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Cinque Terre

 

“Ecco scogliere nude, che dànno un marmo nero e giallo, il portoro, tra cui si abbarbica la vigna; poi la vigna si stende, e copre interamente il fondo roccioso con fusti bassi per difendere i pampini dal vento robusto del mare.” (Guido Piovene)

In the eastern part of Liguria, there is a unique and unbowed territory, hang between the sky and the sea that will leave you astonished, it has always enchanted with its charm, believe me there are no other places like this in the world. It is located on the eastern coast of Liguria, with a lush vegetation and overlooking the sea, known as “Cinque Terre”.

If we take a closer look, and go along the trails we can find myrtle bushes and the typical strawberry trees of the coast, it is clear that the villages  were placed on the route followed by Saracen pirates, on ancient dry stone walls, created by craftsmen, primitive hunters and fishermen who have protected and encouraged a territory close to five small villages.

Starting our trip from the municipality of La Spezia and following the directions to reach Genoa, we find the following villages Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.

Each village has a common history and traditions, but maintains particular differences and personality. For example Monterosso is by the sea, instead Corniglia is located on a cosy hill, if we walk along the steep and quiet alleys in Riomaggiore, with its important past and recent history, we don’t feel the same emotions as when we are in Manarola, althought they are both shaped in a similar way, the latter looks as if it had been carved from Ligurian rocks of the Appenine, the guardian and mastermind of this environment, Vernazza stands out for its uniqueness among the most beautiful Italian hamlets.

Despite the fact that the geography of the Cinque Terre might deceive you and that could discourage the most adventurous hikers the difficult paths won’t stop those who wish to fill their hearts with such beauties, visiting and living these villages as they deserve.

Great part of the success of the Cinque Terre is due to the network of trails, that covers an area of 120 kilometres along the coast. A huge heritage of trails, slopes, landscapes and wonderful glimpes, that have always enchanted and fascinated famous people like Dante Alighieri, Boccaccio, Vincenzo Cardarelli, perhaps the most well known is the poet Eugenio Montale, nobel prize in literature in 1975, who was a great expert of the rocky environment of Monterosso.

The other four villages have a common environtment, the trails overlooking the sea, are the only roads that connect one village to another, to the inland and the province of La Spezia, leaving its cultural heritage untouched.

The Cinque Terre will remain in the memory of the visitors, also for the typical coloured tower houses, built close to one another, on the slopes of the valley to defend each small bay. Loggias and carved stone portals, with the typical limestone that we also see on the steep slopes, and in Telemaco Signorini’s paintings.

So, briefly which is the heritage of the Cinque Terre?
We can simply use three words: roots, cuisine and independance.

A bit of history...

The oldest remains of the area, were found in front of the promontory of Portovenere, a nearby village, they prove that men lived in the Gulf of Poets and in the Cinque Terre during the Paleolithic, in particular inside Grotta dei Colombi, on Palmaria island, that was in fact, in that period, attached to the mainland. Inside the grotto there are weapons and work tools, as well as some well preserved bones, we presume that this area was suitable for hunters, despite the difficulties of the stone age, and the wooded environment quite rich in game, the main resource for men.

There are also some menhirs in the area of Campiglia-Tramonti, considered as the first type of art, well before the stele statues of Lunigiana, inTuscany.

In the pre-roman period, the proud and independent Ligurian tribes represented an obstacle to the expansion of the Roman empire in the territory, that is why the colonizers concentrated their activities in the area of Agro Lunensense, as we can see in remains of Luni. The social layout and the jurisdiction of the territory, ruled by the strict autarchy lasted till early Middle Ages, then the bishops took the power.

If we want to shed light about the historic roots of the area, we must say that the first inhabitants lived Monterosso and Vernazza, then others followed thanks to the military and political power of Genoa. The fortresses date back to the sixteenth century, built to contrast the attacks of the Turks and Saracen pirates, when the raids stopped, the Cinque Terre went under the rule of the powerful families Carpena, Da Passano and finally the Fieschi family.

The area went under the “Supreme” Genoa in 1276. A fruitful trade network, especially of farm products, enriched the local economy, thanks also to the terraced cultivalted hills, especially in the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza, where fishing and sea trade helped to increase the economy, but also the trade of silkworms, as there were mulberry woods.

We should also mention the important cultivation of citrus fruit, mainly lemons and citrons.

We will start explaining the peculiarities of each village.

We can date the origin of Monterosso to the period of the expansion of the Roman Republic, it is said that its inhabitants came from the mythical village of Albareto.

