This location on the Ligurian Sea has been on my bucket list for several years, and a recent cruise allowed us to spend seven hours exploring the delights of four of the five "lands". We started with a bus trip from Livorno, passing the leaning tower of Pisa on our way. An excellent tour guide provided us with historical and geographical info as we drove via La Spezia to Riomaggiore. Once off the bus, we walked down a very steep hill over uneven cobblestones. The town is built into the base of very jagged stone clifts which drop down to the sea. There is a "no cars allowed" policy, but during the day residents can come and go.
First, as another reviewer noted, hiking between the towns is not allowed now. Landslides have closed several sections of the trails, particularly the famous "Lover's Walk". But, boats and trains still connect them, so touring is very much a possibility. We used both of them during our stay.
It was market day in Riomagiorre, and the streets were filled with vendors selling everything from paper towels to fresh fish. We had a glimpse of the inside of one of the homes, and the steepness of the stairs would eliminate this reviewer from living here. In fact, if you aren't in great shape, it would be impossible to live in these towns. That said, the warm, almost tropical breezes from the sea, the lushness of the grape vines and olive trees make it an enviable place to stay. Our guide told us there were almost as many bed and breakfasts in these towns as there are houses!
From Riomaggiore we departed by train to Manarola, another town similar to Riomaggiore with its midieval homes perched on rocky outcroppings. The entire five hamlets have been turned into a National Park and proclaimed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Once again, the houses are remarkable, and the narrow streets between them make auto driving impossible. It was in Manarola that we fully began to appreciate how difficult it is to harvest the grapes and olives. The terraces for agriculture are also cut into the steep rocks, and they are very high on the bluffs, quite a bit of distance from the town. Cultivation of the crops would be great for another essay.
We sat in the sun on the quay to await our boat for transportation to Vernazza (we skipped Corniglia). In Vernazza we had a wine and pesto tasting. The pesto is the best I think I've ever had (yes, I brought a jar home with me).
By now you may be tired of reading this, but I hope you'll bear with me until I get you to Monterosso, the most southern and largest of the five towns. This beautiful area has both old and new cities connected by a tunnel. Monterosso also has the largest beach, with plenty of umbrellas and chairs for rent. This town also has a four star hotel, though we didn't visit it. After walking through both towns, we decided to find a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the sea. Sunning ourselves, drinking local wine, and eating local seafood was a fantastic gift.
There is so much more I could tell you about this area, but I'll leave you with the recommendation to visit if at all possible.
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