Jules Lund had heard so much about the Cinque Terre on Italy's rugged Riviera coast he was pretty excited to be given the chance to check it out for himself. It lived up to expectations, and then some.
The five villages from north to south, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore and the surrounding national park are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They cling to breathtaking stretches of coastline and are connected by 18km of well laid out walking trails ranging from an easy stroll to fairly challenging.
The stretch from Manarola to Corniglia is the easiest, although the main trail into Corniglia finishes with a steep climb. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza is steep in places and from there to Monterosso is by far the steepest. It winds through olive groves and vineyards and is rough in places, but has the best views of the bay.
Roads don't exist but a local train connects the villages with high frequency. The line runs mainly through tunnels with infrequent glimpses of the Mediterranean. Ferry services between the villages give great vision of the coastline and they stop at all villages with the exception of Corniglia which does not have an appropriate harbour.
Via Dell'amore (the Street of Love) is the most famous stretch. Running between Manarola and Riomaggiore, it's one of the easier and busier trails as it's flat and paved. Along the way lovers can buy a padlock, write their names on it and lock it on a fence along the track. It's said that doing so locks in your love forever.
As your walk or journey on the train or ferry progresses you will appreciate just how extraordinary man's role was in transforming the rugged landscape into something so beautiful. Villages and sustainable farmland were created without the assistance of machinery or animals in blinding heat and on dangerous cliff edges. The bare hands and backbreaking toil of farmers have gradually created the Cinque Terre over many centuries.
Wine from the Cinque Terre is famous, possibly because it's so difficult to make but so easy to drink. Sciacchetrà is the most well-known it's a rare, strong and sweet wine made from dried grapes. As you would guess it is known s "nectar of the gods". The Romans had quite a taste for it and empty bottles have been found way down south in the ruins of Pompeii. In addition to wines, you can also sip local grappa and limoncello, a sweet lemon liqueur.
Seafood is plentiful anchovies are a local specialty. Pesto, focaccia and farinata are also on every menu.
It is important to stress that the Cinque Terre is not a classic tourist area, particularly in Manarola and Corniglia. The culture and lifestyle remains very traditional and the lives of villagers have been marginally influenced by tourism.
There is accommodation for every budget in all the villages, including small hotels or inns and bed and breakfast accommodation. There is a youth hostel at the top town of Manarola and many small apartments are available.
Here is a little rundown of each of the villages:
Monterosso al Mare
The town is divided into two distinct parts by a single tunnel the old and the new. Monterosso al Mare has the only extensive sand beach in the Cinque Terre. The small village tends to be overrun by tourists in summer.
The town has no car traffic and is one of the remaining true fishing villages on the Italian Riviera. Possibly the most beautiful village, Vernazza has colourful old homes clinging to cliffs, a pretty small harbour, the ancient Doria Castle and the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia dating to 1318.
The "quiet" village with no accessible beachfront, Corniglia is surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces. The fourth side hurtles steeply to the waters below. It is reached by climbing the Lardarina, which consists of 33 flights of brick steps totalling almost 400 steps. The alternative is to follow a road from the train station.
Thought to be the oldest towns in the Cinque Terre, Manarola's church, San Lorenzo, dates back to 1338. The village spills down a ravine to the rugged coastline. It has a tiny harbour but no real beach. There are many vineyards offering easy walks and the small church square is the meeting place for the townspeople's various activities.
One of Italy's most colourful villages, Riomaggiore's bright houses teeter on the side of a hill overlooking the Gulf of Genova. The trail linking it with Manarola is the easiest of the five trails. The wide cobblestone walkway is the only trail with benches where you can rest and soak up the views.
The Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera in Liguria region of northern Italy, about four hours by train from Milan.
UTracks has seven-day Cinque Terre self-guided walking tours for $1090 per person twin share. It includes six nights in a studio apartment with upgrades available, access card for the Cinque Terre National Park which includes trail fees, the train between La Spezia and Levanto and bus services within the National Park, route directions, hiking maps and assistance from their on-site representative. It operates daily from March 1 until October 31, except during July and August when departures are on Saturdays and Sundays only.
The first 50 callers will receive $200 off per couple for departures up to October 31, 2010. Conditions apply.
Emirates flies to Milan.
- Perth $1741
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1795
- Sydney $1814
- Brisbane $1818
Prices correct at March 4, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Ph: 1300 303 368
Visas: Australians don't need a visa to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity: Standard voltage is 220V. Power outlets have two or three holes, plugs are the European standard, with two or three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The euro.
Telephone code: +39.
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