The denomination Cinque Terre indicates the stretch of the Ligurian Riviera di Levante (Coast of the Rising Sun) between Punta Mesco and Punta di Montenero and the five villages, known in the past as ‘terre’, that stand along it: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and in 1999 the Cinque Terre National Park was set up to safeguard the area.
The villages date back to the 11th century when the populations of the Val di Vara left their inland settlements to inhabit the bays along the seashore. The land was used first for agricultural purposes, the sloping hills adapted with the terracing characteristic of the area, and later maritime activities were developed.
Starting from the north-west, Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the villages, a coastal town with long beaches and a significant wine producer. Heading East, Vernazza stretches out along a natural cove which protects its harbour. The hamlet of Corniglia is the only settlement that does not have direct access to the sea, standing on a high promontory surrounded by terraces and vineyards. Manarola, the second smallest of the five, only slightly bigger than Corniglia, stands between two rocky spurs in a canyon that slopes towards the sea. The village furthest east is Riomaggiore which takes its name from the stream that flows down the valley, lined with Genovese tower houses which cluster closely together on the slopes at different heights, giving it a picturesque perfection.