When someone thinks of places to visit in Italy, Rome, Venice and Florence are probably the first cities that spring to mind for their history, monuments and those views often seen in postcards and movies.
But for hiking enthusiasts, and beach lovers alike, one area worth visiting is in the North West of Italy in the region of Liguria. Here we find Cinque Terre (literally translated as Five Lands) a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of five villages built on rock cliffs by the sea.
There are a number of ways to get around the area: by train, by boat but the majority of people prefer to walk along the path that connects the villages. A small fee is charged to visit the Cinque Terre (€ 6 in 2013, € 12 to include unlimited access for 1 day to the train connecting the villages)
The entire distance (11 kilometres) can be covered in one day by walking along the trail known as Sentiero Azzurro in either direction; most people start at Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages where the train coming from Genoa stops.
Here the section of the path is known as “Via dell’Amore” (Lovers Walk) and it is custom for couples to secure padlocks with their initials on fences along the path and throw the key in the sea wishing for eternal love.
A short walk will take you to the second village, Manarola, a picture-perfect enclave built around a natural harbour considered by many the most picturesque of the five villages.
After Manarola the path leaves the seaside and climbs up to the village of Corniglia reached by a set of rock steps.
This village stands half way on the Cinque Terre trail so it is probably a good idea to stop here for lunch or a refreshing ice-cream before continuing to Vernazza, another much photographed village. Here there is the option to visit the watch tower from which good views of the area can be enjoyed or go and spend some time on the small beach by the harbour.
The last part of the trail ends at Monterosso al Mare, the biggest of the five villages and the place with the most choices of accommodation, restaurants and with a long sandy beach.
The idyllic setting and the quiet life of the people living in the Cinque Terre was greatly disrupted in October 2011 when flash floods caused great damage in the villages with Monterosso al Mare the most affected. Locals are now counting on tourists to help them to contribute to the rebuilding process of this corner of Italy offering in exchange warm hospitality, freshly prepared food and a glass of Limoncello to toast La Dolce Vita!