Italy’s Cinque Terre charms with irresistible beauty

It’s impressive that Portofino in Italy maintains its rugged, romantic charm despite being such a popular haunt of celebrities. Dolce & Gabbana have a magnificent cliffside villa here – which is where Madonna celebrated her 51st birthday. Actor Liam Hemsworth visited Portofino last summer after filming the Hunger Games. Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger honeymooned here, as did Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher many, many moons ago.
While film stars and fashion moguls have flocked to what’s considered the prettiest port along the Italian Riviera, it is still relatively unaffected by their glitz and glam.
Portofino’s quaint harbour, cobblestone streets and charming cafés are well worth a visit for their stunning beauty. The harbour is lined with pretty pastel-coloured houses like jewels of a crown. They offer an inviting embrace for the sleek yachts that slice their way through the sapphire sea. Some nuzzle up to the rustic fishing boats where stray cats curl up on the nets.
Wander the streets and poke around the tiny shops. Expensive jewelry and designer clothing stores rub shoulders with souvenir hops offering T-shirts and key chains. It’s a juxtaposition that gives the village quirky character while offering something of interest to everyone.
Hike to Castello Brown, a fortress built around 1425. Take the 20-minute easy footpath from San Giorgio church, or the not-so- easy, very steep stairs from the harbour for a fast, but exhausting shortcut. While only the entrance hall is furnished, the rooms feature photos of famous visitors. However, it is the terrace that’s worth the climb, as the panoramic views of the sea with its changing shades of blue and green are spectacular.
Prices of food and drink can be just as steep as the cliffs in Portofino. However, you can get a slice of Margherita pizza at Taverna del Marinaio for about six euro and enjoy it on their patio overlooking the harbour. Or savour a Limoncello gelato for three euro from Bar Gelateria while dangling your feet over the water. If you feel like splurging, try octopus salad, clams, cuttlefish or the catch of the day.
While Portofino is a major star of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre, a region of five fishing villages, are sensational siblings that satisfy travellers seeking Italian charm.
The villages – Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza – comprise an area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and therefore protected from development.
The villages are miraculously carved out of the steep cliffs in a terraced fashion. Their seemingly impossible site is therefore best visited by ferries or local trains from Le Spezia or Genoa that tunnel through the mountains. Driving is not recommended since many roads in the region are closed due to repairs from either age or mudslides and some towns have banned cars completely. This is a landscape where goat and boat work best.
Monterosso has the best beach of the villages and therefore the main activities here are sunbathing and swimming which draws crowds. Even though this is the most resort-like town of the group, even a buzzing nightlife doesn’t spoil its old world charm.
Riomaggiore is famous for Via dell Amore or Lovers Lane. It’s a one kilometre paved path that was excavated out of the mountainside for the railroad workers. But it also became a place where lovers between Riomaggiore and Manorola would meet. However the path has been occasionally closed due to storm damage so check before you go.
Tiny Manarola, built 70 metres above the sea, has steep narrow alleys leading to the Church of San Lorenzo. In December and January, the hillside is decorated with more than 200 figures and 12,000 shining lamps for what’s considered one of the largest, lighted nativity scenes in the world. The piazza has several quaint restaurants where seafood such as the local fish besugo is popular.
Monterosso al MareCorniglia is the only town that’s not on the water, but it has a hilltop tower that’s worth climbing the 400 steps just for the views. The town is connected to the other villages by railway and footpaths. Surrounded on three sides by vineyards, it is most famous for its wine.
Vernazza is perhaps the fan-favourite for being the most picturesque. It’s known for its adorable pebbled beach where kids paddle and sunbathers who take to the rocks to sunbathe. Visit the Church of Santa Margherita and Tower of Doria Castle. Then relax at one of the restaurants and bars that provide delicious sustenance, as well as pleasant people watching.
With villages like these that refuse to give in to the modern world, add them to your Italian Riviera visit and marvel at their cliff-hanging perseverance.

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