Author: Josef Grunig
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Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre are precisely five enchanting medieval villages clutching on to a breathtaking coastline, down slopes that lead rapidly to the shore. A marvellous sight. Over the centuries, Man has shaped the landscape, eking out just enough space from the ungenerous terrain to create precious land for cultivation. Thus were born the terraces descending towards the sea, with vine or olive cultivations, held up by almost 7000km of stonewalling. Beneath the cultivations, clutching on to the rock and the sea, rise five villages, intact, in a characteristic maze of colourful houses. Unesco has nominated the Cinque Terre a World Heritage Site, and the Italian State has created the National Park of the Cinque Terre to ensure their preservation.
The best way to understand this region is to walk through it, along the densenetwork of trails and muletracks that were once the only means of access. There are 21 trails to explore in the Park, one of which runs along the coast and links up all five villages.
The Cinque Terre are also an ideal place for lovers of the sea: the coast is dotted with cliffs, bays, beaches and caves. The sea floor is rich and varied, a paradise for scuba divers, thanks also to three fascinating underwater itineraries designed by the Park.
A striking itinerary, albeit little publicised is "Via dei Santuari". It goes from Monterosso to Riomaggiore winding its way to the ancient sanctuaries built on the mountain by the devout inhabitants of these lands.