A village for lovers: Manarola.
What a view.
The social village of Vernazza.
Nestled between the mountains and the sea are the five villages making up Cinque Terre, and they are nothing short of breathtaking.
The differences in height, soil, landscape and agriculture provide a good variety of flora and fauna, but the ruggedness of the area has prevented it from being overdeveloped.
Monterosso is the westernmost and largest village, with about 1000 residents. It has sandy beaches and its hills are covered with vineyards and olive groves. The medieval tower Aurora separates the ancient part of the village from the more modern section. The churches San Giovanni Battista and San Francesco are from the 13th and 17th centuries, and the Capuchin castle is another significant landmark.
The delicious basil and pine nut sauce pesto was created here, and there is a restaurant where you can see a demonstration of how to make the real thing. The next village is a three-minute train or boat ride, or a 90-minute walk, away.
Vernazza, probably the most beautiful and social of the five villages, is dominated by the Round Tower, ruins of medieval forts and a 12th-century castle, which is the place to go for the best views. Its brightly coloured houses are tower-shaped, and locals spend a lot of time in the main square. There is a small harbour next to the village square, and the main church is St Margherita di Antioca.
The village of Corniglia, about three minutes by train or a 90-minute walk from Vernazza, is perched on a rocky outcrop at the base of a vineyard. Of the five villages it is the most remote and unspoiled, mainly because it has no harbour access, and there are 350 steps leading up to it. It has a long, narrow pebbled beach, and the 14th-century church of San Pietro, built on the ruins of an 11th-century chapel, is an excellent example of Gothic-Ligurian architecture.
Forty-five minutes away is Manarola, which was founded in the 12th century. The Church of San Lorenzo, built in the 15th century, and the Groppo where you will find the Cantiuna Sociale delle Cinque Terre, which sells great wines are two interesting places to visit. The walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore is known as the Via dell'Amore, or lovers' walk. It has been cut into a cliff, and the paths are covered with romantic writings of lovers from all over the world.
Riomaggiore is the easternmost village of the Cinque Terre. It is still a fishing and agricultural village, but because it is close to the city of La Spezie, tourism is growing significantly. It was founded in the 8th century by Greek refugees escaping religious persecution. Highlights of the town are the 14th-century church of San Giovanni Battista, which overlooks the whole village. The Bishop of Luni built it in 1340, but it was rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1870 because of deterioration.
One of the best things about Five Lands, quite apart from its scenery, views of the ocean, rugged hills and impossibly steep vineyards, is that it's on the World Heritage listing, so it will never change from the way it is today.