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VOL. 132 | NO. 173 | Thursday, August 31, 2017


Lance Wiedower

Italy’s Enchanted Five Lands

Lance Wiedower

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Visit any bookstore’s travel section and take a quick look at the cover of the Italy guidebooks. Chances are the photo is of the postcard-perfect view of one of the cliff-side Cinque Terre villages along the Italian Riviera.

If you’re seeking a dramatic and elusive coastal setting with sunsets over the blue Mediterranean Sea below, look no further than Cinque Terre. Translated to Five Lands, Cinque Terre is a collection of five fishing villages seemingly placed on cliffs that stretch down to the water’s edge. Each village sits above a cove of sorts, where locals pull up their boats and tourists jump from the rocks for a cool dip in the sea.

Maybe you’ll see a local easing out of Vernazza’s harbor in his little fishing boat, heading out to catch anchovies. Wake early and hit the trails that connect the five villages, spaced about six miles from north to south.

The Cinque Terre National Park actually was Italy’s first national park. It includes all five villages and the abundance of trails that wind through the mountains as well as the cliff-side paths that provide unmatched Mediterranean views.

Cinque Terre isn’t exactly remote, but getting to any of the five villages isn’t easy, either. We drove in from France along the toll auto route, and while the drive wasn’t bad, I’d recommend train travel if possible.

Once we exited the auto route, it took about 30 minutes of driving down a winding road into the valley below, including a few curves that aren’t for the faint of heart. Cars are only allowed in Monterosso, the northernmost village, which has a couple of large public parking lots to leave your car overnight. We stayed in Vernazza and I read before our trip that part of that road was still out from a previous storm of some sort.

Monterosso is beautiful in its own right and has the largest sandy beach of the five villages, but we quickly boarded a train for the two-minute ride to Vernazza, where we stayed in an apartment for a couple of nights.

Many people visit Cinque Terre for the vast network of trails that connect the five villages. A moderately priced hiking pass is required to walk more than a cursory handful of steps above each village. Visitors walk these trails, working up appetites for the abundance of seafood and pasta available at restaurants spread around the villages. Enjoy a plate of the regional pesto with those anchovies.

Pick one village and spend a day or three – our choice, actually. Or base yourself in one village and mix hiking and train travel to hop among the five.

All five villages possess their own unique beauty, and four of the five sit on the sea. The quiet Corniglia – known for its wine – is the only one not on the water.

Monterosso is the Riviera at its best, with busy beaches covered in lounge chairs and sunbathers, and a variety of restaurants fronting the stretch.

Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.

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