Towards mid 1200, after several struggles between the Marine Republic of Pisa and that of Genoa, Monterosso went under the rule of the latter, and increased its maritime activity, as well as the cultivation of wheat and grapes, well protected by dry stone walls in the valley.

In recent times, the village developed two different areas, the new area by the sea and the ancient part, built on the hill of Saint Cristoforo, with the fortifications. Walking and sunbathing along the sunny alleys “carrugi”, it is easy to find a place where to stop, in one of the many wine bars, for a glass of the famous local wine “Sciacchetrà”, or why not take a nice walk to the former Convent of the Capuccini Brothers, from which you can enjoy a stunning view.

Nowadays Monterosso al Mare, is one of the most appreciated seaside places of the Eastern Ligurian Riviera, so proud of its anchovy daily catch, that a fair is organized every year in June, it is called “Sagra dell’Acciuga Fresca”  the Fair of fresh anchovy.

The name Vernazza probably comes from the family Vulnetia, till year 1000 its inhabitants lived far from the sea, on the hills, ruled by the Da Passano family, then by the Ponzò and Fieschi families, it increased its powers as it was looked after by its godmother Genoa. This small village is sometimes put on the back burner, but its terraced hills and cultural-historic beauties have nothing to envy to the other villages, for example its coloured houses, built one next to another look like city walls. The village has been inclued in the list of most beautiful villages in Italy.

Its endless carrugi and the steep steps that lead to the bay, the church of Saint Margherita, overlooking the sea, well represent the pionerist spirit of its inhabitants.

Cornelius, a Roman settler was the owner of some well known vineyards, gave the name to the village of Corniglia, re-proposing its Roman origins. Some amphoras of the gentle man were found in Pompeii. The inland is an amazing place, but also the rich marine biodiversity of the seabed, or its scented lemons, are well appreciated, they are used for making slushs and spend unforgettable afternoons in the square.

The best places for swimming are the beaches in Guvano, just under a wide rocky ridge,  a well known destinations for nudists from all over the world.

Reaching Corniglia takes its time, if you want to go on foot, from the train station or the beach, you need good legs to go up the 377 steep “Lardarina”steps, if you want to avoid the carriage way.

Even if Manarola has more ancient origins, its area belongs to the municipaly of Riomaggiore, its houses are partially built on a pictoresque spur, touched by the fresh sea, its economy is based on the production of wine and olive oil. According to some academics the name Manarola, comes from a temple devoted to the gods Mani, while others are convinced that it might mention the structure of water windmills, typical of this area. Genoa made the area safe, and for this reason the inhabitants left the hills and moved to the valley in year 1000, giving birth to the hamlet by the seafront, there are rumors about the possibility that some Greek refugees created the inhabited the area of Montenero. Clinged to the rocks, with railings and porticos, stretched on a straight axis where steep steps lead to terraced hills, in years the inhabitants lefts the hills and the hard work in the fields, even if viticulture has had a main role, the Natural Area developed between the Promontory of Punta Mesco on the west and Capo di Montenero on the east, it has become a popular tourist destination for all kind of tourists from all over the world. We should mention the dialect spoken in Riomaggiore, it is known for its peculiar words, uncommon in this area, and not spoken in the nearby hamlets. At the time of the great scientific discoveries in the seventeenth century   the Cinque Terre had a short downfall, but in the nineteenth century, the situation changed radically, thanks to the construction of the military arsenal of La Spezia, and especially the constuction of the railway line Genoa-La Spezia at the beginning of the twenthieth century, which helped the development of tourism, particulary in the seaside areas, it also incourouged the discovery of all the features of this territory, its history, nature, food and wine and ancient traditions.

Nature

Shady farm houses, chestnut woods and centuries-old pine woods, wineries, olive presses, Vermentino grapes and fresh crops, these are the distinctive features of the Cinque Terre, that we could easily print on a postcard plus taken from a panoramic view, instead by the sea we can admire eye-catching groupers, gorgonians, pelagic environments and skiffs complete the scenario.

The shape of the area suggests an ideal bond between one of the most appreciated and clean Italian coasts, and it trails, that meander for over 100 metres above the sea level. The hills of the Cinque Terre are considered as proper mountains, with unique ecosystems, in terms of interaction between man and territory, and show peculiar landscape features.

The anthropic environment has not altered the surrounding nature, and the small strip of land located between the sea and the ridge, that separates this area from Val di Vara and the Gulf of La Spezia, really deserves to be part of UNESCO World Heritage.

