The Cinque Terre (5 cities) are some of the most photographed and visited places in the country of Italy. Twelve years ago we instantly fell in love with the Cinque Terre and their people, views and food. As time has passed the onslaught of tour buses and tour groups have overtaken these little towns. The Cinque Terre are no longer what they were. Italian officials have talked about limiting the number of tourists to the Cinque Terre to control the impact of tourism.
In June our friends traveled to Tuscany with us. While there they wanted to head to the Liguria region to see the Cinque Terre. Wanting to be with our friends we put aside our dread of the crowds of Cinque Terre and went along. We hopped on a boat in La Spezia (more on this town in the future) and travelled first to Portovenere.
As the boat approached the shores of Portovenere everyone stood up, cameras in hand, to get a glimpse of the beautiful Church of San Pietro, the ancient wall, and the fort. Lining the shore is the colorful town filled with restaurants, gelaterias, and cafes. Streets were busy with tourists and locals walking along the seaside, taking in the sites, eating and drinking. While it was more crowded than when we first started visiting it still seemed to be manageable.
The gorgeous scenery and views of Portovenere impressed all of us on the boat. The Bay of Poets is a gorgeous site, a beautiful example of what the Italian Mediterranean coast has to offer. At the end of the town of Portovenere the 13thcentury striped granite church melts into the sea. The ancient wall, leads your eye from the church to the fort on top of the hill.
Opposite the Bay of Poets (named after Percy Byron Shelley and Mary Shelley who lived there before Percy Shelley died swimming in the bay) is Byron’s Grotto. The Grotto, named after Lord Byron, who used to meditate and draw inspiration on the rocks in the Grotto. Byron’s Grotto offers stunning views of the cliffs and rock formations below the Church of San Pietro.
There are so many beautiful memories for us here so I might be a little biased…
The Cinque Terre
The ferry continues down the coast and passengers crunch together trying to see each town as it reveals itself. On the ferry people were pushy and aggressive trying to make room on the best part of the boat. Some late arrivers could be quite pushy trying to get better seats in front. The ferry was so crowded it was impossible to get good photos during most of the trip. The beautiful Italian homes speckled the coastline as we approached the towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazaa and Monterosso.
As the ferry pulled up to each port lines of people waited to board each arriving ferry. They were all anxious to explore the different cities. The colorful Italian buildings tumble down from the mountains to the seashore, as if they were lava from a volcano. The view from the boat is completely charming when you look beyond the crowds.
We decided to get off the boat at Vernazza so we could see each town from the boat. In the past Vernazza was our favorite with restaurants atop the cliffs offering spectacular views. Each town offers something a little different. Some of the towns are great for watching cliff divers. Others for sitting on the beach watching the waves hit the shore. All of them are incredible feats of early Italian architecture. They were built by brave souls who understood the value of privacy and location.
As we left the ferry in Vernazza we passed an incredibly long line of people waiting for the ferry. From there restaurants and cafes fill the seashore leading to the sandy beach and ancient church. Authentic restaurants, and quaint local shops are now souvenir shops and touristy restaurants. The true Italian experience has given way to the almighty tourist dollar. We tried to get off the path and hike up to one of the cliff top restaurants. Each restaurant was completely full of people so we decided on the one at the top of the hill with the shortest wait. Despite it being jam packed with people the food was pretty authentic (not the best in Italy but definitely worth eating) and the service was entertaining and efficient. The views were fantastic as we looked across to the fifth town of Monterosso.
With just enough time to eat and get in line to catch the ferry returning to La Spezia we paid our bill and headed back to the shore. J and I were sad to see the changes over time to these quaint and beautiful cities. I can only hope the government finds a way to balance the onslaught of tourists with the ability to support the locals and share their beautiful heritages.
If you want to get to the Cinque Terre you can go by ferry, train or hiking. Any of the modes of transportation taken requires a little patience. The trails are stunning but do not have railings so if you are traveling with children make sure they are very mature so they can understand the risks of the trail running along the top of the cliffs.
One thing I would suggest is taking the ferry but not disembarking in any town other than Portovenere or La Spezia.