October 12, 2008

The Five Lands: Italy's Cinque Terre

On a wild and rocky stretch of the Italian Riviera sit the Cinque Terre, or Five Lands, a chain of stunning, ancient towns. Collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cinque Terre region is a truly special destination.

It takes some time and effort to reach the towns of the Cinque Terre -- Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore -- which heightens their magic and mystique. If you find yourself anywhere between Genoa and Rome, make the detour.

You can reach the lands by boat, train, car or foot. We drove a high coastal road (ignore the guidebooks that tell you the road is an impassable bad idea) between the lands and ventured down to visit Vernazza and Riomaggiore (photo), both stunners.

For the ultimate Cinque Terre experience, hike the high footpath that links the lands. It's a five-hour walk, but figure on doubling that so you can enjoy at least an hour in each town. Better yet, book a hotel in one of them and watch a Cinque Terre sunset and sunrise, with a lemony Riviera moon sandwiched in between.