From Riomaggiore to Monterosso, apart some areas, the cliffs are high, jagged, we hardly bump into inlets and promontories. The villages are located near  streams , some of which are underground, but leave room for the residential area, as they flow only for a few kilometers, they are called “canali in local dialect.  Vernazzola is the longest, at its mouth stands the village of  Vernazza.

The typical territory in the Cinque Terre is made of rocks, in the underlayer, there are erodible schist formations that create deposits and debris. Ophiolites are harder rocks that can be found along the steepest slopes.

We can  also find iron and magnesium deposits.

Sandstone can be found in the cliff between Monterosso and Riomaggiore.

The territory of the Cinque Terre can be discovered easily crossing its many trails among the woods, or exploring the underwater routes, diving in the rich waters of the Marine reserve, or taking the boat.

An excellent and cheap way to visit this area and its villages is by train, which is in fact widely used both by tourists and inhabitants; regional trains run quite frequently,  and even in the evening. The Cinque Terre National Park grants you the opportunity to buy a “5 Terre Card”, which includes both the entrance to the trails, unlimited travels by train, or a daily unlimited ticket,  on ecological buses another good option for travelling.

Forget about parking and get yourself a bike or a comfortable trekking equipment, for your stay. The villages have different levels of  difficulty, but all the trails are easily accessible with a minimum training, suitable clothing and favourable weather conditions. Don’t  forget to follow CAI signs,along your trail you will find some refreshment areas, terraces and coves where you can take a break. The main trails in the Cinque Terre are Sentiero Azzurro, Sentiero dell’Alta Via and Strada dei Santuari.

Sentiero Azzurro connects all the villages from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, you will see amazing landscapes, strongly influenced by man,  at present some areas are closed for maintenance. It is a dozen kilometres long.

The part that goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the most famous trail in the world, it is called Via dell’Amore, closed at present for works, it will be probably  reopened only in 2021.

Sentiero dell’Alta Via is a long and tiring trail, but not  dangerous, which dominates the whole landscape of the Cinque Terre, CAI path n. 1; forty kilometres long, it starts from Portovenere and goes as far as Levanto.

Strada dei Santuari connects the places of worship of the villages located halfway up the hills, it is problably the easiest path, even on horseback.

There is a picturesque trail on the slope that leads to the nudist beach Guvano, it is also connected to a secondary trail between Corniglia and Vernazza.

The trail was created among lush terraced vineyards, it starts from the train station in Riomaggiore, in via Telemaco Signorini, and passes through the villages of Volastra and Groppo, you will be able to reach Corniglia in about three hours. A wonderful trail with impervious landscapes among woods and streams.

On the Italian territory we can find more than twenty natural parks, and yet, the interaction between man and environment in the Cinque Terre, has created an expectional, valuable landscape, evidence of an important socio-economic role in people’s life.

That of the Cinque Terre is the smallest National Park in Italy, 3860 hectares but at the same time it is the most densely populated, thanks to its villages.

The steep and very jagged coast has been tamed over the millennia, as man, the only mastermind of these terraces, has been able to snatch a few hectares of land and use it for the cultivation of vines and olive trees.

The settlements of Corniglia and Manarola well explain this interaction, as they were built directly on the rocks, their features are what makes this territory so special.

If it is true that the natural environment has been strongly shaped by man, then  we should start calling it “Man’s Park”.

Close to this area there is the Regional Natural Park of Portovenere, that includes the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, and the Marine Protected Area of the Cinque Terre, that goes from the picturesque area of Tramonti up to the municipality of Monterosso.

Traveling starboard towards France, challenging the waves, you might hear the sound of some whales: this area is included in the “Sanctuary Pelagos”, established in 1999, for the protection of marine mammals in the Mediterranean.

This sanctuary faces the border with France, it is estimated to have about a thousand whales, rorquals, sperm whales, striped dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins, attracted by the mild climate and the temperatures of the water,  both important and necessary for food and reproduction.

The beauty of the Park of Man ows much to its flora and fauna, great part of the Cinque Terre park, is covered by Mediterranean maquis, thanks to the cool microclimate, climbing up its hills, you will notice that the vegetation becomes more generous: there are holm oak woods, pine trees, Aleppo pines, chestnut woods and cork trees that cover the hills, while above the sea, among coves and inlets, grow aromatic plants such as rosemary, thyme, helichrysum, lavender, euphorbia, and marine dauco. More than six hundred types of native plants and species have been listed.

