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Cinque Terre

Clinging to a particularly rugged curve of the Italian Rivera's north-western coastline, the Cinque Terre ('Five Lands') are five separate villages that, since the eleventh century, have remained largely immune to modernisation to retain the traditions and charm of a bygone era.

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Almost entirely inaccessible by road, the five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, are linked by a railway line or can be reached by boat. A footpath also connects the five villages. Between them, the Cinque Terre, the hills dotted with the vineyards and olive groves that contribute towards their economy, and the sheer-cliffed coastline on which they perch have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The dramatic natural beauty and unspoilt charm of the Cinque Terre has elevated the popularity of these unique villages as a tourist destination. Each village is enjoyable to explore and has its own character. Monterosso - the northernmost village - most resembles a modern resort, featuring a sandy beach and several restaurants, shops and hotels. Vernazza has a smaller beach, but is notable for its ancient clock towers and labyrinthine streets. Atop a hill overlooking the sea, tiny Corniglia is peaceful and offers spectacular coastal views. Manarola's shoreline caves invite exploration whilst locally-caught anchovies are a speciality here. Riomaggiore is another fishing village, but boasts and ancient defensive castle and a good selection of shops selling Italian delicacies.

In addition to their UNESCO status, the Cinque Terre also constitute a protected marine area and a national park. As such, exploration on foot is the best and most popular way to gain an appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of this region of the Italian Riviera.

Numerous footpaths and hiking trails traverse the hills and terraces between the villages, although at any particular time some may be closed or inadvisable to follow due to the ever-present risk of landslides. Nevertheless, there are always likely to be trails available for walkers of all abilities and any opportunity to experience the magnificence and diversity of the Cinque Terre's landscapes and sea views should not be missed.

Thanks to their long history, the five villages possess many fine historic buildings, monuments and churches. Of particular note are the Gothic-styled Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia which overlooks Vernazza's harbour and which dates back to 1318, the tiny but beautiful Church of San Lorenzo in Manarola and the seventeenth-century Church of San Francesco in Monterosso which features a wooden altar and choir, several artistic masterpieces (one attributed to Van Dyck) and a vaulted refectory.

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