For many years I’ve dreamed of strolling through the narrow streets in the five quintessential villages of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre. Each village nestled deeply into the crevices of the rocky hillsides which cascade into the Mediterranean Sea. With homes painted in a multitude of earthy colors, adorning fresh flowers on the balconies and vines on the walls. For me, this is one place that was on our must see list while on our 6 week European Road Trip in 2013. Luckily the family was up for the day trip from our campsite in Monotpoli, about a 90 min drive each way.
Cinque Terre –
Cinque Terre is along the North West Mediterranean coast or the Italian Riviera. The literal translation of Cinque Terre is “Five Lands” in this case referring to the five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Let’s walk through Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre Italy
Come with me on a photo walk along the main street of the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. Cars are only allowed up near the main road and there is very limited parking available. When we stopped by the tourist information center in La Spezia, she recommended that we park the car there and take a ferry to the villages. With this information in hand, we did the standard Wagoner move and ignored her advice. We were determined to have our freedom with our car and go check out the villages.
Off we went on the 15 minute drive into the Cinque Terre National Park, after stopping a few times for the ooh ahh scenic views, we made it to Riomaggiore. Just at the top of the village the Wagoner luck came into play. We managed to find a very tiny parking garage and left the car to rest for a few hours. It was one of the last 2 spots left in the garage, so perfect timing for sure.
We happily ditched the car and were all very excited to explore the village below. Riomaggiore stretches along the cliffs vertically, where steep paths and staircases are the only means to move around the town. Together we made our descent from the top of the village perched on the ridges, down through the center, all the way to the sea. Come along and we will show you around.
The brightly colored slate roofed houses are perched from the hills stacked side by side, a truly spectacular sight to see. These houses are known as tower houses and are usually 3 or 4 floors high with just two rooms to each floor, making the design very narrow and vertical.
This particular home had the front door slightly ajar. I just couldn’t resist stopping for a quick photo, with the hopes of a peek inside or hopefully the owner would come out and we could exchange our salutations. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so we just left with the photo.
The name Riomaggiore meaning ‘major river’ comes from the days when a major river ran through the village. This river is now paved over and has become the main road in Riomaggiore. This is for pedestrians only, excluding a few very small delivery vehicles. There were plenty of shops, bakeries and restaurants to enjoy. We did stop and have some unbelievable gnocchi, pasta and pizza.
Down towards the bottom of the village or what we thought was the bottom, was an arch way with a huge plaza above. Of course the kids made a bee line for the plaza, as they envisioned “running around time”. We let them run ahead and explore.
It was interesting to see such a vast plaza almost suspended like a hammock between the tower houses. This must be the only area where the little ones can get out and run around. Along the railings were bicycles, scooters and toys all locked up awaiting the next time the children come to play.
On the far side of the plaza we peered over the railing and there was even more to this village, but how do we get down there? We began to meander along the side paths to see where they would take us. The were no wider than a few feet and they were full of stairs!
It was difficult to keep walking as we were all in awe of the architecture, character and even the stray cats looming around. We weren’t sure we were supposed to be here, as it felt like we were in everyone’s personal space, but this was the only path we could find that continued down.
As we turned a corner we found an incredibly steep set of stairs. Surely this was going to get us to the bottom of the village. Of course as we are descending further and further, in the back of my mind I am thinking “Oh my goodness, we are going to have to go back UP at some point!” Just beyond these stairs we made it into the storybook view I dreamt of.
It was small and quaint and beaming with colors and fresh sea air. This wasn’t enough for us, as off to the left was yet another path. Of course we are all curious and adventurous and feel a need to go see what is just beyond that point. So we continue and venture further.
From here we were able to enjoy the full view of the coastline as well as the walking path along the cliffs to the next village. We didn’t have time to explore the next village as we wanted to hang out in this one a bit longer. Just in front of us was the ferry port and loads of people were beginning to arrive in this adorable village. Many with rolling suitcases, so we had a good laugh and wondered how they were going to navigate this village with those.
I could just look at this view all day! It is so peaceful and the locals in the photo are so “in the moment”, just chilling out looking at all of the crazy tourists. We did hang around this area for quite a while and took the time to soak it all up. Then it was time to begin the trek back up. It wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated and there was so much to see along the way you almost don’t notice you were climbing a hill.
One thing that I recall and wished I had taken a photo of, under the plaza. Just under that plaza was a cave like passage way to the sea. We discovered this on the way back up. And along that passage were little stores and a scuba diving shop as well. How cool would that be? To go scuba diving here…Ah, that will have to be another time.
Thank you for taking this walk with us. We hope you would like to visit Riomaggiore someday too.
Note: You may currently access this village by car, as well as Corniglia and Manarola, from the South via La Spezia. To access Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, you need to enter from the North, as a rock slide has blocked the only road between the villages.