The fauna in the Cinque Terre mainly consists of wild animals weasels,  badgers,  foxes and wild boars. The avifauna includes yellow legged gulls, cormorants, peregrine falcons, jays and crows, and red-tailed birds,  goldfinches and even pheasants and partridges.

The valley of the Rio Maggiore, from which one of the five hamlets takes its name, is watched over by Mount Verugola, depicted in the coat of arms of the village of Riomaggiore. The inhabited area of this village stretches along two valleys, separated by the steep peak Carpione, on its lower part stands the castle, here visitors can breath the salty air of the coast and smell the lovely scents of the cultivated gardens.

In the Municipality of Riomaggiore, the three hamlets of Manarola, Volastra and Groppo, are proper people oriented rural areas, watched over by the Ligurian Apennines, with amazing views of the vineyards located on the terraced hills, if we’re lucky we might even see some buzzards hovering in the sky.  Volastra, has been isolated for over twenty years, this hamlet is located on the hills behind Manarola, is a charming destination and one of the places of production of the famous liquer wine.

From Manarola you can reach Vernazza, and the Sanctuary of Madonna di Reggio, through a path, surrounded by thick Mediterranean maquis. The sanctuary was built as place of pilgrimage; along the path you can admire some vows left by worshippers, representing the various steps of the Via Crucis.

Monterosso, has a natural appeal and seems the most visited village, mainly because of its wide sandy beach Fegina, considered by a well-known American magazine, as one of the 25 best beaches in the world. In fact Monterosso has the longest beaches and most popular areas.

In Monterosso experts have examined the sea bottom and the coast, and created a series of routes for expert divers, and the first virtual aquarium of the Cinque Terre, with  three dimensional videos that broadcast sea life, and a guided tour dedicated to its hidden depths. The new structure is inside the former Tortuga restaurant, built inside the rocks, that separates the old village from the new village, right in front of Aurora Tower.The goal is to protect this very important stretch of sea, its wildlife, and the high concentration of cetaceans and pelagic fish.

The Cinque Terre Protected Marine Area has a particular approach to these matters, very  respectful for such a precious area.

The coastline, includes two reservation areas A, and two general areas B,  closed in between Punta Mesco and Capo Montenero, a place that has an extraordinary variety of animals and plants, protecting all species and enhancing the marine biodiversity characteristics , helped by scientists whose aim is to spread knowledge of the protected area.

Places of interest

Let’s talk about some of the most appreciated events that take place in the Cinque Terre. Feasts and fairs date back to Middle Ages and even before, linked to the christian tradition and to its places of worship.

Halfway up the hills along Via dei Santuari, we find many churches and abbeys, the villages are connected  to each other thanks to mule tracks, steps and easy paths.

It’s time to mention the basilica of Saint Giovanni Battista, built in 1340, its facade was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style, it is a solid and grey building located in the upper part of Riomaggiore; not far from here you can visit the house where the artist Telemaco Signorini, one of the members of the group Macchiaioli, stayed for a short period.  Another charming place worth to visit is the sanctuary of Montenero, surrounded by a lawn equipped with tables and benches for a short stop, the church was built in a perfect high position,  it allows a magnificent panoramic view of Punta Mesco and Tino island. You can reach it from the marina going up the hill, using the path called “the ring of Riomaggiore”, or from another path that starts in Portovenere, and takes straight to the shade of the bell tower. The saturday before Pentecost the inhabitants of the village organize a procession that leads to this sanctuary, former vows called “Gli ori di Montenero” are on display.

The austere church of Saint Lorenzo, located in Manarola, has a richly decorated interior, with baroque elements, apparently it was built by the Antelami masters. Every year, on August 10th the Saint is celebrated with a charming procession in the streets of the village, the statue of the Saint is then transferred from a sedan chair to a boat. Pride of the inhabitants of Manarola is the huge crib placed on the hill opposite the village, it is the biggest in the world, with more than 300 human size characters, lit with photovoltaic. The creator of this impressive work is Mr Mario Andreoli, a retired railway worker, who since the seventies has planned and dedicated his life to this masterpiece, it is usually lit every year on 8 December, and is visible to visitors until the end of January.

In June there is the celebration of Saint Pietro in Corniglia, with a procession along the streets of the village, that starts from the parish church, built in Ligurian Gothic style, and continues up to the panoramic terrace of Santa Maria. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace, is located in the small village of San Bernardino, even if it is considered as part of Corniglia, it is in fact part of the village of Vernazza. It dates back to 1800, the church is also known as Saint Bernardino alla Foce, to remember when the saint passed here in 1485. From the square in front of the church, you can admire the wonderful countryside of Corniglia and the nudist beach Guvano. Our Lady of Health is located in Volastra, this is one of the five famous sanctuaries of the hamlets. There is evidence that the church already exhisted in 1240.

