Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso and Vernazza are the towns suspended between sea and land that give life to the Cinque Terre.
These towns are also part of the Cinque Terre National Park, among the smallest parks in Italy and at the same time the most densely populated, with around 4,000 inhabitants. This area is the most unspoiled and fascinating natural part of Liguria.
Here man has “modified” the natural environment by terracing the steep slopes of the hills to obtain strips of arable land, supported by kilometres of dry stone walls. This is the aspect that distinguishes the Cinque Terre and that has made it become a World Heritage Site.
The coast of the Cinque Terre is rocky and steep, but it is also full of enchanting bays, beaches and wonderful panoramic paths to be discovered. The hinterland then hides beautiful medieval towns, characteristic churches, craft shops and typical dishes all to be enjoyed.
The ideal period to visit the Cinque Terre depends on your preferences. If you like the sea, then it is worth visiting in the period between mid-May and the end of September.
Monterosso al Mare, the largest town in the Cinque Terre, boasts important monuments, including the fourteenth-century church of San Giovanni Battista, the castle overlooking the sea and the monastery whose church dedicated to San Francesco contains priceless works of art, including paintings attributed to Van Dick, Cambiaso, Piola and Guido Reni. Also worth seeing is the Aurora Tower, the last remaining of the 13 towers that in the 16th century embraced and protected the town. Monterosso beach is the largest of the Cinque Terre and is sandy in some parts and rocky in others.
Vernazza is considered the most evocative town of the Cinque Terre and preserves its long maritime tradition intact. The town is dominated by the remains of a series of medieval fortifications dating back to the 11th century, with a castle and a cylindrical tower. The built-up area consists of houses separated from each other by a single central street and, perpendicularly, by steep stairways called “arpaie”. The most important historical monument is Santa Margherita di Antiochia, a Romanesque-Genoese style church, whose construction dates back to the 13th century.
Corniglia rises above a rocky promontory and is the only town in the Cinque Terre not in contact with the sea. Its houses are more like those of the hinterland than typical coastal houses, testifying that the traditional vocation of the town has always been more directed to the land than to the sea. The most important monument of Corniglia is the Church of San Pietro, in Gothic-Genoese style, built around 1350. Interesting is also the small main square of Corniglia, the real beating heart of the town.
Manarola is a fraction of Riomaggiore and is an urban jewel, rich as it is in typical Genoese-style tower houses. Founded during the 12th century, its main monument is the church of San Lorenzo, whose construction dates back to 1338. Do not miss the White Bell Tower, an ancient control and sighting tower, the historic San Rocco Hospital and the 15th-century Oratory of the Disciplined of the Santissima Annunziata.
Finally, we have the town of Riomaggiore, dating back to 1251 which boasts monuments of great interest, including the church of San Giovanni Battista, erected in 1340 and the Oratory of Santa Maria Assunta which houses a fifteenth-century triptych and a wooden statue of the fourteenth century depicting the Madonna. Important is also the Castle that dominates the historic centre. In Riomaggiore begins the famous via dell’Amore, a path carved out of the rock that leads to Manarola.
Among the dishes and specialities of Ligurian cuisine to try when you are visiting the Cinque Terre we find:
- Anchovies: rigorously in salt, they have been a traditional dish for over 500 years.
- Sciacchetrà: a DOC wine made from raisins and produced from terraced vineyards.
- Lemon: different from Limonicino, it is a syrup prepared with lemons without zest.
- Focaccia: stuffed with anchovies from the Ligurian Sea, it is a must.
- Pesto sauce: another speciality made with basil.
- Genoese Pandolce: a Ligurian Christmas cake to be found here and in the rest of the region.