Known for terraced vineyards and exquisite coastal views, the villages of Italy's Cinque Terre area offer something for everyone. From the solo explorer to family vacationers, the area is home to historical sites, year-round festive events, local shopping, and activities to enjoy both indoors and out.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS IN CINQUE TERRE
The traditions and festivities that take place throughout the year run deep in history. The locals of the Cinque Terre have always found pride in their cultural roots and the resources provided by their land. Therefore, depending on when the area is visited, travelers may get to experience one of the numerous events held annually.
Located on the northern coast of the Italian Riviera in the region of Liguria, the fives villages of the Cinque Terre - Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore - each have reason to be celebrated. Many of the feste, or festivals, correlate to the particular village's own patron saint as well as harvested resources.
Throughout Italy, the towns and villages each have their own patron saint that is believed to be their heavenly advocate. Locals take pride in their saint in the form of churches, statues, and days of celebration. On the day their patron saint is honored, the festivities traditionally include mass, a procession through the village, eating, drinking, music, dancing, and, sometimes, fireworks to top it off in the evening.
The Feast Day of San Giovanni Battista is celebrated on June 24 in Riomaggiore and Monterosso, while on June 29 San Pietro is honored in Corniglia. The people of Corniglia provide a traditional cake, “Torta dei Fieschi” (based on the recipe of a medieval wedding cake) to attendees in the main village square. Vernazza celebrates its saint, Santa Margherita di Antiochia on July 20 and Manarola celebrates San Lorenzo on August 10. In honor of San Lorenzo, a large, illuminated statue of the saint is placed on a hill surrounding the town. Manarola is also known for its enormous outdoor nativity scene that has illuminated the hills around the town since the 1960s, as well a similar installation of illuminated Stations of the Cross during Lent.
Other festive events that take place in the Cinque Terre center around the long-standing traditions of growing and catching much of the cuisine enjoyed in the region. From the rich soil tended to up and down the steep terraces to the Ligurian Sea below, the villages take pride in their local natural resources.
In Monterosso, the Sagra dei limoni, or Lemon Festival, takes place on the third Saturday of May. From various competitions featuring the citrus fruit to lemon delicacies such as marmalade, cake, and limoncino - lemons are the star of the show.
Also in Monterosso, there are two events that celebrate the special anchovies that can only be found in the Cinque Terre. The third weekend of June brings Sagra dell'acciuga fritta, or the Fried Anchovy Festival to Monterosso, while in September locals celebrate the salted anchovy. These festivals are a chance for locals and travelers to enjoy what has made these fishing villages thrive for centuries.
There are also events to celebrate the locally produced wines and terraced olive groves. Typically harvested in November, the festival to celebrate the area's olives takes place in early fall. It is a chance to enjoy what is said to be among Italy's best olive oil.
In July, the Cinque Terre area hosts the Sciacchetrà Wine Festival, called Stappamaggio, which is a celebration of one of the best locally produced wines.
In addition to food, the Cinque Terre area also hosts a couple of annual music events. From May to October, the village of Vernazza hosts the Vernazza Opera Festival. The event features a series of concerts held at a local chapel. Both Italian and international musicians are invited to be a part of the festival.
Meanwhile, from July to September each year the villages of the Cinque Terre host the Cinque Terre International Music Festival, which is dedicated to classical music. As part of the event, concerts are held in churches throughout the territory featuring performers from around the world.
Finally, the village of Vernazza celebrates a unique historical event every year. The event does not have a fixed date, but it usually occurs in August. During the Festa dei Pirati (Pirate Festival), the locals dress up as pirates and reenact one of the nighttime pirate raids that used to occur frequently along the coast of the Cinque Terre area.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN CINQUE TERRE
From Monterosso in the north to Riomaggiore in the south, there are an abundance of outdoor sites to be seen. Once used for mules, the village footpaths alone provide visitors with a means of exploring the various aspects that make the area a must-see destination. At one time, these paths were the only way to travel from one village to the next, and today the 75-mile-long system of trails is the best way to experience the villages.
Cinque Terre, a national park since 1999, can be discovered through guided walks given by park guides or through a self-guided approach. The walking paths range in difficulty and length while taking visitors up and down the unique landscape. Small pebble beaches, terraced vineyards, pine woods, and cliffside views of the sea are all part of the backdrop that hikers can take in. With walking paths being the main means of travel throughout the Cinque Terre, they are the perfect way to see the many historic relics, ancient churches, unique architecture, shops, and restaurants offering local cuisine.
