Cinque terre


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Along a beautifully isolated six-mile-stretch of the most seductive corner of the Italian Riviera, lie the CINQUE TERRE small, traffic-free villages gently and steadily carving a good life out of a difficult terrain.  Each fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity ——– calloused locals and sunburned travellers enjoying the area’s unique mix of Italian culture and nature.

CINQUE TERRE which means FIVE LANDS, comprise of 5 small coastal villages of RIOMAGGIORE, MANAROLA, CORNIGLIA, VERNAZZA & MONTEROSSO, located in the Italian region of Liguria.  They are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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All the villages slope down to sea-level, except for CORNIGLIA, which is perched on top of a tall cliff.  All of them possess an old-world-charm (from north to south : Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore).  The northernmost one ——- Monterosso is completely different.  It is beach resort type, with not much to see beyond the boardwalk, apart from modern apartment blocks and hotels ———— nothing like the narrow, crooked streets of the other four villages, lined with colourful old houses stacked haphazardly on top of each other.


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RIOMAGGIORE is the southernmost of the Cinque Terre.  During the , you can hear the bell towers chiming and at night the frogs are in frenetic chatter as small boats go night-fishing for anchovies and other fish using lights to attract the fish.  There is also an ancient stone CASTELLO about which little has been written.  An information sign, outside, explains that first mention of the CASTELLO appeared in a document from the mid 500s, which already described it as “ancient.”  Its quadrangular walls with two circular towers were built to protect the citizens, in case of an attack from the sea.  In 800, the CASTELLO became a cemetery and parts were destroyed to adapt it to its new function.  Now, there is an assortment of cafes, bars, restaurants and, of course, GELATERIE.  There are also shops selling the typical yummy Italian fair: fresh fruit (strawberries, cherries and nespole), an assortment of SALUMI (salami and mortadella), cheeses and olives.  These are good places to stock up for the hikes into the hills, although all of them are not very far away.

MANAROLA is a place filled with boats —- covered boats of all kinds line the main street.  There are many lovely places to eat and drink.  There is also a nice little swimming area —- a little cement pier next to some big rocks that you can wade out from into the blue, blue waters.

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CORNIGLIA : At the station, the path gains height to reach the town.  The road passes lemon trees, vines, lilies and vegetation of all kinds and, in May, the air is full of the perfume of flowers.  Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but it is just as “quaint” as the other four.  As Corniglia is atop a large hill, it is only reachable from the train station by either climbing 365 steps up the hill (one step for each day of the year), or there is a bus, run by the Cinque Terre National Park, that takes people up to Corniglia and back down again.

VERNAZZA :  The Blue Trail from Corniglia to Vernazza is a dirt path that starts off in an olive grove.  It keeps climbing and things get a bit sweaty and steep in some places with many stone steps and a few switchbacks.  The place, itself, has a maze of tiny streets that eventually lead down to the main street.  Vernazza is lively and boisterous and has a great scene ——- two clock towers, a beach, boats and a large public space with umbrellas and tables, where you can spend the evenings having wine and watching the mountainous coastline zigzag in and out, hiding Monterosso.

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MONTEROSSO is built to accommodate many tourists in large modern apartments and hotels.  Walking is very popular.  In order to walk along the trails between the villages, one must purchase a pass from information offices near the train stations at any of the 5 villages.  It costs 5 euros for an adult or 10 euros to get unlimited travel on trains between the villages.  The pass also allows you to use buses within Cinque Terre.

The main attraction of Cinque Terre is the landscape.  Mediterranean herbs and trees grow spontaneously from the top of the hills down to the water level.  It has been estimated to have taken about 200yrs to build the entire “stone-wall-network”.
Depending on the time of the year, there are some specific things to see :  ** The Lighted Nativity in Manarola (Dec. 8 till late Jan).  It is the world’s biggest Lighted Nativity.  ** The Patron Festivity of the five villages : (all between late May & August), a mix of religious ceremony and popular parties.  ** The Pirates Attack in Vernazza (mid summer), a celebration of the successful defence from a Saracen attack which occurred during the middle ages.  ** The Harvest (early / mid September) and Wine Making, when men’s shoulders and women’s heads are still used as they were 100s of years ago.  ** The Sea Storms (frequent in winter), a great show of Nature’s power.

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Cinque Terre is famous for the dry white wine ——– simply called CINQUE TERRE and the SCIACCHETRA ( a prized dessert wine, made from prime grapes dried to the point of holding only a few drops of sweet juice).  A colourful addition to the Cinque Terre products is LIMONCINO (a dessert wine made from steeping lemon peels in pure alcohol and then adding sugar and water to make a fragrant and fresh liquor.  The lemons, another famous product of Cinque Terre, are prominently on display in many LIMONETI (lemon groves) and at the annual Lemon Festival held each year in Monterosso during the season of Pentacost.  The “grape-routes” are still as they once were with fig trees planted in strategic positions to give shade during breaks from work, agaves planted to mark boundaries, to line the footpaths along steep, stony steps and to indicate the rail terminals of the recently installed memorials which are the only vertical structures emerging from this seemingly completely horizontal landscape.  The large wicker baskets of grapes (CORBE) are arranged along the POSE (little walls as wide as tables, built solely for this purpose).  The Cinque Terre grape tracks reach down to the sea.  In the past, small fishing boats, called GOZZI, stood immediately below the terraced vineyards.  Baskets, laden with grapes, were then lowered from above into these small boats which then sailed around to the otherwise inaccessible villages.  Nowadays, this method is nothing but a distant memory, but, by visiting Cinque Terre you are still able to sample some of the prized wines of the world that have been created by centuries of backbreaking experience.

Rick Steve says, “There’s not a Fiat in sight ——- just sun, sea, sand (well pebbles), wine and “pure, unadulterated Italy.”  Enjoy the villages, swimming and hiking and the evening romance of one of God’s great gifts to Tourism.  While the Cinque Terre is now discovered (and can be unpleasantly crowded at midday, when tourist boats and cruise ship excursions drop by), I’ve never seen happier, more relaxed tourists.”
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