Europe Italy Travel Diary

Five villages in one day – Cinque Terre, Italy

The European summer is slowly drifting away, but the waters off the coasts of Cinque Terre remain warm, sparkling and inviting.

What does Cinque Terre mean?

In Italian words meaning ‘five lands’, Cinque Terre lies dotted along the Ligurian Sea north west of Italy. Although relatively inaccessible from major cities, Cinque Terre remains a popular resort holiday location for locals and international visitors.

The towns are joined by one train line and if you are not careful, you could easily miss the entire five villages with the blink of an eye. Tourists come to admire the area’s beauty and enjoy the crystal-clear waters, while locals lie on the rocks to watch the bewildered tourists.

On a bright sunny day, walking along the footpath that links the towns is very pleasurable, especially when stopping at a café on the cliff for a coffee or gelato. This UNESCO World Heritage site makes a great getaway.

The guidebooks warn that there is usually a flood of tourists visiting the Cinque Terre around lunchtime. So I woke early, eager to beat the crowds and have more time to enjoy this 18 kilometre journey.

As the train comes to its stop, a mild breeze welcomes me to this town with the salty smell of the sea.

Starting at Riomaggiore, the main village among the Cinque Terre, I follow the walking trail along the coast. Fishing boats can be seen in the close waters, or stacked up to dry on one of the many beaches.

Restaurants and cafes scatter along the main cobbled road, no wider than a single car lane, luring me with the smell of freshly made pizza and the sights of creamy fruity gelato.

No motorised vehicles are allowed along the Cinque Terre, which makes the walk even more enjoyable. With two scoops of hazelnut gelato in hand, I slowly venture into the second town, Manarola.

What are the towns along Cinque Terre like?

While most people in the villages are still winemakers or fishermen, it is tourism that is booming in the local industry.

This stretch of coastline boasts great swimming and diving spots that lure visitors from all over the world, and sipping espresso from one of the cafes overlooking the sea is irresistibly romantic.

The Cinque Terre towns have one common characteristic. They are all built on the edge of the land, directly accessible to the ocean; some are built high into the cliff, others on the lower parts and right by the beaches.

Buildings are painted in various colours, mostly pastel-like pale pink, pale yellow, pale blue and pale green. The view is then joined by the vast span of ocean, with the most vibrant green-blue colour appearing almost dreamlike.

With vine yards and olive trees on my left and the green-blue sparkling ocean on the right, this collective of colours looks like a set of impressionist painting, rich in texture and blend of contrasts, a truly visual pleasure.

I stop over a small café for a quick bite for lunch. Positioning myself at a table right on the cliff, I take in a deep breath and lust over the richness of the ocean.

I listen to the soft waves crashing onto the rocks and the calls of seagulls overhead. I chew on my sandwich slowly, savouring every sight and sound, not wanting to leave.

As I venture further down the track, I spotted people sitting along the beaches — a collection of large rocks, not the usual sand beaches — soaking up the sun as well as enjoying the refreshing aqua.

It tempted me to climb down to the sea to join in. Stripping into my bathers, I plunge into the surreal-coloured water.

The chill of the splash is followed by instant relief from an active morning. Drifting effortlessly, I enjoyed watching the seagulls gliding in the gentle wind, and other day trippers give their camera a workout as they pass through.

How to see Cinque Terre

There are many ways to explore the Cinque Terre. If you don’t feel like the walk, it is also possible to go town hopping by water or by train.

A Cinque Terre pass allows visitors unlimited rides on the trains that come through the villages. A boating charter also operates in the summer months, providing an alternative transport option to juggle between the towns.

It was late afternoon as I finally covered the stretch of coast to the very last village, Monterosso Al Mare.

Settling down in a wine bar, sampling the local Morasca dessert wine, I watched the sun set over the horizon, while the sky switch from blue to blood orange and eventually to a dusky dark purple, marking the night.

I can picture myself living here forever.

For further information, visit Cinque Terre Visitor Information

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