Of course, with the Cinque Terre set along the northern Italian coast, beaches are a popular attraction here, though because of the rocky nature of the coast, the beaches tend to be quite small. Sand, pebbles, and larger rocks make up the shoreline, which is regularly populated with locals and travelers soaking up the sun, taking in the views under an umbrella, or swimming in the inviting waters of the Mediterranean.
Monterosso has separate beaches in the new and older parts of town. The one in the newer Fegina side is located along the esplanade lined with bars, ice cream shops, and other small eateries. The waterfront is sandy with umbrellas available to rent and free space for sunbathing. Vernazza has a pebble beach on the east end of town, while Riomaggiore's public beach is made up of larger boulders near the ferry dock. For a quieter, more relaxing experience visitors can head to Guvano Beach in Corniglia. While it is known to be a clothing-optional beach, it can be less crowded than other beaches along the Cinque Terre shoreline.
While the quaint villages of Cinque Terre may not be large in area, there are numerous opportunities to shop locally in each. Amongst the small shops, visitors can find local food, clothing, crafts and artwork, souvenirs, and jewelry. Both Monterosso and Vernazza have weekly markets featuring local vendors throughout the year. Further shopping opportunities are just a short train ride away in La Spezia, Genoa, and Pisa.
INDOOR ACTIVITIES IN CINQUE TERRE
When travelers need a break from the sun, they can escape into one of the many historic churches or sanctuaries found in the area.
The Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia in Vernazza stands out among the others with its 131-foot-tall octagonal tower and its entryway found on the apse side compared to others having theirs on the facade side. Legend has it that the bones of Santa Margherita’s hand turned up in a treasure chest on the village shoreline. The chest then went missing only to be rediscovered by the town's people who saw symbolism in its appearance. During the 14th century, Vernazza's people erected the church on the exact location the patron saint's bones were discovered.
Another notable church is the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Monterosso. This thirteenth century Gothic church perfectly encapsulates the Ligurian architectural movement during the Middle Ages. Upon arriving at the church, visitors will notice the striking façade, which is composed of green serpentine and white marble stripes in an alternating pattern. The bell tower, which looms over the complex, was previously used as a guard tower to protect against the frequent pirate raids. Inside, the church houses a rich Baroque altar from the eighteenth century.
The Church of San Pietro in the town of Corniglia was constructed slightly after the Church of San Giovanni Battista in the fourteenth century. The church is another excellent example of the Gothic style that was once prevalent in Liguria. The church’s façade features a large rose window composed of the prized white marble from Carrara. Visitors with a keen eye will spot a deer in the center of the window, which is a symbol of the town. The interior is characterized by three aisles, a polyptych positioned at the bottom altar, and a twelfth century baptismal font.
Another church with a spectacular rose window is Manarola’s Church of San Lorenzo. This church, also constructed in the fourteenth century, is known for its Gothic façade and Baroque interior. In addition to the rose window, the façade features a bas-relief depicting the scene of San Lorenzo’s martyrdom. The church houses a remarkable triptych from the fifteenth century that portrays San Lorenzo, the Madonna with Child, and Santa Caterina. The church’s bell tower was once used as a guard tower as well.
Not to be confused with the church of the same name in Monterosso, Riomaggiore’s Church of San Giovanni Battista dates back to the fourteenth century, however the façade is much more recent after being rebuilt in the nineteenth century. Today, the façade of the church features a Neo-Gothic style with a beautiful rose window. Inside the church, visitors will find an organ dating back to the nineteenth century, several frescoes by various artists such as Benedetto Antelami, and a wooden crucifix. Notably, the square directly in front of this church offers a spectacular view of Riomaggiore.
Other must-see sites throughout Cinque Terre include the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Soviore in Monterosso, the Convent of the Capuchin Friars in Monterosso, the Castle of Riomaggiore, and the Doria Castle in Vernazza. There are various oratories present throughout the villages, including San Rocco in Riomaggiore, Confraternita dei Bianchi in Monterosso and Disciplinati of Santa Caterina in Corniglia.
