Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza. Three of five villages known for the colourful little houses located on the shore of Ligurian sea in Italy. This year I have visited them already two times and enjoyed both visits (even except those massive crowds of people). The first article is here: Cinque Terre.
Let’s begin! 🙂
Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the Cinque Terre. It was first mentioned in the 13th century. The founders of the village moved from the hills to the sea, and built 3-4-storey houses on the rocky, steep territory. The houses have two entrances, one at the front and one at the back, usually higher up. The buildings were constructed this way not only because of the steep hills, but also for safety reasons, so that the inhabitants could escape in case of Saracen attacks.
The village was built in the valley of the Rivus Maior (river), hence the name. The river was covered, it’s now running under the main street. From the main street, Via Colombo, many sets of steps lead to small alleys further up the hill. The word “carruggio” refers to the tiny, narrow back alleys that you will find all around the Cinque Terre and Liguria. The houses are built close to one another, not much sun enters the back alleys, so they are nice and cool even during the hot summer months. Riomaggiore is like a labyrinth of alleys and steps to be honest.
The village is divided into two by the railway line. The area by the sea with the colourful little boats (gozzi) and the drying nets is the fishing village (borgo dei pescatori) where tourists enjoy the mediterranean sun, local fishermen take a siesta, and you can watch a beautiful sunset from small seafood restaurants. The rocky beach of Riomaggiore can also be found around here, just take the trail to the left, along the sea.
Of course the fishermen work as well, at night or early morning, and many local traditional dishes are still based on the catch from the sea. From the main street (and station), you can get to the fishing village through the underpass, following the “Marina” sign. Right behind the tunnel will amazing views opens up.
The upper part is the agricultural village (borgo dei contadini), surrounded by terraces. This is where you’ll find Via Colombo, the steep main street, with lot of steps on both sides. The main street is full of restaurants, bars and small shops. Above the railway lines a nice piazza was created, one of the few flat areas in the village. This is where kids are running around and playing soccer after school.
Further up, near the church runs Via Telemaco Signorini, named after the famous Italian impressionist painter. The Florence-born artist discovered Riomaggiore in 1860, then later returned several times, lived and worked in the village. He created beautiful paintings about the unique landscape and the life of the local people.
The main street and the railway station are connected by a long pedestrian tunnel. Pay attention to the nice mosaics! Near the station as well as on the walls of the Town Hall you will see the murals of an Italian-Argentinian artist named Silvio Benedetto. His interesting artworks are inspired by the hard work of local farmers.
Traditionally the famous coastal hiking path, the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue path) begins in Riomaggiore. The first section – between Riomaggiore and Manarola – is called Via dell’Amore (Lover’s path). The path begins near the railway station with a set of steps; you will see the “Via dell’Amore” sign. Unfortunately the Via dell’Amore is currently closed because of a rock slide.
Try to arrive early before the big groups arrive, then it gets too busy and crowded. If you are staying in the village, it’s worth getting up early as this time of the day you will meet locals only. Get some fresh fruit and warm pastry for breakfast, and watch the fish vendor and the old ladies chatting in the street.
Quite a few seafood takeaway places popped up in Riomaggiore during the past years. Although I am a big fan of slow food, these can be good options if you just want a quick bite and something cheaper than restaurants. Try “Il Pescato Cucinato” or “Mamma Mia!”.
Riomaggiore is also a good choice for young people who want to go out in the evening, sit around in bars and meet other travellers. Bar O’Netto and Vertical Bar are popular these days. Of course if you walk off the busy main street, you will find numerous wonderful, quiet little streets in Riomaggiore as well. Great (and not so expensive) accommodations are offered in quiet places with great seaview, so Riomaggiore can also be a good base for discovering the Cinque Terre.
Manarola, built on a high rock 70 metres above sea level, is one of the most charming and romantic of the Cinque Terre villages.The tiny harbor features a boat ramp, picturesque multicoloured houses facing the sea, a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants.
Along the main road the boatsare pulled onto dry land every time the sea is rough. Although there is no real beach here, it has some of the best deep-water swimming around.