In Vernazza, the most important event is the festival in July for Santa Maria di Antiochia. You will be involved by the merry voices of worshippers in a magnificent procession, there are stalls placed in the main streets, especially for this event. In the evening the best moment, a must of the whole event are the spectacular fire works. The church of Santa Maria di Antiochia was built in Romanesque style in the eleventh -twelth century along the coast, you can easily spot it thanks to its tall bell tower.

The Romanic sancturary Madonna Nera, is located in Reggio, inside you can admire  a rare painting of the black vergin, the celebrations take place the first Sunday, in August. Belforte tower, the symbol of Vernazza, and the Doria castle are both located on the strip of land overlooking the sea, they were built to observe and defend the village and the coast. They are both in good conditions, you can admire a magnificent view of the whole area, from the terrace of the castle, the price of the ticket is only 1.50 euros.

We can’t forget about the underwater Christmas nativity, a popolar event for the inhabitants in Vernazza: divers fetch the statue of child Jesus, that had been placed on the sea bottom, then a fervent procession, and the statue is taken to the church, where the holy mass begins.

If you are in Monterosso during the celebrations of Saint Giovanni Battista,  you will be impressed by the procession with all the torches lit, walk along the alleys, and then go to the beach to see the candles floating in the sea at night. Another interesting procession is organized for the feast of Assumption that ends on the hills, in the square in front of the sanctuary of Soviore. Early in the morning, on 14 and 15 August, the bells of the parish church ring to celebrate and attract worshippers.

The gothic church of Saint Giovanni is particulary interesting, it is located in the old part of the town, not far from the sea; the convent of Capuchin Friars and the church of Saint Francesco, are located on the top of the hill of Saint Cristoforo, they separate the old part of the village from the new part.

The most important sanctuary, one of the oldest in Italy, and perhaps the oldest in Liguria, is the one devoted to the Virgin Mother of Soviore, we find evidence of the existance of the sanctuary in a document dated 1255, the building is located behind Monterosso, where the Lemon Fair is held every year on the third sunday in May, this fair is dedicated to this typical fruit and its culinary products.

Finally, why not try a boat tour in the Gulf of Poets, exploring the protected marine area of the Cinque Terre, then reach the iron colour rocks, where Portovere is hidden, or why not try a night tour in the bays of  La Spezia, looking at the stars and moving towards Tuscany, for a beer in Camaiore, tourists would never imagine the positive benefits of such remarkable itineraries and experiences.

Lifestyle

This territory lives thanks to tourism, the tourist season goes hand in hand with the crowds of tourists, but we can say that the Cinque Terre are perfectly equipped  for all this, it is a suitable destination for travellers from all over the world all year round, thanks to its mild climate that reduces any possible difficulties.

It is never too hot, as a warm wind blows from the hills towards the sea, but at the same time it is a peculiar territory that needs to be looked after carefully, We must never forget  how nature has in some ways been changed, dry stone walls have shaped the terraces but need constant maintenance, trees are sometimes damages by storms, being so close to the sea.

There aren’t many parkings in the Cinque Terre, but this is not a problem that can’t be solved, the municipality offers shuttle buses, the guardians of the park and the residents are the heart and engine of this “loggia” by the sea, and they are all involved to keep it at its best.

Many agritourims organize food tasting of the typical local dishes and excursions on foot or by bike, in the surrounding areas, to pamper the guests and let them discover little by little this magic territory.

Consorzio Marittimo Turistico 5 Terre-Golfo dei Poeti  and its ferries provide the cheapest and most convenient way to visit the various villages on the coast, the service starts from the end of March and goes on until the beginning of November, you will fill your eyes with the beauties of the territory, the impressive rocks that overlook the sea.

You can take a ferry in one of the following places, Levanto, Portovenere, Lerici and La Spezia, but you can even find a ferry in Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi to the Cinque Terre, or Portofino, ferries stop in all the bays along the eastern coast.

It would be a pity if you missed a trip to the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, as well as to Capraia island.

You can spend your day in one of the villages, or try an excursion in the afternoon. Since 2001 there is the possibility of buying a Cinque Terre Card, there are two types of cards Trekking Card and Treno MS card, that provide facilities and discounts.

