Few travel experiences match that moment when you lay eyes on your first village of Cinque Terre. Colorful clusters of houses cling to rocky slopes rising from the sea against a backdrop of emerald-green hills. You feel as if you have stumbled upon a secret coastal hideaway, far from the bustle of the modern world, where life along the Ligurian Sea ambles along much as it did a century ago.
It is surprising that these gorgeous “Five Lands,” the English translation of these coastal villages, are here at all. After all, this stretch of the Italian Riviera is among the most rugged shores in the world. Nevertheless, this quaint quintet of terraced hamlets has emerged like five glimmering pearls along the serpentine coast, accessible only by boat, train or foot. Isolated from the larger world, their culture, architecture, and serene atmosphere have retained a purity that is near-impossible to find elsewhere. The authenticity here is humbling and precious, which is why Italy has designated all of Cinque Terre a National Park and why UNESCO has designated it a World Heritage Site.
Monterosso and Vernazza were the first villages to appear, as early as the 11th century, followed later by Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. They all grew significantly under the Republic of Genoa. Ensuing centuries saw greater development and by the 1500s, the coast came under threat of attack from the Ottoman Empire. To fend off the Turks, old forts were reinforced and defense towers were erected. In 1600, the area went dormant, living out its days in isolation. For generations, villagers lived off the sea and the land, hauling in the daily catch; growing wine, olives, citrus, and all manner of vegetables in the nearby countryside; and raising livestock. Cinque Terre evolved virtually unknown to outsiders.
Some 250 years later, the railway opened the villages of Cinque Terre to the world, untouched by the passage of time. But the unforgiving terrain has prevented the construction of roadways. And so we have geography to thank for preserving these breathtaking treasures of history and culture.
The result is a travel experience not unlike Venice. In fact, for some visitors it’s hard to decide what holds more appeal: On the one hand, there’s the utter charm of steep narrow warrens that thread their way past multi-colored fishermen’s houses, the boat-filled marinas, the astonishing seascape, and an old-world atmosphere that’s hard to put to words. On the other, there’s the clean air and hushed, car-free lanes that allow you to savor it all in a peaceful, unrushed fashion.
We trust you’ll find the entire experience spellbinding during Discovery Tours’ new Cinque Terre, Parma, Bologna & Lakes small group adventure. Join us!