Island Hopping: My Journey Through the Five Villages of Cinque Terre

Charlotte Armstrong, IS – Political Science, ’20

A few summer ago, I had the opportunity of traveling to Cinque Terre, Italy. My dad, who worked and lived in London years back, had a good friend who was Italian and had taken him there during his time in Europe. My dad wanted to take my mom, my sister, and I to see the place he had been so enchanted by the first time he visited. A tucked-away gem of five villages in the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre is off the tourist’s usual beaten path of cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence and beach fronts like Lake Como. “Cinque terre” literally translates to “five lands,” and the villages are isolated by the Mediterranean waters apart from the hiking trails that wind through lush, terraced land.

Riomaggiore is the “main” village, with a garden and a beach. Manarola is the growing site of many grape vines, Corniglia sits on a hill away from the sea, Vernazza is rich with gorgeous views, a plaza right at the edge of the ocean, and a winding stone tower, while Monterosso is closest to the “mainland,” known for its lemon trees.

The way to get from one to another is via these trails or by ferry. While I was in Cinque Terre, I did both. Though I stayed in Monterosso, the region equipped with a train station and a beach, I hiked to Vernazza and Manarola and ferried to Riomaggiore while there. The hikes are not easy ones— in order to keep sure footing, I had to watch where I stepped on the slippery, uneven rocks, between the dewy grasses, and over the strongly rushing streams. Every once in awhile, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the village ahead. Stairs are carved out in the hills, which gave my leg muscles a real workout! During my hike from Monterosso to Vernazza it rained, a dewy, clear sort of rain with big but spaced out raindrops. It was chilly, but my hiking kept me warm.

The terrain in Cinque Terre is extremely hilly— walking to my hotel every evening meant a strenuous, breath-stealing hike up the craggy cliffs. Cliff-diving daredevils pepper the edge of the beaches, and the agriculture on the edges of the villages relies on terraced farming. In the streets of the villages, you can find all sorts of artisan shops with hand-crafted pottery, embroidery, postcards and more. I bought some fresh pasta for my best friend, an apron for myself, and a little china bowl and tea mug for my aunt.There are restaurants and gelato shops, where I tasted my favorite gelato flavor in Italy: Fior di latte, a kind of sweet cream flavor. Most commonly found in the villages are the focaccia shops. Cinque Terre is famous for its focaccia, and the Italian locals say no better focaccia can be found in Italy. Focaccia is a kind of flatbread flavored with olive oil and salt, but the shops in Cinque Terre have all sorts of focaccia flavors: tomato, oregano, even pizza focaccia.

Because of the extensive hiking, Cinque Terre is, in some ways, relaxing, and in some ways, physically exhausting. In all ways, it is beautiful. The Mediterranean Sea is a vast and all-encompassing blue stretch, dotted with boats here and there. There are photogenic, colorful houses dotting the very green hills. Laws preventing locals from painting certain colors preserves the colorful architecture, only made more charming by the vines twirling down the walls, window boxes filled with flowers, and rows of clothes hanging from clotheslines spread between houses.

If you have a chance to go to Cinque Terre, I highly recommend it! I think it will be most beautiful while it is still relatively unknown. While you’re there, make sure to hike or boat to as many villages as you can! Your experience will be more rewarding the more ambitious you are with your itinerary. Most of all, drink in your surroundings. My favorite part about visiting Cinque Terre was experiencing the true, local Italian culture. Sitting in the square in Vernazza gave me a fascinating chance to people-watch, and to dip my toes into the chilly Mediterranean sea. There is no better way to make the most of your travels than to immerse yourself in local culture, and Cinque Terre is no different. If you pay proper attention to the villages, they will reward you!

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