If you are staying in one of the many hotels in Riomaggiore, Vernazza or Monterosso, you can buy this card, at a favourable price, with a voucher given by the hotel, or you can buy it in one of the info points of the park and even online. The money earned from the sale of the card is then given  for the maintenance of the territory, and to improve the services of the area.

Moving in the Cinque Terre with the help of this special card will be very simple, especially using trains. The railway line is widespread, all the villages of the Cinque Terre, have a railway station and are on the efficient railway line Genoa-La Spezia, from Levanto, the “gateway to the Cinque Terre”, it is possible to reach the western Ligurian and Versilia, in Tuscany.

Many are the outdoor activities which can be done in the five wonderful villages, ravines and caves, inside the Marine Protected Area, are real treasures for snorkeling lovers, as rocky sea bottoms, bays, and the shape of the cliffs with prehistoric caves add mystery to every experience.

For example, diving in the Gulf of Monterosso al Mare, in front of the beach is an essential experience, on the sea bottom there is the wreck of a German landing craft covered with gorgonians. In Monterosso you can also take a kayak or have the opportunity to dive in the Cinque Terre Marine Protected Area, where you can observer and discover the various species of the seabed.

Whale watching is an activity that can be done pretty well in this area, you will see  cetaceans difficult to see elsewhere, thanks to the chilly and calm waters, the currents carry nutritious plankton in the whole stretch of coast under the protection of Pelagos Sanctuary.

High cliffs overlooking the sea, ravines and inlets attract beginners and expert divers, sailors and surfers. There are several hot spots along the coast, Levanto is a true paradise for surfers, you can also hire the equipment for windsurf and surf. Finally, Campiglia, a hamlet part of the municipality of La Spezia, located at 400 metres above the sea level, hosts the beautiful beach Persico, reachable on foot going down a long slope, this is a strategic place for hikers, from the panoramic area called Tramonti di Campiglia.

Riomaggiore is the first village that you see coming from La Spezia, when you get off the train go through the tunnel, then down towards the marina, and to the left, near the Cinque Terre ferry landing, there is a bathing area. Another charming beach is that of Canneto, located between Punta Castagna and Punta Cavo, you can only reach it on foot, there is a strip of pebbles and a natural waterfall that comes from the hill. We have to point out that the sea gets quite deep in Riomaggiore, so be careful when you go swimming. This village lived exclusively on agriculture, in particular vine cultivation, it helped the local economy to developed in the Cinque Terre; the beauty of the terraced hills, the hard work of the past generations, have transformed these steep slopes cultivable, the village of Riomaggiore welcomes tourists from all over the world, eager to challenge these hard  and unique places.

The fishermen village par excellence in the Cinque Terre is Manarola, surrounded by a natural barrier of cliffs overlooking the sea, it is an ideal place for landscape lovers or for people who love loneliness and quiet, but nothing prevents you from sitting on the pier for an energising siesta. The shape of the village reminds us of a fan, developed in front of the main street, with colourful tower-houses, the Gothic church of Saint Lorenzo, with a particular concrete pyramid that stands out from the roofs of the houses. Brave hikers should be informed that above Manarola, far from the beach but where you will still able to smell the scent of the sea, there are two charming hamlets, Groppo and Volastra, here the tradition for fish dishes is still strong. Volastra is at 300 metres above the sea level and develops on a round area that reminds ancient middle age walls, surrounded by wonderful olive groves. Both villages are part of the municipality of RViomaggiore.  Groppo is located halfway between Manarola and Volastra, both villages can be reached on foot through the ancient paths or using the daily regular shuttle bus service.  The bus connects Manarola and Volastra in about ten minutes.

Even if Corniglia is the only of the five villages that it’s not by the sea, you can easily reach the coast, going down the hill on foot, follow the sign Corniglia-Vernazza (the cost of the path is 3 euros), or from the train station in Corniglia, through the tunnel of the former Genoa-La Spezia railway line,  there is the famous nudist beach, a popular place since 1970s.  While you’re in Corniglia, you must absolutely  visit the church of Saint Pietro, located inland, in the upper part of the village. If you need a break you can stop at Bar Terza Terra, overlooking the crystal blue waters, right next to the panoramic terrace of Santa Maria, you will find many excellent cocktails and Ligurian snacks at reasonable prices.

