The Cinque Terre are a jagged stretch of coast of the Ligurian Riviera di Levante (Riviera of La Spezia) located in the province of La Spezia between Punta Mesco and Punta di Montenero, where there are five villages listed from west to east: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore.
Monterosso is the western and most populous of the Cinque Terre. Its geographical position makes it the most strategic village of the five: in fact, Monterosso rises at the foot of the ridge on which the three main road directions of the district converge: the provincial street 36 from the Val di Vara (which connects with the Aurelia), the state road Litoranea and the S.P. 43 (from Levanto to the Litoranea).
Monterosso is located in the center of a small natural gulf, protected by a modest artificial cliff. To the west of the country, beyond the Colle dei Cappuccini, is the town of Fegina, a natural tourist and seaside expansion of the small original village, where the railway station is located and where there are beaches of thin gravel. Compared to the other fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre, the relatively larger beaches are found in Monterosso, due to the size of the gulf on which the town faces.
Proceeding from west to east, after Monterosso al Mare there is Vernazza. The village rises on a small promontory that is inserted into the sea, reachable by a road that descends from the S.S. “Seaside”.
It is believed that the name derives from the Latin adjective verna, meaning “of the place”, “indigenous”, but it is also plausible that it may be linked to the most famous local product: the wine called Vernaccia. According to others the derivation would be attributed to the Latin prediale (Gens) Vulnetia, which would designate a family that owns funds.
Its small port guarantees a safe landing place, since the times of the Maritime Republics, in a natural inlet that allows the mooring of boats and makes it even more characteristic and suggestive; it is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.
Corniglia is in a central position with respect to the other towns of the Cinque Terre, located to the east of the municipal capital of Vernazza and Monterosso, and to the west of Manarola and Riomaggiore.
It differs from the other Cinque Terre towns since it is the only village that does not directly overlook the sea, but is located on a promontory about a hundred meters high, surrounded by vineyards cultivated on the characteristic terraced terraces, except on the side that looks towards the sea.
To reach Corniglia, it is necessary to climb a long stairway called Lardarina, consisting of 33 ramps with 382 steps, or take the road that connects it to the train station. Furthermore, Corniglia is united to Vernazza by a suggestive promenade halfway between the summit and the sea.
Manarola was born from the displacement of populations that moved from the Val di Vara towards the sea to exploit its resources. Its name derives, perhaps, from the Latin Manium arula, which means “small temple dedicated to the Mani”.
Located on a promontory high above the sea, the town develops in the gorge that descends towards the sea, enclosed between two rocky spurs, hosting a small landing place. Among the five villages, it is the smallest after Corniglia.
The village rises in the final part of the valley of the Groppo stream. The houses overlook one another on the main street, built following the covering of the waterway and therefore called by the inhabitants U Canâ (the Canal).
Riomaggiore is the easternmost of the Cinque Terre. The historic center, whose original nucleus dates back to the 13th century, is located in the valley of the Rio Maggiore stream, the ancient Rivus Major, from which the village takes its name.
The built-up area is composed of several parallel orders of Genoese tower houses that follow the steep course of the stream. The new district of the Station, so called because it developed from the second half of the nineteenth century with the arrival of the railway, is instead located in the adjacent valley of the Rio Finale, so called because it once marked the border between the lands of Riomaggiore and those of Manarola.
The two valleys on which the inhabited area extends are separated by the steep coast of Campiòne. The Rio Maggiore valley is dominated by Monte Verugola, whose three peaks, depicted in the municipal coat of arms, have always represented the symbol of the village.
The Cinque Terre are equally famous for the culinary specialties typical of these places.
Tourism is one of the most profitable sources of the Cinque Terre economy.
There are very varied and particular forms of tourism, ranging from the classic seaside tourism especially in the towns of Monterosso, Manarola, Vernazza and Riomaggiore, where there is the material possibility of accessibility to the sea, to increasingly new forms of tourism linked to local culture and the possibility of practicing sports in an area rich in natural riches.
Monterosso has a receptive structure very equipped for the reception of seaside tourism, but along the coast there are typical small beaches at the bottom of small natural inlets; one of these is the Guvano beach.
Due to the influx of tourists, particularly during the summer, the number of inhabitants of the Cinque Terre also multiplies by 10 times.
Enogastronomic tourism is also very developed, thanks to the typical productions of the local land and of fishing, but recently there are tourist possibilities related to sports activities such as underwater fishing, trekking and mountain bike excursions.
Cultural tourism has been developed thanks to the many initiatives implemented in the individual locations. The Aria Festival was recently organized, an international festival of street artists, also held in the nearby towns of Porto Venere and on the island of Palmaria.
In 2007 the largest nativity scene in the world was built in Manarola, consisting of about 300 characters made with recycled materials, spread over 4,000 square meters among the vineyards, illuminated by 15,000 light bulbs connected by 8 kilometers of caves.