The Cinque terra (the “Five Lands”) is a rugged coastline area of north-west Italy in the small region of Liguria. The region hugs the coastline of northern Italy until you cross the border into France. Genoa is the capital of this region and is about 88 kms north of Monterosso, the first of the five villages (or the last, depending on where you start from!) that make up the Cinque Terre. It is a popular tourist region, partly because the locals have been building terraces above their sea-side villages for many centuries and visitors feel like they are cut off from the cares of the rest of the world, locked between the sea, the wide sky and the rugged, rocky coastline. The area is very attractive for hikers that love the challenge of walking between the villages; along the coastline if the tracks are open or the longer ways over the mountains.
Due to the nature of the geography of the Cinque Terre, using a car to get there is not a good option. The villages are not designed for cars and parking is very limited and inconvenient. Depending on which direction you are coming from, it is best to catch the train to La Spezia and then catch the train to whichever of the villages you have booked accommodation in. On the first occasion I visited the area in 2009, we were booked into a small apartment up on the hill behind Monterosso. If we spent the day with any of the long walks between the villages, the walk home up-hill at the end of the day was a challenge. However, once we got home, the views out over the village and the sea were wonderful. Our host for some reason had installed a keg of beer outside the rooms where guests could go and personally serve themselves a refreshing ale at the end of a day’s hike; it was great way to relax and recover for tomorrows walk.
Monterosso, as can be seen in the image above, has a large beach in front of the town, unlike the rocky sea-fronts of the other towns along the Cinque Terre. As a result, it is very popular in the summer months with tourists. At the back of the beach-front esplanade, there are plenty of shops for the visitor to inspect. Here can also be found the local parish church of St John the Baptist built between 1282-1307. It can’t be seen clearly in the photo on the right below but there is a lovely painting over the front door of the Baptism of Christ. In the photo of the beach front further down, the bell tower of the church can be seen towering over the village. This tower was originally designed as a watch tower. The Cinque Terre towns were a regular prey of coastal pirates so watch-towers were very important for the villagers’ protection. At one point in its history, Monterosso had 13 such towers but today only 3 are left. On the walk out of town towards Vernazza, the Aurora Tower can be seen on the headland. (See bottom of photo above).
One of the curiosities of Monterosso that I came upon on one of my morning walks along the town path that heads north was the famous ‘Il Gigante’. Just past the northern end of the beach is a rocky outcrop and back in 1910, the Italian sculptor Arrigo Minerbi built a statue of Neptune from concrete with a trident and a gigantic shell on his head. Unfortunately war and weather has not been kind to this image of Neptune who is today armless and without his trident and conch, struggling to escape from the grip of the rocks that still hold him bound. Towards the end of World War II, Monterosso was part of Mussolini’s territory and so it was a target for allied bombing and Neptune was one of the victims. Heavy seas since then have also not been kind to both Neptune and his home village of Monterosso.
We returned to the Cinque Terre for a few days in 2014 but unfortunately the coastal walks were closed and so we had to use the less attractive ways of visiting Monterosso which was either by train or by boat. This was due to severe rains in 2011 and then again in 2012 when the heavy rains and rock falls caused much damage to the coastal paths, particularly the hiking trail we took that day back in 2009. The sign below explaining the issues was posted up in Monterosso in 2014.
Today there are still weather issues affecting the hiking trails of the Cinque Terre so it is always a good idea to check ahead to see which trails are open at the time of you potential visit. I look back at our first walk in 2009 from Monterosso to Vernazza, so pleased we were able to see the view of the beautiful town of Vernazza, starting to appear around the cliffs ahead of us as in the image below.