The Cinque Terre is a small strip of coastline in the Italian province of Liguria, famous for the way the mountains dramatically fall into the Mediterranean. Its name translates into English as the “five lands”, a reference to the five villages that cling to the land and which were for centuries cut off from the outside world except by vertiginous footpaths and boat. Now they are part of a National Park, the whole region listed as a UNESCO World heritage site.
The attraction of the area is the scenery and the untouched villages, with small winding streets and alleyways, often containing steep flights of steps as they climb from small harbours and beaches up the mountain side. The turrets of small defensive forts vie with church towers to dominate the roof line. Between the villages runs a coastal path, sometimes climbing high over spurs and ridges, at other times plunging to small bays and coves. Its not for the unfit. Not only is there plenty of ascent and descent, but in the summer months it can get very hot with little shade.
The payoff is the villages, these days full of small restaurants, bars and ice cream parlours where you can reenergise yourself. For those who prefer, a train line runs the length of the coast between La Spezia and Genova and must be one of the most spectacular lengths of track in the World.
The villages have plenty of small hotels and guest-houses to choose between, the one thing to be wary of is road access. Floods in 2011 washed away access to two of the central villages and while they are being repaired, it is a tiny, narrow road at the best of time, with very limited parking at the villages.