You can be a pigment in the colorful canvas of Cinque Terre

Inside Italy’s five most famous seaside villages…

Italy is an enigmatic lady. She flaunts varied sides of her split personality with equal elan…chic (Milan), arty (Florence), sophisticated (Bellagio), luxe (Capri) to innocent (Varenna), rustic (San Gimignano) or religious (Vatican), romantic (Venice). And if you’re looking for unspoilt and laid-back, there’s Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh). The cluster of five seaside villages stayed hidden from public eye for years, but are now  on every Italy-lover’s wishlist, and for several good reasons. No statues, monuments, museums and street performers here…just the sun, sea, rocky beaches, food, and unadulterated Italy. As its been since centuries.

Settle into the old-fashioned coupe of the compartment in the train that runs from Florence to Monterosso via La Spezia. Can you remain settled as you catch glorious glimpses of electric blue sea through arches of all those tunnels? Flash of blue, flash of blue…gone. Its a spectacle riding along that coast…don’t waste it snoozing!

We chose Monterosso as our base for two practical reasons: oversized suitcase one and oversized suitcase two….weighing roughly 20 kg each. Follow our league if you don’t do low maintenance that well. The uneven stone steps and narrow steep mountain roads of the other villages will challenge the Hercules in you. Pick one of the many family-run hotels, preferably with a view of the lapping aquamarine waters. Some extra glee is always welcome.

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There are trains and ferry boats to see all five villages. Fixed times of the day. Buy a day pass for all five? Oh yes! Next boat slot ten minutes from now? Sure! Make a mad race to the pier, arms flailing, panting and jump aboard. There are halts for a few minutes at each village, you can hop on/hop off as per choice. Ride the Ligurian sea waves with wind in your hair. Head for the last one, Riomaggiore, and make your way back stopping at each of the others. Sshhhh! Let your ears fill with the sound of the waves broken by that adorable sing-song Italian chant by the ferry staff at every stop…Vernaaatza (Vernazza), Corneeeliah (Corniglia) Manarollllah, (Manarola) and Riomaggggioray (Riomaggiore). Music to the ears!

Keep your eyes glued to the six-mile long northern Italian coast…that emerald green landmass kissing the aquamarine blue seas aptly designated a Unesco World Heritage Site to preserve its natural and cultural wonders. Is that multi-coloured spray of paint over that deep ravine? Nah, that’s the first of the dramatic quintuplets…a profusion of pastel houses ending in a rough and rocky cove filled casually with fishing boats. Lively colors to guide fishermen home in the sea mist? Or just another reflection of the essential Italian-esque, like its people, language and food? Maybe both. High above the villages, generously vibrant vineyards swamp steep terraces. Adventure hikers dot the cliffside trails linking the villages. Blend into the canvas of color, dissolve into the rainbow hues from Monterosso to Riomaggiore…five times in a row.

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Same peach-pink-lemon complexion, but each with a distinct persona of its own. Rough-hewn Riomaggiore with its narrow inlet where boats jostle through to a rocky embankment and a steep flight of stone steps from the sea to a narrow path along a rocky cliff-face leading to the village. Dramatic Manarola with its curved upward path circling the hill, promising incredible views of the sea and the village. Hotspot for camera-tripod enthusiasts, especially when the evening lights start to twinkle and create pure magic. Charming and quiet Corniglia with 400 zigzagging steps leading from the train station to the harbour-less hilltop town, where less than 300 live. Vivacious Vernazza with its castle ruins, an ancient church, a natural harbour and even a snazzy promenade. Resort-like Monterosso with a historic centre hiding two lovely churches and crooked lanes decked with lovely arches and inviting shops.

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Siblings with shared genes. Dipped in the same sauce of lazy, laid-back seafaring life and traffic-free charm of centuries-old traditions…untainted, unglamorous, unpolished. Not a branded store in sight, just authentic local-made produce. Welcoming trattorias with fresh Italian and Ligurian specialties like aromatic pesto and focaccia. Bruschetta with ham and cheese, pesto, tomato, or olive paste. Artichoke pizza. Basil spaghetti. Huge slices of soft bread. Spinach and cheese stuffed ravioli doused in basil sauce and pine nuts. Swordfish with diced tomato, olives, capers. Wine to savour. Tiramisu to swoon over. Is that food or is that religion? Eat / pray to your tastebuds content.

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Old men chatting in the afternoon shade near the pier…they’ve probably been replaying this routine since decades. Store owners interacting warmly with shoppers over cheerfully displayed fares. Laundry fluttering outside green shuttered windows of modest homes with ‘less than modest’ sea views. An exuberant red-aproned owner-waitress of a tiny cafe singing and dancing without inhibition as she serves two solitary customers. Just another blissful, sunny day earning daily bread (or focaccia).

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Dive into a life that’s filled with the joys of simple things. Stroll up and down the streets adorned with chipped paint buildings, solve flavour dilemmas at artisanal gelato and pesto shops, indulge in retail therapy in quaint boutiques, perch on parked boats draped with blue-white striped covers, daydream on the froth-edged aqua beach and lounge on the age-old rocks lining the coves. And when the soft golden rays of the sun stream through the cloudy horizon, casting a silvery beam across the navy sea, feel serenity flow gently through your veins. Cinque Terre…Dolce vita!

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Italy's five villages promise sun, sea, rocky beaches, food and unadulterated slice of life.

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