Some places are so hyped up and over indulged, they become swallowed in commercial kitsch: tourists flock, prices rise and the innate beauty that once was is no more.
I refer here to the once beloved Venice, which is now known for its perilous sinking status, pigeon epidemic and copycat Chinese Venetian paraphernalia.
Yet, Cinque Terre has managed to be left unscathed. It’s a place defined by serene charm and beauty. Nestled between the Maritime Alps and the Ligurian Coast, a cluster of five villages cling nonchalantly to the side of a cliff. It’s so unique and iconically Italian, it is little wonder that it’s claimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s tiny, archaic and characterized by a distinctly medieval feel. The dwellings are charmingly rustic and there are still remnants of the robust fortifications that once protected the residents from an oceanic advance.
Importantly, Cinque Terre, despite the boom in tourism and popularity, retains its indigenous coastal village ambiance. The tangled tranquil streets are narrow, colourful and bursting with local life. Every street is lined with cafés serving piping hot focaccia, interspersed with trattorias bringing in the day’s catch. Coffee, fish and focaccia – these are the aromas of Cinque Terre.
Whilst it is difficult and indeed expensive to stay inside one of the five villages; Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Monterosso, finding a secluded hamlet just outside can be ideal.
Ergo, we decided to stay on the hilltop of Muro, a commune of three houses overlooking the bay of Vernazza, which is itself considered the raison d’etre of Cinque Terre. It was tranquil and serene and bequeathed a wonderful view of the Ligurian Sea. The perfect backdrop to take our morning coffee and enjoy the sunset.
Our days were punctuated with an exploration of the five villages, eating copious amounts of local focaccia, enjoying the crisp white notes of the local wine, sciacchetrà, and throwing ourselves into the mercy of the deep blue Ligurian sea.
Cinque Terre is a colourful and historically poignant mosaic.
My advice? Try and remove yourself from the throng of tourists. Enjoy the outer regions of the famous five, and subsequently explore the paths that take you through the labyrinth of vineyards hanging to the cliff.
Here, there are trails that have been walked for centuries. Remember, Cinque Terre was, until the onslaught of rail transportation, a series of isolated fishing hamlets and consequently there are so many of these quaint localities to be enjoyed.
Thus, whilst Cinque Terre is a famous tourist destination, it’s also a portrait of traditional Ligurian life. They are a society utterly dependent on nature: the sea and its creatures, the vineyards and their grapes. Despite, modernisation and boom in tourism, Cinque Terre is quintessentially an agrarian local community.
It’s this contrast between the intimate and the commercial that makes it so unique.
We ate / Alas, we couldn’t afford the overpriced restaurants. Subsequently, focaccia became our go-to meal.
We drank / Never ones to deprive ourselves of a tipple – we drank the local wine, sciacchetrà.
We stayed / In a small apartment in the quaint hamlet of Muro. It overlooked the Vernazza Bay.