Vernazza has a quiet marina, with a capacity of about 200 berths, right next to the church of Santa Margherita, it is also possible to lay your towel and adapt to the harpness of the place. The water here  and on the rest of the coast is clear and clean.   If you need a break for a snack, you can fill your stomach with yummy dishes and main courses with scampi, in all the restaurants or gastro pubs that you can find,  and don’t forget to climb up the terraces that lead to the castle, where you will be able to enjoy a priceless panorama. The surroundings offer the opportunity to meet the winemakers of the priceless liqueur wine called “Sciacchetrà”. As long as you have a boat,  you shouldn’t miss a visit to the cave “Maemuna”,  the entrance is through the rocks from the cliff above it. Those who love diving will have the opportunity to explore the rich deep waters in front of Vernazza, you can count on the diving centres located in the village.

Talking about bathing, a perfect place is the wide beach Fegina, a typical beach with beach umbrellas and deck chairs, dominated by a sculpture made with concrete and iron in 1910, called the “Giant”, located right in front of the train station, beyond the castle.

The ancient village developed on the cliffs, watched over by the remains of the stronghold. Enjoy a walk along the timeless promenade eating an ice cream,  or carrying a map along the alleys full of souvenir shops. In June you can taste the famous anchovies, fried from early morning in the typical iron pan, shaped like a fish, at the well known and famous festival. The close bond between man and nature, on a bigger scale, has enabled the develop naturopathic techniques and laboratories, wellness centres and resorts, wine and food trips to local cellars that are a sort of wonderful shops (Corniolo hill – Cantina Cinque Terre), inspired by the local colours.

These healthy activities give birth to a cultural and redeeming tourism, a necessary way for a balanced lifestyle that respects the laws of nature.

The Park is a perfect example of ecosustainable development, which offers various outdoor activities according to the season, keeps an eye to modern science but at the same time remembers its past.

Food & Wine

Biological consortia, local grown products strictly used according to the season, but also starred restaurants able to reinvent the traditional recipies of the farmers and seamen, are part of the local cuisine.  To be honest, the cuisine in the Cinque Terre is not just a break to satisfly your hunger, but it’s a true gem, a very important part of the tourism, and of its  roots.

Just think about the delicious pesto sauce, people have always thought that it has a Genoese origin, instead the steep slopes terraces of this area, are in fact one of the places where basil is grown and looked after like a son.

There are farms that organize courses on how to prepare it, using a marble mortarl and pestle like granmother used to do, with precious DOP products strictly from this coast, and the scents brought by the winds that might remind us of a table laid for an aperitif or for dinner.

We should also consider the rich, ancient tradition of the fishing boats, the daily catch based on anchovies, snappers and sea breams …..  there are strict rules in order to protect the Marine Protected Area,  and help the environment , the quantity of fish caught is determined before hand.

We could consider fishermen as symbols of culture and tradition thanks to their many initiatives, and boat tours, to explain more about their work, and how important it is for the territory.

When we talk about Cinque Terre, we think about daily catch, fish and shell fish dishes, ancient crops (vineyards and olive groves), and scented aromatic plants, such as borage, thyme, rosemary, sage, often used in recipes, they grow well incouraged by the favourable climate.

Lean meat is rarely used in traditional dishes, because the shape of the area does not allow livestock like in the farms in Tuscany.

The park offers great natural  resources, mushrooms, agrumes and chestnuts, this fruit in particular is used to make various dishes and cakes, the many scented spontaneous herbs,  become the main ingredients of various recipes, as well as olive oil, which is also used in cosmetics.

Basically recipes use both sea and land ingredients, dishes are light and scented even if extremely simple, in winter they are obviously richer in flavour and ingredients for the sustenance of the families.

Where farmers cultivate the land, with vineyards and olive groves, we can also find small animals, such as poultry and rabbits, used in many recipes, mixed bean soups and vegetables replace dishes with shellfish and pasta with sauces, we can  find troffie or trofie, a short type of handmade spiral shaped pasta, corzetti, trenette with pesto sauce, adding boiled potatoes and green beans, pansotti and ravioli stuffed with borage and served with walnut sauce, these are all typical, local dishes. In Corniglia don’t forget to taste the delicious icecream made with the famous local honey, a really yummy snack.

As already mentioned the recipe of the real pesto sauce is disputed in the various Ligurian provinces. There are proper rules on how to make it, you need the best basil, which is the key ingredient, extra vergin olive oil, parmigiano reggiano cheese or seasoned pecorino, sweet garlic, cooking salt and pine nuts; the sauce obtained from these ingredients is a perfect match with pasta, the recipe tells that pasta must be boiled in pure water with green beans and potatoes.

Those who make pesto sauce, don’t follow cooking books, and don’t weigh the ingredients, everyone has its favourite techique, you may find this sauce on a focaccia or spread on a bruschetta as aperitif, or even added at the last moment in a minestrone, the typical vegetable soup.