The village is all ups and downs, with steep narrow alleys carrugi, leading to the sea. If you want to venture up to the top of Manarola, make sure you check out the church. Today it serves as a religious and community meeting place, but in more ancient times, the bell tower was used as a post to watch for potential pirate raids. Another peculiarity of Manarola is a pyramid in white cement whose peak can be seen rising between the taller houses and is used as a navigational reference point for all those at sea.
The grapevines that surround Manarola produce the Cinque Terre wine, Sciacchetrà. The bustling main street and waterfront promenade are still lined with fishing boats and other such reminders of everyday village life. Punta Bonfiglio, a short uphill hike, has fabulous views and a playground with a bar (or a bar with a playground, depending on your priorities).
/more about Manarola in the article mentioned before/
Vernazza is a pearl of the Cinque Terre, the most splendid of all five towns. The beautiful church of Margaret of Antioch dated the beginning of the 14th century is standing near the Belforte Tower and the ruins of the castle that was created in the 9th century. On the square facing the bay there are many Italian cuisine restaurants. The population of Vernazza is slightly more than 1000 people.
The fortified town is mentioned in documents starting a early as the 1080 and served as a military/naval base for marchesi Obertenghi as they worked to defend the coast from the Saracen pirates raids which often devastated the small towns to the left and right. For the next two hundred years, Vernazza was key to Genova’s conquest of Liguria, providing port, fleet, and soldiers till they were eventually consumed by Pisa.
The Festa dei Pirati, takes place every year as a floating festival since there is no fixed date…but the fun is guaranteed when it all goes down after about 10 at night! Dressed as pirates accompanied by a percussion group called “Batebalengo”, the town is “invaded” by saracen pirates reenacting the famous raids which tormented their ancestors hundreds of years ago.
In Vernazza, you will find the typical Italian piazza where the locals would gather to “gossip” or spend time together. In local dialect of course, which is known as “u cantu de musse”, and is one of the more characteristic corners of town.
Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia
The octagonal tower of 40 meters and the entrance, located in the apse side rather than in the facade side makes this church stand out for its exceptional simplicity and beauty and it also makes the choice for the brides in the area. St. Marguerite is the patron saint, and legend tells of a treasure chest containing the bones of her hand beached on the shore of Vernazza, lost and then found again. The people of Vernazza saw it as a sign to build the church on the same spot where the bones were found. The church is mentioned for the first time 1318, however there are some debates as to its actual construction since the materials and mode of construction could place its origins earlier, some time in the 12th century. The Feast of Santa Margherita is on 20th of July when the town celebrates with a festival and fireworks.
The Doria castle contains one of the few of the original watch towers that protected Vernazza and its people during the reign of the Republic of Genoa.
The Sanctuary of our Lady of Regio
Located two kilometers above the train station, the sanctuary sits where it’s thought to be the site of the first town, before it moved closer to the coast. There’s a path which you can follow to the 11th century sanctuary to view the Madonna di Reggio, a black-skinned Madonna which many call the “l’Africana”. This image was apparently brought here to Vernazza at the time of the crusades and it’s venerated by many. The feast of the Madonna di Reggio is celebrated on the first of August.
City Walls and Convent
The Convent of the Reformed Fathers of St. Francis is now the government headquarters in Vernazza. Nestled in the city walls, it’s possible to view tower (once one of the city watch towers), cloister and a church which is no longer in use. This exceptionally beautiful convent was newly restored, bringing to life 14 marble covered tombs with latin inscriptions underneath the church floor.
There are two possible beaches in Vernazza. The first and easiest to get to is near the harbour, with small sandy beach and another one (a bit larger) which can be reached from the main square of the city.
And finally, how to get there?
Well, either you will arrive by car and then try to far a parking lot, rent a boat in La Spezia and spend the day there (prices are around 100€ for a family and I honestly think this is the best option…I haven’t tried it this way unfortunately and I regret it). Or another way to see this magical place is by getting there by a train. Full timetable and all the prices can be found here: Trains from La Spezia to Cinque Terre.
Have a great time! 🙂