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Where to go and what to do, among sea, hills and colourful villages

Where the Apennines plunge into the Ligurian sea there’s a magical place: the Cinque Terre, consisting of the delightful towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It has also been a National Park since 1999.

One of the best and most picturesque ways of visiting the area is to take the train, which travels right along the coast.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE

Here you’ll find the largest sandy beaches of the Cinque Terre, mostly with rocky cliffs. You should definitely not miss the statue of the Giant, a huge Neptune 14 metres tall at the far end of Fegina beach, where you can also admire the iconic rock of Monterosso. The church of Giovanni Battista, built between 1200 and 1300, is beautiful too.

VERNAZZA

A real tangle of carruggi, as the narrow streets of Ligurian towns are named. From a promontory high above the sea topped by the ancient Doria Castle, colourful houses tumble down to a charming little port, overlooked by the church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.

CORNIGLIA

The only one of the five villages without direct access to the sea, as it sits 100 metres above it. You reach the village via the famous Lardarina Staircase, which also leads to the blue trail that flanks the Spiaggione di Corniglia, a beach of large white stones; this is followed by Guvano beach, a popular hippie destination in the 70s. Below the village is the small Marina bay.

MANAROLA

Built between two rocky spurs protruding into the sea, the village has a distinctive V shape. For romance, don’t miss the Via dell’Amore, which takes you to Riomaggiore amidst colourful sunsets, crystal-clear sea and lush hills (currently closed for safety work, reopening scheduled for summer 2024). Beautiful in summer, at Christmas the village turns into the world’s largest Nativity scene.

RIOMAGGIORE

The ancient 13th century castle towers over the little village, as does the neo-Gothic church of San Giovanni Battista. A path from the viewing terrace leads to the pebble beach with its crystalline water.

(photos Jack Ward, Josh Hild and Fabio Santaniello)