The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) refers to five remote villages along the Ligurian coast of Italy. South of Genoa and just a little north of La Spezia (an interesting naval town) the towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are technically the five towns, all nestled onto sheer cliffs at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. A few smaller towns higher up the hills are also included in the national park.
This is the town of Manarola which is where we started and where we left the car which is not of much use in the Cinque Terre region. The best way to get around is the coastal line train between towns or just walking. Definitely a tourist attraction, the five towns support tourism but don't really embrace it and certainly don't go overboard. Some towns feature nothing more than a couple out of the way cafes and maybe one small hotel. This view of Manarola is somewhat deceptive, while there is a small (very small) harbor at the bottom of the town it does not come to the water's edge for the most part, as it clear in the next picture.
This is Manarola seen from along the coast (where the train station is located). A tremendously scenic walking path connects the five villages along the coast (admission to the national park is required). The section from Manarola to Riomaggiore is the most popular.
Here the path can be seen (the protective fence along the lower parts of the cliff) as well as the road access (way up on top the cliffs). The cliffs themselves are heavily terraced with a variety of crops growing in the region. In the summer months a ferry service also connects the villages (and La Spezia). More rigorous hiking paths lead up the hills to the higher towns or to dramatic overlooks.
The park contains a few natural areas like this grove of cacti on the lower slopes. Just as impressive is the collective works of two millenia of human habitation in the area.
Over 7,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) of stone walls has made the terracing possible. Mostly planted with grapes, citrus and other fruit trees are also popular. Lemons in particular are a favorite and the outskirts of each town are crowded with treacherous looking private gardens maintained by the residents.
The north end of the park near Monterosso has one section of sandy beach but for the most part it is rocky and not particularly hospitable for small boats. The harbors of the five towns are difficult at best. This is the sea entrance to Riomaggiore.
Here is David on a typical street in Riomaggiore. Intersections like these make exploring fun, unless you have to be somewhere (like a train station) at a particular time.
Riomaggiore is supposedly the park headquarters although the tourist office there didn't seem any more significant than those elsewhere in the Cinque Terre. In fact the town was more or less deserted during our visit. Riomaggiore has a small 'castle' in the town as well. While the coastal hiking track is fairly easy walking, the towns themselves are not. Cobblestone heavily-inclined streets are common. Some of the roads in the upper reaches of the park also offer spectacular views (particularly near Volastra). If you don't like tiny winding cliff roads with no guard rails whatsoever, you might want to stick to the train.