by Barbara Ann Weibel of Hole In The Donut
Like precious gems strung on a chain of rock, the five villages of Cinque Terre hang from high cliffs that tower over the Mediterranean in this northwestern corner of Italy’s boot. These crown jewels of the Italian Riviera sparkle with color – from the brightly painted buildings cascading down the mountainsides to the riotous beach umbrellas lining the shores of the Ligurian coast.
Of the five towns, the largest beaches are found at Monterosso al Mare. A rocky outcropping splits Monterosso into old town and new town. Although beaches are located on both sides of the rock, the long crescent that fronts the old town is by far the more popular because it is just steps from the train that carries most visitors to town.
In addition to the spectacular scenery, Monterosso’s beaches are favorites with tourists because they provide easy access to the culinary delights for which the region is so famous. The grapes and olives cultivated on terraces carved into the surrounding mountainside are turned into award-winning wines, liqueurs, and olive oils. Anchovies are a local specialty, as is the pesto sauce, made from locally produced basil, garlic, pine nuts, and pecorino cheese.
Visitor who seeks more than sun-drenched days and evenings filled with gourmet cuisine take to the Cinque Terre Trail, an ancient cliffside route that connect the five tiny towns. The unimproved pathway leading out of Monterosso is strenuous and in spots is barely wide enough for two people to pass. The trail becomes less rugged as it proceeds south to the other villages and by the time it reaches the southernmost village of Riomaggiore it is a level path with stone pavers and guard rails. The entire Cinque Terre trail can be walked in a single day, but to do so means missing out on the opportunity to spend time in the villages, each of which has a distinct personality just begging to be discovered.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Weibel