The Cinque Terre is a wine-producing district on the northwest coast of Italy highly popular with international tourism. Will it become the next Chianti? Who knows? At the moment it’s still pretty unspoilt, due to its remoteness and difficulty of access.
It’s been voted the very top seaside area in all Italy by Legambiente, a major environmentalist organization, for tourist service, clean waters and environmental conservation.
The Cinque Terre (literally the five lands) is a wine-producing area situated in the Liguria region of Italy.
Liguria has two Rivieras: Riviera di Ponente (west of Genoa up to the French border) and Riviera di Levante (east of Genoa).
The Cinque Terre is in the Levante Riviera, between Genoa and Tuscany. It’s made up of five small villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
Good coastal resorts to explore the area are also Portovenere and Levanto, at the 2 opposite ends of Cinque Terre.
In this area, and indeed in many parts of the Liguria region, the steep hills end where the seashore starts. There is not much room left between sea and mountains for agriculture, which is why vineyards are grown on the slopes of the hills, according to a system called a terrazza, arranged in terraces stepping down to the sea.
Cars don’t travel very well in and between the tiny villages. For this reason Cinque Terre is much better visited by train.
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You can travel in the Cinque Terre area by car on the highway, which runs high along the coast following the ancient Roman road Via Aurelia and is free, or on the Genova-Livorno motorway A12, for which you have to pay a toll. The scenery from either is spectacular, affording amazing views over the Ligurian Riviera from the heights of viaducts in and out of road tunnels. The A12 autostrada Genova-Livorno has been called, not without justification, the most beautiful motorway in the world. From the road you can see the Cinque Terre and the Bay of La Spezia from above. But you’ll have problems when you actually want to climb down to a village on the sea. Usually you have to park outside the village and walk.
Another way to access the villages, of course, is by boat. There are regular boat services in the summer from Viareggio, a seaside resort in Versilia, just north of Pisa. The boat also stops in another beautiful village of the area, Portovenere.
It’s possible to enjoy very beautiful walks between the villages. Panoramic footpaths have been selected and are managed by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), the association responsible for Italian mountain paths.
The villages are minuscule and extremely picturesque, and they’ve preserved their old-world character. The rare and endangered species of flora and fauna of the Cinque Terre are protected in a Nature and Marine National Park, which covers the entire area up to Portovenere.
Notwithstanding its seclusion, the Cinque Terre is close to places which attract many tourists, like Portofino and Rapallo.
At the extreme south end of the Cinque Terre coast there’s another interesting place to visit, the ancient fortified town of Portovenere. With its narrow alleyways and pastel-coloured harbour cottages it’s not less picturesque than the “five lands” themselves. In Portovenere are important Roman ruins, including a Roman villa.
In front of it is the island Palmaria. On the other side of the Bay of La Spezia is Lerici, with its castle looking down from the top of a cliff onto the Bay of Poets, where Byron and Shelley lived. At the north end, Levanto is also considered part of the district, a kind of sixth Cinque Terre.