Italy’s Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands” is a collection of seaside villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) placed intermittently along an 18km path of jagged cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea in the Italian Riviera. The mountains are choked with dry-stone-wall vineyards (where growers still use monorail mechanisms to get up to the grapes) and dense olive groves. Getting from one village to the next is possible only via train, or by hiking.
When I was there it was the dead middle of winter, and gray, yet still remarkable. The pace was sleepy, the food exceptional, and the drink? A’ plenty. But this is the Mediterranean coast and there’s no better time to go then summer for getting in some Italian sun at the villages’ beaches – even if you do have to fight the crowds a bit.
Levanto…doesn’t belong on this list. Technically it’s not part of Cinque Terre, but we’re going to ignore that. It’s close enough and it’s a great spot. The beach in Levanto runs the entire length of the bay, and if you take off on the paved walkway toward Bonassola you can find secluded beaches along the way. As for the town itself, it has something to offer everyone, from the stingiest of dirtbag backpackers to the wealthy, luxury-style tourists.
Vernazza…was covered in mud last October when floods came crashing down through the village and thoroughly screwed up what was once a quaint little harbor. Luckily, workers dove into the muck and fixed everything, and now Vernazza is back in tip-top shape.
Guvano… is home to what some claim is one of the best beaches in Italy (It’s actually between Guvano and Vernazza). It’s also perhaps one of the most challenging to get to. There are two options: 1) Hike down on unkempt trails and risk getting lost and dying, or 2) take to the sea and sail/paddle/kayak to it. Check in town to find out about boat tours, or if you’ve got the cash and the skill, rentals of the aquatic variety.
Monterosso… is the Santa Monica of the Cinque Terre. The beach there is actually a sunbathing spot with cafés, ice cream shops and umbrella rentals. It’s also large and has rich blue water for swimming.
For the adventurous, the entire Cinque Terre stretch has secluded beaches accessible only from the water. Unless you have a private yacht, you’ve got your work cut out for you as you’ll have to paddle kayaks or something similar to reach them. But what’s better than being on a beach – alone or with a lover – that few people have ever even seen?
By Bryan Schatz