Also worth visiting is the Mill of Pié de Campo in Manarola, a perfect off the beaten path destination. Though there were many mills in the area for centuries, this is the only one that was left intact after its closure in 1963. In the past, nearly every family in Manarola had a vineyard and an olive grove. Prior to the advent of electricity, the families would harvest their olives and package them in a jute sack with the family name written on it. Then, the olives would be ground for free at one of Manarola’s five mills. Today, it is possible to visit the mill, which retains its ancient structure and the parts that were once used to grind the olives.
The nearby town of La Spezia hosts many of the region's museums and is simply a short train ride to the east of Riomaggiore. It is home to the well-known Technical Naval Museum, the Museum of Seals, and the Amedeo Lia Museum, featuring the art collection by the museum's namesake artist.
FAMILY & KIDS
The Cinque Terre area offers a variety of adventures for those visiting as a family. Travelers of all ages can enjoy exploring the villages on foot. One of the most well-known trails is the Via dell'Amore, or Street of Love. Connecting Riomaggiore and Manarola, this trail is low in difficulty and takes roughly twenty minutes to complete. Because it winds along the rocky cliffs, it is renowned for its enchanting atmosphere and panoramic views. The special name derives from a local belief that the trail was used by lovers from Riomaggiore and Manarola. After a mudslide that occurred in 2012, the famous path was closed for major renovations with plans to re-open in 2023.
Other travelers may enjoy counting the more than 300 stairs of the Lardarina path that connects the town of Corniglia to its train station. To visit each of the Cinque Terre villages, follow the Sentiero Azzuro (Blue Trail), which runs from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. Experienced hikers may wish to follow the Sentiero Rosso (Ridge Trail #1 or Red Trail). This trail runs along the ridges at higher elevations and is connected to the villages by smaller, transversal paths. The Red Trail is the best way to experience the cliffside sanctuaries of the Cinque Terre villages. With so much to see, many travelers can easily spend a few days exploring the maze of roads and trails found in and between each village.
Each of the five villages has a parco giochi, or playground, for kids to burn off some energy. One in particular will be enjoyed by family members of all ages. In Manarola, Punta Bonfiglio, a panoramic viewpoint, offers a playground in addition to some of the best views of the Italian Riviera. Parents can also enjoy the café located just below. To cool off after some play time, families can venture to one of the local gelaterie for a few scoops of gelato.
To incorporate a bit of history into the visit, families can be ready to take on the pirates. During the Middle Ages, the villages were forced to seek protection from the frequent pirate attacks they faced. Watchtowers were erected in order for guards to stand watch over the sea, and many remain standing and ready to be explored today. Monterosso's defense system included as many as 13 watchtowers, a protective city wall, the Castle of Monterosso, and the Aurora Tower. Built by Genoa, this sixteenth century tower remains at the bottom of the hill right in the village center. In Vernazza, evidence of security measures can be observed in the remnants of the bastions and the hilltop Doria Castle, located just above the village port.
The beautiful coastline and crystal blue waters cannot be forgotten. From watching the sunset or having a picnic on the beach to swimming and taking a ferry ride, there are activities for travelers of all ages. Ferry excursions are a popular choice as they run frequently from March to November, with stops at each village as well as neighboring towns, such as Portovenere and La Spezia.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN CINQUE TERRE
In order to maximize a trip to these five fishing villages, visitors should take in one of the more unique experiences available in the vicinity.
The fishermen of Monterosso have perfected the art of anchovy fishing for centuries and that remains evident today with their continued place in the local cuisine. While the locally caught fish must be tasted in its many forms - deep fried, filled with garlic or tomato, or simply salted and incorporated into a pizza or pasta dish - visitors must also visit Monterosso's Anchovy Salting Center. They will learn about the perfected fishing techniques and have the opportunity to observe how the local workers clean, salt, and prepare the anchovies for consumption.
The spectacular villages of the Cinque Terre offer the very best of the Italian Riviera, from cultural events to gorgeous scenery and historic architecture. When traveling to the Cinque Terre, plan a slow-paced trip in order to savor every moment.
Buongiorno Guilia,We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Italia. The tour guide was great and the local tour guides were excellent. Our companion
Hi Tommaso, As we come to the end of our time in Monterosso, I would like to thank you and the rest of your team for looking after us so wel