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Cinque Terre: Italy’s Hidden Gem

There are countless spectacular places to visit in Italy, from the Alps in the north through to the rolling hills of Tuscany and the untouched wonders of Sicily. But the Cinque Terre is one of its lesser-known treats.

By Sudhir Matai

If you’re interested in travelling within Italia, there are many places to visit. The seemingly endless coastline, alone, has countless villages and towns each with its own charm, but some steal the headlines. Capri, Positano, the Amalfi Coast and Portofino are on the ‘must-visit’ list of most travellers.

But high on the western coast, on the Italian Riviera, about an hour or two south of the French border is the Cinque Terre National Park. And within it lies the ‘five lands’ or Cinque Terre (from north to south) Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. This stunning stretch of coastline is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, colourful cliffside villages, and vibrant Mediterranean culture.

The Cinque Terre is situated on the rugged coast of Liguria. The centuries-old fishing villages are perched on cliffsides overlooking the cool and calm Mediterranean Sea.  Exploring the Cinque Terre is a journey into a postcard-perfect paradise, where each village is a unique gem waiting to be discovered. For foreigners, the Cinque Terre is best accessed from Pisa airport with a train ride bringing you to this unique part of Italy. The narrow cobbled streets and steep topography makes almost all of the five villages inaccessible by car.

Once there, one of the best ways to experience the charm of these villages is by hiking along the trails that connect them. The famous Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Trail, provides awe-inspiring views of the rugged cliffs, lush vineyards, and vibrant wildflowers that dot the landscape. The most famous stretch, between Riomaggiore and Manarola, is known as Via Dell’Amore or lover’s lane.

If hiking isn’t for you, an open-top ferry ride along the coast will provide a new perspective on the villages. The seaside excursion conveniently provides excellent photographic opportunities. A dip in the crystal-clear waters of secluded coves is a must.

Of course, no trip to ‘Eataly’ is complete without sampling the delicious cuisine. The region is famous for its seafood and white wine varietals such as Albarola, Bosco and Vermentino grown on small-scale terraced vineyards high above the water’s edge. Do not expect to find any fast food franchises here. Everything in these trattorias is made from long-standing family recipes and meant to be savoured while enjoying the views of the gently lapping waves. Meals are best followed by a walk with a delicious gelato or cool granita.

There is a range of accommodation options from cosy BnBs to charming boutique hotels, however, these are often snapped up way in advance especially places that offer sea views. Late summer sunsets allow you to enjoy the views long into the evening.

Time seems to slow down in the Cinque Terre. Days can feel like weeks and weeks like months. An unforgettable experience, this coastal paradise is a testament to the timeless allure of Italy, even the bits most people may not know about…

Sudhir Matai

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