Perched high above the sea, the Cinque Terre National Park, Unesco World Heritage Site, is a Mediterranean jewel.
Located north of Tuscany and south of Genoa on the rugged Ligurian coast known as the Italian Riviera, the five fishing villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare offer a relaxed alternative to the more cosmopolitan French Riviera.
With steep, terraced slopes overlooking pebble beaches and the sea, the Cinque Terre is a paradise for hikers, sun worshipers and those looking for miles of unspoiled natural beauty. After a day’s touring—on foot, as the villages largely don’t allow cars—visitors are rewarded with the region’s fresh seafood and cool, crisp white wine.
Where to Stay
The villages are very close together, so choose one as your home base to explore the entire area. Monterosso al Mare, the largest of the five villages and the only one that offers resort amenities, boasts the most accommodation options, but there are a number of bed and breakfasts and rental homes in the four smaller villages. Even though Monterosso al Mare allows cars on some of its streets, most hotels are only accessible by foot.
For dazzling views, stay at the cliffside Hotel Porto Roca, which boasts unobstructed vistas from its many balconies and terraces. Located just minutes from Monterosso al Mare’s historic center, the hotel offers free shuttle service from the nearest parking lot or the local train station for guests.
The Local Wines
Cinque Terre’s namesake wine is a white made primarily from the native grapes Bosco and Albarola, although some producers include Vermentino.
Grown in narrow, steeply terraced vineyards that weave along cliffs jutting out over the Ligurian coast, winemaking here is defined as heroic viticulture because of the difficulty to work the rocky, craggy terrain. Everything from vineyard maintenance to harvesting is done by hand.
Styles range from crisp, light-bodied whites with heady aromas of wild flower and citrus flavors, like those made at the Cantina Cinque Terre cooperative cellar, to vibrant, full-bodied, complex wines boasting sage, citrus zest and intense mineral notes.
Walter De Battè’s savory wine, which he doesn’t label as Cinque Terre, has the structure of a red wine, thanks to extended skin contact during fermentation. “The soul of any wine is in the skins,” he says. “We have a pristine growing environment, and the minerals and briny notes from the sea accumulate on yeasts found on the skins.”
Celebrated Barolo producer Elio Altare has fallen in love with the Cinque Terre, and turns out mineral-driven wines with depth and structure under his Cinqueterre Campogrande label.
The real jewel of Cinque Terre is the dessert wine, Sciacchetrà, pronounced shahk-eh-TRA. Made with the same blend as Cinque Terre, this rare nectar is made from the best grapes grown closest to the sea. After harvesting, the berries dry out on mats for several months. Made in tiny amounts, the top bottles offer sensations of honey, dried apricot, pastry cream, candied tangerine, hazelnut and dried sage.