Cinque Terre – Italy

Portovenere, Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia. “The Five Lands” comprises five villages: Monterosso al MareVernazzaCornigliaManarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside. The Cinque Terre area is a very popular tourist destination.

The villages of the Cinque Terre were severely affected by torrential rains which caused floods and mudslides on October 25, 2011. Nine people were confirmed killed by the floods, and damage to the villages, particularly Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, was extensive.

History

The first historical documents on the Cinque Terre date back to the 11th century. Monterosso and Vernazza sprang up first, whilst the other villages grew later, under military and political supremacy of the Republic of Genoa. In the 16th century to oppose the attacks by the Turks, the inhabitants reinforced the old forts and built new defence towers. From the year 1600, the Cinque Terre experienced a decline which reversed only in the 19th century, thanks to the construction of the Military Arsenal of La Spezia and to the building of the railway line between Genoa and La Spezia. The railway allowed the inhabitants to escape their isolation, but also brought about abandonment of traditional activities. The consequence was an increase in poverty which pushed many to emigrate abroad, at least up to the 1970s, when the development of tourism brought back wealth.

The variation of house colors is because while fishermen were doing their jobs just offshore, they wanted to be able to see their house easily. This way, they could make sure their wives were still home doing the wifely duties. Most of the families in the five villages made money by catching the fish and selling them in the small port villages. Fish was also their main source of food.

Transportation and tourism

There are few roads into the Cinque Terre towns that are accessible by car: the one into Vernazza is open as of June 2012, but very narrow at many repair spots. It leads to a parking area half a mile from town. It is best to plan not to travel by car at all, but to park at La Spezia, for instance, and take the trains.

Local trains from La Spezia to Genoa and the rest of the region’s network connect the Cinque Terre. Intercity trains also connect the Cinque Terre to MilanRomeTurin and Tuscany. The Cinque Terre tracks run most of the distance in tunnels between Riomaggiore and Monterosso. The Cinque Terre trains connect the La Spezia train station to all five towns. Unlimited day passes are available for tourists, and the trip from one village to another is five minutes or less.

A passenger ferry runs between the five villages, except Corniglia. The ferry enters Cinque Terre from Genoa’s Old Harbour and La SpeziaLerici, or Porto Venere.

A walking trail, known as Sentiero Azzurro (“Azure Trail”), connects the five villages. The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via dell’Amore (“Love Walk”) and is wheelchair-friendly. The stretch from Manarola to Corniglia (still closed in June 2012 for ongoing repairs since the October 2011 damage) is the easiest to hike, although the main trail into Corniglia finishes with a climb of 368 steps.

Porto Venere

Porto Venere is a town and comune (municipality) located on the Ligurian coast of Italy in the province of La Spezia. It comprises the three villages of Fezzano, Le Grazie and Porto Venere, and the three islands of PalmariaTino and Tinetto. In 1997 Porto Venere and the villages of Cinque Terre were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore (Rimazùu in the local Ligurian language) is a village and comune in the province of La Spezia, situated in a small valley in the Liguria region of Italy. It is the first of the Cinque Terre one meets when travelling north from La Spezia.

The village, dating from the early thirteenth century, is known for its historic character and its wine, produced by the town’s vineyards. Riomaggiore is in the Riviera di Levante region and has shoreline on the Mediterranean‘s Gulf of Genoa, with a small beach and a wharfframed by tower houses. Riomaggiore’s main street is Via Colombo, where numerous restaurants, bars and shops can be found.

The Via dell’Amore is a path connecting Riomaggiore to its frazione Manarola, also part of the Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the five Cinque Terre, all connected by trail. The water and mountainside have been declared national parks.

Riomaggiore inspired paintings by Telemaco Signorini (1835–1901), one of the artists of the Macchiaioli group.

Corniglia

Corniglia is a frazione (“fraction”) of the comune of Vernazza in the province of La SpeziaLiguria, northern Italt. Unlike the other localities of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia is not directly adjacent to the sea. Instead, it is on the top of a promontory about 100 metres high, surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces and the fourth side descends steeply to the sea. To reach Corniglia, it is necessary to climb the Lardarina, a long brick flight of steps composed of 33 flights with 382 steps or, otherwise follow a vehicular road that, from the station, leads to the village. Sometimes a small bus runs up and down here.

