The five kaleidoscopic villages of the Cinque Terre, nestled in the hills of the Italian Riviera, are undoubtedly the highlight of any visit to northern Italy. And, judging by the massive flood of tourists and omnipresence in social feeds, the idyllic cluster of untouched-by-time villages in the northwestern region of Liguria is the highlight of every trip to northern Italy.
That makes sense, because Cinque Terre is absolutely gorgeous. The World Heritage Site is the very picture of what you'd envision if you closed your eyes and imagined a Riviera utopia. Each hamlet provides an exhilarating composition of heart-stirring vistas between vineyard covered cliffs. Traditional Ligurian cuisines like trofie al pesto and anchovies are prepared in a variety of ways, and soulful locals welcoming you to their ancestral land. It's pure Italy, but it's not the whole picture.
While you can (and should) easily spend days exploring Cinque Terre -- hiking from Riomaggiore to Monterosso; indulging in copious amounts of gelato and sun-drenched aperitivos at 11th century tower turned restaurant Torre Aurora as the sea lulls you with its hypnotic melody -- there’s much more to feast your eyes on along the bucolic Mediterranean coastline. To truly experience this unforgettable Ligurian destination requires exploring the surrounding areas.
My own love affair with the Cinque Terre began during an around-the-world journey in 2007, and grew more profound after serendipitously meeting my husband, a native of Monterosso al Mare, the largest of the five villages. With every encounter I become more deeply enamored with this Ligurian landscape and its neighboring communities. And it's those lesser-known towns and villages -- off the beaten path, but not prohibitively so -- that truly capture the timeless, ethereal beauty of the region. Here's how to best enjoy and explore them.