Imagine a blue gulf in the Ligurian Riviera and a coastal panorama made up of an infinity of mountains “cut into steps” which, covered with vines, go directly to dive into the crystalline waters of the sea. And also try to imagine, in the middle of the sea and the mountains, along those 18 kilometers of indented coast, five precious pearls, five ancient villages with a romantic aspect suspended in time: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso. The impact is unsettling, it takes your breath away. The perspective that makes the experience even more unique is from the sea, in the spirit of the first farmers, fishermen and merchants. Each village is a surprising landing place, a love story that has been renewed every time and that deserves to be lived and told.
Cinque Terre are one of the most incredible places in the world. And it is no wonder that they have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the uniqueness of their “cultural” landscape in which any opposition between nature and culture is abolished.
Almost a thousand years of interaction between man and nature – a thousand years of gestures and hard work – have had, since the first settlements, an irreversible impact not only on the conformation of the territory but also on the history and identity of the inhabitants. The will of man, enhanced by so much courage and work, has generated a landscape shaped by agriculture: seven thousand kilometers of dry stone walls, a length comparable only to the Great Wall of China, are the basis of an incredible work of terraces which have transformed a morphologically hostile environment in a preferred cultivation place.
Today we could ask ourselves: “What prompted those first men to immerse themselves in such an uncomfortable and superhuman investment?”. The answer lies in the climatic conditions that determined the quality of the wine and oil, in the strategic position that satisfied the need for protection from pirate raids but above all in the proximity to Genoa, a seafaring city of international significance, whose port was connected with the rest of the world hitherto known.
With the arrival of the railway in 1800 and with the construction of the coastal road in the mid-twentieth century, Cinque Terre, until then isolated, underwent a profound social change mainly due to the unstoppable process of industrialization which led the inhabitants to work in the cities and to gradually abandon the ancient trades. In the last twenty years the villages live mainly on tourism, with a significant impact on the environment and on the terraces, gradually abandoned.
Hence, in 1999, with the establishment of the Marine Protected Area, an important step was taken to protect a precious habitat and to safeguard the species that inhabit the coastal hills and seabeds, including whales and dolphins, electing the territorial waters in the area of the Cetacean Sanctuary which extends as far as Provence in France. In the same year the Cinque Terre National Park was born, the only institution in Italy aimed at protecting an anthropized environment and provides, among other things, for the protection of the system of dry stone walls that support the cultivated terraces overlooking the sea, very difficult to maintain if not with ancient and tiring skills.
The award to Cinque Terre as Literary Park® dedicated to Eugenio Montale also dates back to 1999.
The inhabitants of the villages have understood that valuing an ancient memory is the only way to continue to maintain the charm of this incomparable paradise. It is not uncommon for young and old to maintain traditions and to return to cultivate the land and produce a wine defined as heroic due to the hard work it requires. Safeguarding the past to project towards the future. A future based on a slow and sustainable lifestyle and tourism based on the promotion of local products and authentic experiences.
Despite modernity, the identity of Cinque Terre has therefore remained firm, as well as the conformation of the villages, an infinite maze of steps worthy of an Esherian painting.
Visitors must be prepared for this: saying that there are too many steps in Cinque Terre is like saying: “beautiful Rome, but too many ruins!” or “Sicily is fantastic, but that volcano should be removed!” or better yet “the Maldives are wonderful, but all those palm trees are unbearable”. The steps of Cinque Terre represent the wonder of these villages, magically built between the sea and the mountains. They are the emblem of this unique place in the world. If you are able to keep being young, at least in your heart, they won’t weigh you down!