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August 12, 2017
Many of us avid travelers are always searching for that next perfect destination to get outdoors and explore the terrain by foot. During a recent trip to Italy, my wife, daughter and I decided to spend a few days in the Cinque Terre area of the Italian Riviera. For those not familiar, Cinque Terre literally translates to "five lands". The area is comprised of five picturesque villages that hug the Ligurian coastline of Italy just Northwest of Tuscany. The entire area is a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site and I can honestly say it is one of the most beautiful parts of the world I have had the good fortune to visit!
Although Portovenere is technically not part of the Cinque Terre, I decided it would be a good vantage point for our trip to the coast. Portovenere lies just south of the Cinque Terre village of Riomaggiore. The other four villages from South to North are Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Each village has it's own atmosphere, local charm and cuisine. Residents of the Cinque Terre can easily tell where other residents are from due to each village's unique Italian dialect.
I decided we should stay in Portovenere mainly due to the hotel accommodations and selection of restaurants, shops, etc. Not that you shouldn't consider staying within one of the five villages. They all offer a combination of nice, small hotel accommodations, apartment rentals and B&B's. Check out our Lonely Planet link for more info regarding sleeping options.
Should you decide to follow my lead and stay in Portovenere, there are a few sites within the town that are definitely worth seeing. One of the main being the Doria Castle; a 12 century Genoese castle built to defend the "Poet's Gulf". Built in 1161, the castle dominates the landscape and is an excellent example of Genoa military architecture. You will see outstanding views of the port, village and surrounding area from the imposing castle built high in the cliffs above Portovenere. The walk around the grounds makes for a nice 2 to 2.5 hour hike and is a good starting point for a longer hike.
If you want to continue your hike further North to the villages of the Cinque Terre, the trail to Riomaggiore begins just outside of town. It is rather lengthy and will take about five hours to complete, but you can easily catch a boat back to Portovenere if you decide not to hike back. Remember to check the boat schedule first as it varies by season.
The other option is to take a boat to Riomaggiore and begin your hike North from there. This is a good option if you have limited time and want to hike all five villages in a few days. First let me say that you can and should pack light for your hike. When looking at a map of the area it appears that the hike from one village to another is rather far, but actually anyone fairly fit can hike through three to four villages in one day. The total distance from the Southern village of Riomaggiore to the Northern village of Monterosso is approximately 18 miles or 29 kilometers. While it's possible to hike all villages in a long, rather exhausting day, I don't recommend it. There is just too much spectacular scenery and sites to see along the way. And why rush through such an amazingly beautiful area when you can stop and enjoy time in each village? Visit Walks of Italy for additional info on hiking the Cinque Terre.
With that in mind, I have to say that one of my favorite villages is Vernazza. Although everyone seems to have their own favorite, my wife and I particularly liked this one for it's amazing scenery, beautiful harbor and combination of quaint shops and restaurants. We had a light lunch at Antica Osteria iL Baretto. The restaurant is situated in the historic center of town and is very close to the train station and the famous town square of Piazza Marconi. They offer quaint indoor seating as well as outdoor seating in Spring and Summer. If available, I highly recommend requesting an outdoor table. The atmosphere is spectacular and the food and wine selection at the restaurant is all locally sourced and delicious. My wife and I tried a local light red wine to complement the fried anchovies we ordered as an appetizer and the combination could not have been better. I always like to try different cuisine when traveling and this trip was no exception. The anchovies were not salty and were lightly fried in a very thin batter and served very much like french fries in rolled paper. My wife was totally surprised at how tasty they were and still mentions that meal today!
We also visited the villages of Corniglia and Riomaggiore both of which also offer beautiful scenery, quaint shops and nice restaurant options. If you're adventurous enough to do some cliff diving, check out Riomaggiore; you will not be disappointed. The surrounding cliffs are amazing and the cliff diving and crystal-clear water second to none.
Well that ends my brief tour of the Cinque Terre. I hope you've gained some insight into this beautiful part of Italy. If you've not been, you must go. You will not be disappointed!
Ciao and remember; "we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us".
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