The little European seaside towns where houses look about to fall into the sea

Few holiday destinations can claim to be as popular and unique as the Cinque Terre, five pastel-coloured villages perched on the jagged north-western Italian coast.

This area in the Liguria region counts around 4,00 residents, but it’s taken over every year by up to three million visitors from every corner of the world.

The popularity of Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands” in English, has much to do with the rugged beauty of the environment, the array of activities and excursions available to those who want to explore it and its peculiar look.

The rocky coast of the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola in particular is dotted with colourful homes, which look like they are about to tumble down into the sea. 

Their fearless location recalls the first fortified settlements built in the Middle Ages along the coast to fend off Saracen raiders coming from the sea.

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Today, these constructions perched on the shoreline and the stunning surrounding area are no longer threatened by invaders but, rather, are being acknowledged for their beauty.

In 1997, the Cinque Terre as well as nearby Portovenere village and the island of Palmaria, Tino e Tinetto were declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.

Upon encompassing this area into its list of valuable sites, the UN body said it considered it a “cultural site of outstanding value, representing the harmonious interaction between people and nature to produce a landscape of exceptional scenic quality that illustrates a traditional way of life that has existed for a thousand years and continues to play an important socio-economic role in the life of the community”. 

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The villages making up Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

As they are located just a few kilometres from one another, these villages can be visited in just one day – albeit tourists who want to explore them properly will need at least two to three days.

Each village is connected to one another by the 5 Terre Express train, but can also be reached by sea.

Besides the beauty of the Cinque Terre coastline and villages, there is much to explore in the area, including various paths extending for 120 kilometres.

The most famous one, called “Via dell’Amore” (Path of Love) is located between Riomaggiore and Manarola and is set to fully reopen in July 2024 after undergoing extensive renovation.

This one-kilometre-long paved route was carved out of the rock overhanging the sea and winds around the villages and gifts those who cross it with stunning views of the landscape and sea. 

Much like other stunning holiday hotspots, Cinque Terre is afflicted by overtourism, which local administrations fear could have an impact on the quality of life of the population.

In April, the mayors of the villages asked the Italian government to create regulations to restrict the number of tourists who can visit the area during peak season.  

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