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Jules checks out the Cinque Terre on Italy’s rugged Riviera coast

Thursday, March 4, 2010
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.

Fares from:

  • 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.

To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.

User comments
Hi there, We are planning to visit Cinque Terre as part of a family holiday in Italy in the second week of June. My husband and 7 year old daughter will be driving from Udine across to Cinque Terre. Can you please give us some info of where we can stay with a rental car? It can be an apartment or B&B. We are looking at 3.5 or 4 star accommodation. I know you cannot drve through the towns as there is no car access but are willing to walk,train,boat to see all the villages. We are planning on spending 5-7 days there. Is this enough time or too long? Are there interesting things to stimulate a 7 year old girl. Thanks for your help, Tania
We are planning a trip to the Cinque Terra staying in Monterosso - is 5 days too long? Would we be better staying in La Specia?
G'Day Jules, Thoroughly enjoyed the report on Cinque Terre and my wife and I are planning a couple of days there in late July and if possible my wife and I would love to have lunch at the restaurant you dined at. The food and atmosphere looked fabulous. Hopefully you can hlp us out. Thanks and K R
I travelled around Europe last year and an easy top 3 favourtite was the Vernazza and Riomaggiore were 2 of the most beautiful, quaint, authentic places I travelled to. And the other three towns were also amazing! I would hurry to go there as according to locals, as word spreads, it attracts more and more visitors each year. Amazing food and culture. You really cannot go wrong in planning a trip and I can guarentee once you are there you won't want to leave. Just reading this article made me madly check my finances to see just when I can return!!
Hi, Does anyone know the name and location of the restaurant Jules was eating in during the Cinque Terre report? Thanks
i tried to book on line dep.adelaide but it won't let me at the price shown on your fact sheet and everytime i tried to contact emirates on the phone i'm put on queue and then the line drops out.
Had the most amazing time on my first trip away in beautiful Cinque with my boyfriend. The place is unreal and would love to go back and enjoy some more of what it has to offer. The place is spectacular!!!!
My wife and I are travelling to the French Riviera and then we plan to travel to Cinque Terre. We will have about 7 days to do this and we are thinking of at least 3 nights in Cinque Terre. Do you recommend the train or would we it be better to hire a car from Nice.
My husband and I had an amazing visit to Cinque Terre May 2009. We were advised to stay in La Spetzia and stayed in the Genova Hotel. It was the perfect spot for us as they had secure parking for our rental car.We were advised by friends to start from that end. We caught the train to the first viillage Riomaggiore and then walked along the Via Amore (road of Love) to Manarola, trained along each village to Varanazza and then caught the ferry to Monterosso. You can get a ferry back to La Spetzia which is amazing as you see all the villages from the Mediterranean. It was truely the most amazing time and the people are so friendly. We will return it was that amazing.......enjoy.
I have booked to stay in Santa Margeritta in a sea view room i believe we can walk to Cinque Terre from there? Should we stay right in Cinque Terre or is Santa Margeritta close enough and another goof option?

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