The village stretches along the main road, Fieschi Road, and the houses have one side facing this road and the other facing the sea. Corniglia is characterised by narrow roads and a terrace obtained in the rock from which all other four Cinque Terre’s villages, two on one side and two on the other, can be seen. The town planning structure presents also original characteristics compared to those of the other villages: the houses are lower set, and only more recently higher, similar to those of the villages of the hinterland.

Vernazza

Vernazza (LatinVulnetia) is a town and comune located in the province of La SpeziaLiguria, northwestern Italy. It is one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre region. Vernazza is the fourth town heading north, has no car traffic, and remains one of the truest “fishing villages” on the Italian Riviera.

Vernazza’s name is derived from the Latin adjective verna meaning “native” and the aptly named indigenous wine, vernaccia (“local” or “ours”), helped give birth to the village’s moniker.

Monterosso al Mare

Monterosso al Mare is a town and comune in the province of La Spezia, part of the region of Liguria (northern Italt). It is one of the five villages in Cinque Terre.

Monterosso al Mare is located at the center of a small natural gulf, protected by a small artificial reef, to the east of Punta Mesco in the Riviera of La Spezia. It is the westernmost of the Cinque Terre. In the west part of the original village, beyond the hill of the Capuchins, it is the village of Fegina, natural expansion and characterized by a relatively modern tourist resort facility compared to the ancient village that is reachable through a tunnel of a few tens of meters. A Fegina is located the local train station and the beaches are relatively larger compared to the narrow cliffs that characterize the other villages of the Cinque Terre.

The town is divided into two distinct parts: the old town and the new town. The two areas are divided by a single tunnel that caters to pedestrians and the very few cars in the town.

The beach at Monterosso runs along most of the coast line and is well used by tourists and locals. The beach is the only extensive sand beach in the Cinque Terre. Monterosso is a small town that in the summer months is overrun by tourists.

The village was briefly excluded from the Cinque Terre trail in 1948, but was re-introduced in mid-1949. This is because Italian officials considered the village too large to be considered part of the historic trail.

Food and wine

Given its location on the Mediterranean, seafood is plentiful in the local cuisine. Anchovies of Monterosso are a local specialty designated with a Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union. The mountainsides of the Cinque Terre are heavily terraced and are used to cultivate grapes and olives. This area, and the region of Liguria, as a whole, is known for pesto, a sauce made from basil leaves, garlic, salt, olive oil, pine nuts and pecorino cheese. Focaccia is a particularly common locally baked bread product. Farinata, a typical snack found in bakeries and pizzerias, is a savoury and crunchy pancake made from a base of chick pea flour. The town of Corniglia is particularly popular for miele di Cornigliagelato made from local honey.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
Vernazza, Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

The grapes of the Cinque Terre are used to produce two locally made wines. The eponymous Cinque Terre and the Sciachetrà are both made using BoscoAlbarola, and Vermentino grapes. Both wines are produced by the Cooperative Agricoltura di Cinque Terre, located between Manarola and Volastra. Other DOC producers are Forlini-Capellini, Walter de Batté, Buranco, Arrigoni.

In addition to wines, other popular local drinks include grappa, a brandy made with the pomace left from winemaking, and limoncello, a sweet liqueur flavored with lemons.

Preservation

In 1998, the Italian Ministry for the Environment set up the Protected natural marine area Cinque Terre to protect the natural environment and to promote socio-economical development compatible with the natural landscape of the area. In 1999 the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre was set up to conserve the ecological balance, protect the landscape, and safeguard the anthropological values of the location. Nevertheless, the dwindling interest in cultivation and maintenance of the terrace walls posed a long-term threat to the site, which was for this reason included in the 2000 and 2002 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. The organization secured grants from American Express to support a study of the conservation of Cinque Terre. Following the study, a site management plan was created.

 


 

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