Introducing Cinque Terre
If you ever get tired of life, bypass the therapist and decamp immediately to Cinque Terre. Here five crazily constructed fishing villages, set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the planet, ought to provide enough to bolster the most jaded of spirits. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, Cinque Terre isn't the undiscovered Eden it once was but, frankly, who cares? Sinuous paths tempt the antisocial to traverse seemingly impregnable cliffsides, while a 19th-century railway line cut through a series of coastal tunnels ferries the less brave from village to village. Thankfully cars – those most ubiquitous of modern interferences – were banned over a decade ago.
Rooted in antiquity, Cinque Terre's five villages date from the early medieval period. Monterosso, the oldest, was founded in AD 643, when beleaguered hill dwellers moved down to the coast to escape from invading barbarians. Riomaggiore came next, purportedly established in the 8th century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium. The others are Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Much of what remains in the villages today dates from the late High Middle Ages, including several castles and a quintet of illustrious parish churches.
Buildings aside, Cinque Terre's unique historical feature are the steeply terraced cliffs bisected by a complicated system of fields and gardens that have been hacked, chiselled, shaped and layered over the course of nearly two millennia. So marked are these artificial contours that some scholars have compared the extensive muretti (low stone walls) to the Great Wall of China in their grandeur and scope.
In October 2011 flash floods along the Ligurian coast wreaked havoc in Vernazza and Monterosso, burying historic streets and houses under metres of mud and killing half-a-dozen people. As of 2013, most businesses are open again, but check the status of the Sentiero Azzurro (blue walking trail) before you set out.
Best places to stay in Cinque Terre
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Cinque Terre destination guides
Cinque Terre Small Group Day Trip from Florence
You'll fall in love with Italy's prettiest coastal villages on a small-group excursion to the Cinque Terre from Florence. You've probably heard of the five famous fishing ports of the Cinque Terre. Now's your chance to visit these picture-postcard villages on a personalized small-group day trip that you'll treasure.
Cinque Terre Hiking Day Trip from Florence
Join the only tour that takes you to the Cinque Terre on a one-day hiking trip from Florence. Hiking is the only way to truly experience the magic of the Cinque Terre. Take a break from the bustle of the city and hike this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. It's a unique and memorable experience, exploring the only unspoilt survivor of the genuine Italian Riviera.