Travel guide to visiting Cinque Terre National Park in Italy

A colourful Italian coastline


Via Discovolo snc - c/o Stazione Manarola 19017 Riomaggiore (SP), Italy

GPS: 44.128819142134, 9.7141046547968

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The Cinque Terre National Park is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the Italian region of Liguria, halfway between the cities of Pisa and Genoa. It is the smallest national park in the country, created in 1999 and covering just 40 km². Nevertheless, the Cinque Terre has a myriad of different landscapes. They include a marine protected area as well as 5 picturesque coastal villages with a total of only 5,000 inhabitants: Corniglia (the smallest), Monteresso al Mare (the liveliest), Vernazza (the most typical), Manarola (one of the oldest) and Riomaggiore (the most populated).

With its strong historical and cultural heritage, the Cinque Terre National Park is nevertheless a remarkable natural site that is one of the most beautiful landscapes on the Italian Riviera. Its villages with medieval architecture are part of the coast of La Spezia, which extends from Porto Venere to Punta Mesco. They were built on the steep coast of the Ligurian Sea from the 7th century onwards to escape the barbarian invasions (in particular those from the Germanic people of the Visigoths after the fall of the Roman Empire). Then came the Saracen pirates and the Barbary corsairs, who posed a constant threat to the inhabitants of the region between the 9th and 18th centuries, despite the advent of the maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa. These events did not prevent the Cinque Terre territory from prospering and taking advantage of its wonderful environment.

While cars are forbidden, since 1870 a railway has linked the colourful villages and small fishing ports of the Cinque Terre National Park, which today is an ecological paradise for pedestrians and hikers. A terraced vineyard, where most of the agricultural work is still done by hand, seems to be suspended in time. Clearly, the Cinque Terre terroir belongs to the category of the most spectacular wine landscapes in the world. The cultivation of saffron, citrus fruits and olive trees complete the singularity of this territory with its poetic features. Walking along the many coastal and inland paths of the Cinque Terre National Park, the visitor will enjoy a wide variety of landscapes: steep cliffs and hillsides, terraced cultivation supported by dry stone walls in a complex relief, steep rocks overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, coves or small beaches in a divine setting and panoramic views of the colourful villages of the Cinque Terre.

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  • The medieval villages of Cinque Terre nestled in a romantic setting; the pastel-coloured houses; the bays, coves and wild coast of the Riviera del Levant
  • The high, steep cliffs; the terraced vineyards and crops; the dry stone walls; the ancient sanctuaries, old churches and monasteries (including the Capuchin convent in Monterosso); the narrow streets of the villages (caruggi); the sanctuaries and remains of ancient fortifications; the protected marine area of Cinque Terre
  • The network of about 100 kilometres of footpaths along the Ligurian coast, the hills and mountainous terrain inland
  • Guided walks organised by the park services (booking recommended); birdwatching in Romaggiore (Torre Guardiola trail)
  • Fauna (birds, small mammals, amphibians…) and flora (chestnut trees, olive trees, maritime pines, heather fields, Mediterranean maquis, various plants and botanical species…)
  • Local gastronomy based mainly on organic farming (fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants…) and seafood (anchovies, sardines…); olive oil produced around the villages of Cinque Terre; the ancient cultivation of lemon trees; local white wine (DOC Cinque Terre and Sciacchetrà sweet wine)
  • Outdoor activities: Nordic walking, mountain biking, swimming, kayaking, diving, fishing…
  • Boat trips to the island of Palmaria and the Gulf of La Spezia (Gulf of the Poets); the Punta Mesco and Capo di Montenero marine reserves
  • The many events that punctuate the villages of the Cinque Terre, including the SciaccheTrail marathon (first event organised at the end of March 2015); the Sagra dei limoni (lemon festival) in Monterosso al Mare on the third Saturday in May; the Painters’ Festival in Manarola (in June); the annual Cinque Terre organ festival (end of June); the Amfiteatrof classical music festival in Levanto (July and September); the Palio del Golfo regatta (first Sunday in August); the Passito wine festival (end of August/beginning of September); numerous religious festivals…
  • The network of dry-stone walls, built from the 11th century onwards to support the terraced cultivation of the Cinque Terre, is estimated to total more than 6,000 km (almost as long as the sections of wall still visible on the Great Wall of China today).
  • Since 2006, the Cinque Terre National Park has also been twinned with the Great Wall of China, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  • Two and a half million visitors visit the Cinque Terre National Park every year (that’s 500 times the population of the 5 villages combined). Faced with overcrowding, the local authorities are thinking of introducing a limited number of visitors in the near future, as has already been done at Machu Picchu (Peru), the Alhambra in Granada (Spain) and the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador).
  • If possible, avoid the period between June and August, the busiest and hottest time of the year, and choose to travel by train to Cinque Terre (the villages are connected to the Genoa-Rome or Genoa-La Spezia lines).
  • The park services offer two types of visit cards, valid from 1 to 7 days, to make your stay easier (unlimited access to the train network between the towns of La Spezia and Levanto, entrance fees to the park’s footpaths and observation points, boat connections in season, discounts and free admission to museums…).
  • The 5 villages of the Cinque Terre National Park are connected by the Sentiero Azzurro (blue path), a beautiful 12 km long hiking trail along the coast. The most famous part of the route is the Via dell’Amore (Path of Love), a section between the medieval villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. Apart from this itinerary, which is accessible to all, most of the hiking trails require a good level of physical fitness due to their steep relief, which at times resembles mountain trails.
  • The accessibility of the paths is updated on the website of the park. Following several accidents resulting in injuries, it is forbidden to wear flip-flops when hiking (offenders risk a fine).
  • A visit to the Cinque Terre can be complemented by the equally charming coastal towns of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli to the west or Porto Venere to the east.

Where to eat

  • Il Pescato Cucinato
    (fried fish to go)
  • Alberto Gelateria
    (homemade ice creams)
  • Belforte
    (romantic setting)

Where to go

  • Punta Mesco Diving Center
    (discovery of the seabed)
  • Porto Venere
    (picturesque fishing village)
  • Museo Amedeo Lia
    (superb art collection)

Where to stay

  • Maria Capellini Rooms
    (on the seaside)
  • Hotel Villa Steno
    (quiet and cosy)
  • La Torretta
    (charming home)