every year, making Cinque Terre one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy.

Read my practical guide to hiking Cinque Terre

Along this rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera, the five towns of Cinque Terre sit on the coast with long stretches of green separating them. Because there have never been any major roads in this area, no major developments ever appeared. It was too difficult to do anything more than a slow expansion of the towns to respond to the natural growth of population over the years.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

The land in between – rising up on hills, along cliffs and undulating through natural valleys perpendicular to the coast – is covered in either nature or agriculture. The forests are thick in parts but hiking tracks cut through them in all directions. What’s more interesting is the agriculture.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

Although you may think that fishing would have been a large industry for the residents of Cinque Terre, actually only those in Monterosso earned an income that way. Traditionally, those from the other villages turned to the land. They grew olives and grapes and, to make that possible, they built terraces into the hills and planted their crops in them.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

These days, tourism is by far the biggest industry for those who still live in Cinque Terre – but the olive trees and vineyards still exist and are still tended to. Go for a walk on one of the inland tracks and you’ll find yourself in the middle of plantations. Local wines are available at bars and shops in the villages along the coast.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

The villages are the highlights for most of the visitors who flock to Cinque Terre. Although roads may not have been built, there is now a train line that runs through tunnels and connects each of the villages with the outside world. Each day the trains are full of tourists, drawn largely by the images they have seen of colourful buildings.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

The buildings are indeed colourful and it’s particularly noticeable at the village of Vernazza, the most picturesque of the five along the coast. From the walking track on the cliffs, you can look down from either direction and see the different hues of each building collect together like a kaleidoscope. Hike down into the village and everything appears in technicolour up close. The view from the small harbour is particularly alluring.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

Although you find a similarity in each of the five villages, they also have their own characteristics. Monterosso has sandy beaches that make it feel more like a typical riviera town; Vernazza, as I’ve mentioned, has the most colourful of the buildings; Corniglia is set higher up on cliffs and has a more fortress-like atmosphere; Manarola has a central promenade leading down the slope towards the water; and Riomaggiore feels the largest, almost normal, you could nearly for a moment forget where you are.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

It is extremely unlikely there will ever be any major development around Cinque Terre. The villages and the hills around them are protected as a national park. The area is also part of a World Heritage Site (that includes nearby Porto Venere and Palmaria island). It would take a major change in the attitude towards conservation of the area to allow anything dramatic to be built here.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

But there is a need for constant vigilance of damage to the area. Like many parts of the world where tourism becomes the main income source, locals lose their interest in more traditional industries like farming. In Cinque Terre, that’s even more dangerous. If people stop growing grapes and olives here, they’ll likely stop maintaining the terraces they’ve built on the hills. If they fall into disrepair, the possibility of landslides or similar events become a real threat.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

Cinque Terre is no longer isolated, no matter how you look at it. Sure, there are no roads, but there may as well be with the number of visitors who come here each year. The villages are small and their streets get full quickly. Thankfully there is some respite on the hiking trails – enough of the tourists seem too lazy to do any walking that the paths aren’t overly busy – but that may not be much of a relief at the height of summer.

Cinque Terre World Heritage, Italy

But the product of the historical isolation remains, and that’s what makes this stretch of the Italian coast so special. These villages and their positions on the coast are a living artwork… just more lively today than ever before.

Read my practical guide to hiking Cinque Terre

Are there hiking tours in Cinque Terre?

You don’t really need a guide or a tour to hike along the main stretch of the Cinque Terre. The path is very well marked and relatively easy. However, there are some options for guided tours that will help you appreciate the cultural landscape a lot more. Hiking with a local means you’ll hear all about the history, people and food of the Cinque Terre. If you’re interested, I would suggest having a look at this hiking tour.

Where should you stay in La Spezia?

You can get dorm beds in the small apartments at Corner House or River 44.
For an affordable but comfortable option, check out HH Il Gabbiano or Casa Macaia.
A couple of really nice places are Hotel Crismar and Albergo delle Spezie.
And you can also try Hotel Genova, which is one of the most popular places in La Spezia.

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

9 Comments
  • Indian Eagle | Jun 15, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Travel is a very great gift from god and that is what we have learned from your blog. Thanks for such a good write up. Truly an amazing piece of writing.

  • Online flight booking | Jun 16, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Wow! what a place to get around really in these photographs this place is looking damn Awesome thanks for sharing this post with us .

  • Jillian Michelle | Jun 18, 2017 at 2:12 am

    Cinque Terre has been on my bucket list for a couple years now, but I still haven’t had the chance to visit yet. Kind of bummed that it’s become so overcrowded, but the photos are still gorgeous lol! <3
    Jillian Michelle recently posted..College of Wizardry Course Guide – Here’s a detailed guide to the 13 classes you can study at the real life Hogwarts Castle in PolandMy Profile

  • Alex Steven | Jun 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Wow! this is so mesmerizing. Lovely pictures and amazingly written. Thanks for sharing.

  • Agra City Tour | Jun 19, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Looks like an amazing place and pictures. Cinque terre is looking awesome bucket list.

  • Ronnie Walter | Jun 20, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Every part of the Italy is stunningly beautiful. Have been to Cinque Terre once and was awestruck by its beauty. Lovely captures by the way.

  • overnight agra tour | Jun 22, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Epic post! Cinque Terre looks so beautiful. Your photography is really good, Great article.

  • overnight agra tour | Jul 3, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Such a great post. It looks so awesome pictures. Great article you shared. Thanks.

  • Cindy DAvies | Jul 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

    We went there and walked along the trails from one village to another. It is truly amazing and worth the visit

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