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Have you heard of Cinque Terre, the cluster of five Italian villages clinging to the mountains along the coast? All I knew about this region in northwestern Italy came from photos I’d seen of the colorful houses in the villages. So when my grandson listed Cinque Terre as one of his “must see” destinations, for our 2017 trip to Italy, we made sure our tour included a stop here.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend a day exploring the largest of the five villages. This gorgeous area offers visitors a peek into the laid back lifestyle that many Italians enjoy.
Discover these fun facts about Cinque Terre.
Origin of the Name
The Italian words cinque terre translates to “five lands”. These five lands are the five villages perched on the mountains along the coast. They are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The largest village is the last one, Monterosso.
The entire region is a national park. And in 1997 it became a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cinque Terre is a Car Free Zone
Cars are not allowed in the villages of Cinque Terre. Instead villagers and visitors travel by boat, train or on foot.
We arrived in Monterosso via boat, leaving from the town of La Spezia. Our tour guide, Andrea, shared interesting local stories as we chugged along the coastline.
And we departed Monterosso on board a sleek train that passed through rocky mountainous tunnels.
Cinque Terre Is a Relatively New Tourist Destination
Only the Italians knew about the wonders of Cinque Terre, until the 1970s. An American journalist visited and fell in love with the region. After he included the villages in a guidebook, other visitors arrived to explore Cinque Terra too. It’s now an extremely popular destination.
The Water is a Beautiful Color
The brilliant aquamarine water in the village bays provides a stunning contrast for the colorful houses on the mountains. The protected harbors shelter a rich variety of marine life, including anchovies, which is a Cinque Terre specialty.
Four of the five villages offer sandy beaches to enjoy those waters and catch some sun too.
You Must Sample the Pesto
The herb basil grows in abundance in the Cinque Terre region. It’s used in many locally prepared dishes, even gelato! Dining in a little ristorante in one of the villages is a must, especially when the meal features freshly made pasta and basil pesto.
I enjoyed basil pesto over gluten free pasta for lunch in Monterosso. It remains the best pesto I’ve ever had.
The Houses are Pastel Colors
All of those charming houses, perched on the mountainsides, are painted pastel colors. When the sun sets, the light washes over those soft hues, creating photo worthy moments. The reason for the color choices connects to fishermen out to sea. From his distant vantage point, a fisherman could identify his house based on the color.
Cinque Terre’s Most Popular Product
Cinque Terre villagers grow grapes in the steeply terraced vineyards. The difficult cultivation earns wine makers the name “heroic viticulturalists”. Their hard work produces an incredible white wine called Sciacchetra that’s dry and somewhat sweet. Due to the limited space, only a few thousand bottles are produced each year.
Cat Lady Paradise
Cinque Terre is considered a cat haven. Every village hosts semi-stray cats that hang around the seafront. And cats lounge outside every seafood cafe and shop, hoping for a treat from fishermen cleaning their catch. Locals leave dry cat food in covered bins with signs asking people to refill empty dishes.
Add Cinque Terre to Your Travel List
My daughter, grandson and I loved our day in Monterosso. After beginning our trip in Rome, we welcomed the slower pace in Cinque Terre. Each of us fell under the spell of this relaxed coastal region. We waded in the Mediterranean, wandered narrow streets, visited tiny shops and dined on the freshest foods in a homey ristorante. Truly, I could spend weeks exploring all five villages.
I hope you learned something new about Cinque Terre. And that this jewel in Italy makes your travel list.
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