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The five fishing villages that make up Italy’s Cinque Terre have become a travel bucket list destination for many. There are few roads, but lots of impeccably-preserved architecture and a network of breathtaking coastal and mountain trails. While the main attraction is walking the trails that link the small villages which include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, you’ll find plenty of other things to do – or simply enjoy doing very little, relaxing while soaking up some of the world’s most magnificent views.
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Catch a Sunset
Watching the sun go down is a must-experience in Cinque Terre. In Vernazza, take the trail to Corniglia where you’ll be able to enjoy it the view over the village to the castle with the azure sea to your left. Another popular spot is in Manarola near the Nessun Dorma looking down over the village, and from Riomaggiore where the boat docks, you can capture a shot with the sun splashing colors across the harbor. Pick up some fresh seafood or a slice of pizza to go and set yourself up for a magical show.
Head to the Beach
While there are more rocky beaches than sandy ones in the Cinque Terre, they’re edged by beautiful, crystal-clear turquoise waters that provide a wonderful refreshing warm dip. The coastline is varied, filled with beaches and small bays, some that are surrounded by nature, while others lie just before the region’s famously colorful homes. Enjoy a hike on the trails and then jump into the water, or simply relax and unwind among the scenery. In Manarola’s small harbor, you can sunbathe on the rocks, and climb down the ladder into the sea, or dive in. If you’re looking for a “secret” beach, completely immersed in nature, don’t miss Guvano which sits between Vernazza and Corniglia. Be aware that is clothing optional, but after all, this is about getting back to nature.
Capture Postcard-Perfect Photographs
You’ll find postcard-perfect views around nearly every corner throughout the Cinque Terre, making this region ideal for photography. Manarola is one of the most popular villages for capturing those shots. Walk away from the harbor toward the cliffs that are opposite the town and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views, with the vibrantly-painted homes spilling over the edge of the cliff. The colorful fishing boats at Vernazza Harbor provide a spectacular front drop to the town of Vernazza, and for a beautiful shot of Riomaggiore, head to the line of rocks along its harbor.
Visit the Vineyards
Cinque Terre is also renowned for its wine, with an age-old tradition of vine-growing, along with a thriving food and wine scene. You’ll see many grape vines growing on the ancient terraces that sit just above the villages. The two principal wine styles are made with the native Bosco grape, along with the Albarola and Vermentino. You can visit some of the vineyards to sample some of the delicious local wines, often accompanied by locally-caught anchovies, bruschetta or other tasty foods. Most of the region’s wineries offer vineyard visits and tastings to the public, though you’ll have to book in advance.
Visit the Beautiful Historic Churches Like San Pietro
All five villages here a different patron saint and their own churches, however, the churches in Corniglia are especially impressive and well worth a visit. The best may be the Church of St. Peter or San Pietro. Built in the early 14th-century it sits at the edge of the sea and boasts elements of the Baroque style, as well as Gothic and Ligurian design. Look for the 1351 Carrara white marble rose window in the magnificent facade that was built in local sandstone. The cornice has a saw-tooth shape that’s supported by arches, some that are detailed with small heads of animals at the end.
Take a Walk
As mentioned at the start, the most popular thing to do in Cinque Terre is to walk the trails. Some of the most scenic trails in all of Europe, this is one of the most rewarding ways to enjoy the country’s breathtaking coastline. Trail # 2, the Sentiero Azzurro, is a top pick, made up of four individual paths along the coast. You can walk the entire route in about six hours, taking short breaks along the way, or spread out the experience over several days, exploring the towns along the way. It’s best accomplished by starting from Riomaggiore, where the paths are easier and paved, working your way up to the more challenging treks.
Go People Watching in the Vernazza Piazza
Arguably the most popular village of the five is Vernazza, which is why it also happens to be one of the best for people watching, bringing plenty of visitors to its streets. Despite the activity, you’ll still be able to take in the beauty of the village too, with views of the pastel-hued buildings from every angle. People watching in the piazza is ideal, where you can grab a gelato as you relax and watch the world go by.
Visit a Castle
The ruins of Doria Castle in Portovenere dominate the landscape overlooking Poet’s Gulf. The imposing structure was built in the mid-12th-century and features closed sloping walls constructed of local stone, standing as a quintessential example of the Genoa military architecture. From the main entrance, you’ll step into a spacious room with vaulted ceilings before following the stone staircase to the “high block” with a terrace that hosts the remains of the grand hypostyle hall, built in 1458 using locally-sourced stone materials. At the top, the tower provides panoramic vistas of the sea and cliffs on one side, and Vernazza on the other.