Translated, Cinque Terre means "Five Villages". And they are just that, villages tiny in size but big on ambiance located on the Italian Riviera. In the group of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, no two villages are quite alike. They vary in atmosphere, size and terrain. While the buildings of some cling to cascading hillsides, others like Corniglia tower above in neat clusters with only a single road or stairway leading down to the train station.
Many visitors to the Cinque Terre choose one of the villages for their stay in the region. Being the largest of the group, Monterosso has more accommodations than the other four. But it's more expensive to stay in any of the villages than to find accommodations in towns bordering the villages, which was our choice.
Levanto is a beautiful but contained community slightly north of Monterosso, the most northern village in the Cinque Terre. Our bed and breakfast Villa Margherita, was set on a hillside in town surrounded by lush green trees. The exterior of this fascinating building was painted in trompe l'oeil, and so masterfully done, we were convinced there were wooden arches above the windows and shutters.
This art technique also appears on many of the building exteriors in Levanto. Our B&B was reasonably priced and just a short walk to the train station, the main reason we selected it for our stay.
One of the draws of Cinque Terre is access - the ability tourists have to easily move from village to village, visiting shops, restaurants, cathedrals, beaches, etc. A convenient train system makes sight seeing uncomplicated. Each day you can buy a round trip ticket that will allow you unlimited trips for a day on "benario due" (track two at the train station) between the villages.
Only residents are allowed to have cars in the villages because parking is almost non-existent and streets are so narrow. So for tourists, the train system makes renting a car unnecessary.
If you enjoy walking distances and over sometimes rough terrain, you'll find Cinque Terra a satisfying and scenic experience. You can walk from village to village on pathways designed for that specific purpose, another draw for many people. The complete one-way walk from Monterosso to Riomaggiore takes about five hours. The distance between them is not equal with some requiring less than an hours walk and other's requiring more. The easiest and smoothest is "Lovers Walk" which stretches between the last two villages, Manarola and Riomagiorre.
It's best to map out a walking plan when visiting Cinque Terra. Some tourists do the five hour walk at the start of their visit, take the train back, then spend the rest of their days returning to spend more time in the villages they liked best. Other vacationers do a round trip to one village each day.
In the complete five-hour walk between villages, the terrain can get rugged in places, and the walkways narrow, but the experience cannot be equaled.
You can expect to see grassy areas, open picnic areas, and footpaths on the edge of hillsides looking down at the beautiful waters below. Much of the walk offered views of the colorful villages ahead, a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity.
Cinque Terre is rich in Italian traditions and of course food and wine. There isn't a bad bottle of vino to be had anywhere in the region with vineyards staged on many hillsides. We visited the Groppo , the wine growers co-op with visions of a fabulous day and several wine tastings. It resulted in the two of us sitting outside the building with two glasses and a bottle at a fold-up card table. Wine making is not a social event but serious business in the Groppo.
The whole of Cinque Terra can be enjoyed in about three days. A week stay might not offer enough adventure depending on the type of tourist you are. We used Levanto as our home base, visiting the villages, then taking the train to Genoa one day and Pisa another.
One Sunday afternoon, a bus ride took us to Porto Venere with it's old fort to take in the ruins, and relax at waterfront restaurants.
The train system in this part of Italy is inexpensive, efficient, and for the most part, punctual. It affords tourists freedom of movement without the problems of driving in a foreign country, parking, or the cost. There's little crime in the five villages and each evening after a day of venturing out of the region, we would return to Levanto and walk safely from the train station to our B&B. It was very difficult to say "arrivederci" to Cinque Terra.
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