If you go to a restaurant in Monterosso and Vernazza, the place of honour goes to fish dishes, among the many you must try stuffed anchovies, or mussels, called muscles in local dialect, a popular and special dish in the area of La Spezia and Cinque Terre. You can eat them with a sprinkle of lemon juice, or stuffed with bread, garlic, parsley and parmigiano cheese, particulary appreciated by tourists.

Main courses no longer use lean meat and scents from the kitchen gardens, but you will find fish ravioli, fish soups, a rich Genoese vegetable soup (minestrone), a link between sea and land.

Monterosso has made a fortune with its anchovies, you can find them fried, stuffed or in a timballo, fried like cutlets, or fried with other seasonal fish, the locals call it  sea bread.

Anchovies can be found in many dishes made by the local housewifes, who know well that this fish is rich in nutritious elements and the same time cheap to buy.

In the Cinque and surrounding areas you can find popular fairs, with oily fish dishes, especially the famous anchovies from Monterosso.

Whitebait of anchovies and sardines can be found in soups, or fried in hot olive oil. Nowadays whitebait catch is protected and safeguarded, in the past it was quite common to find them fried in a batter with flour, eggs and fizzy water.

As fritters need a lot of ingredients, nowadays it is better to eat courgette fritters, the so called “Fris de Burbugiun”, an excellent summer sidedish.

A typical dish in Vernazza and Monterosso is “tian” (pan in local dialect), it is made with sliced potatoes, anchovies seasoned with local olive oil, white wine, garlic, lemon zest and fresh tomatoes,  a sort of yummy lasagna, and guess what … a bond between sea and land.

In Riomaggiore  taking advantage of the ancient farmers’ culture the main dish is obviously based on land ingredients, it is a savoury rice cake, prepared with boiled rice, olive oil, salt, pepper,  and baked in the oven, it is made to celebrate the patron Saint Giovanni Battista. This rice cake has nothing to do with the one made in Tuscany, or with the so called “silly cake” made in Sarzana

The recipe of this rice cake is well kept, it can be considered a main course, made by housewives especially in winter, there is a similar recipe in Monterosso, where it is made for the celebration of the Virgin mother in Soviore.

In winter a common dish is the veggie soup, made with wild herbs and seasoned with olive oil, let the potatoes simmer in hot water, then add wild herbs, radicchio salad, chard, and valerian. As regards fish you can find stockfish, salted anchovies in extra vergin olive oil and fried panissa made with chickpea flour just like farinata, in the past century it was considered a left over dish, eaten adding different dressings.

The treasures of the woods and inland let the Cinque Terre become the unofficial homeland of the chestnut cake, the so called castagnaccio or pattona, in local dialect  castagnàsu. Great importance have local ingredients such as pine nuts, strawberries, figs, artichokes, asparagus, and marmelade made with local citrus fruit.

Talking about dessert, you must try Monterossina cake, a true sin of gluttony, it is a soft sponge cake filled with apricot jam and bits of dark chocolate, there is a similar cake in Vernazza, called  Stalìn, the name of the eccentric baker who created it, the cake has a thick layer of jam, two layers of thick custard and chocolate cream, inside a shell of shortcut pastry,

Artisan ice creams can be found in Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, where there are proper workshops, thanks to the organic local fruit and the variety of ingredients used, the flavours obtained are really unusual.

The quality of the Cinque Terre wine, was already well known at the time of Plinio, in the first century before Christ, he thought that it was the best in Etruria, and after him Boccaccio and Dante praised its qualities.

Passito is another timeless DOC wine in the Cinque Terre, it has a suggestive name  Sciacchetrà, from “sciacàa that means to press. The colour can be straw-yellow or amber if aged, the flavour is broad, sweet, fruity,  and smooth. It is an ideal wine to finish your meal

The production of this wine is allowed only in some areas of the province of La Spezia.

Another excellent local wine, is Cinque Terre DOC, a white dry wine, a perfect match with soups and fish main courses, it is made in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. This white wine is obtained by pressing Bosco grapes, as well as Vermentino and Albarola grapes. To finish you should try “Limoncino di Monterosso”, a popular scented liquer, that you will also find at the Lemon Fair in Pentecoste.

In the Cinque Terre, the final goal of food and wine is to obtain a general, sustainable development process, that improves the quality of life, a meal becomes an unforgettable experience, to demonstrate that competitiveness and environmental sustainability go hand in hand, and can find a happy match at a table.

 

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