Collectively known as the Five Lands, hidden in tiny coves along the craggy southern stretch of the Ligurian Riviera, the Cinqueterre were once virtually unknown to outsiders. Only recently connected by boat to the rest of Italy and each other, these five villages offer a glimpse of an elusive, pristine Mediterranean--Italy as it must have been a century or more ago. This is one of the country's most dramatic coastal settings, with cliffs so harsh and unyielding, that for centuries these fishing hamlets were linked to each other only by boat or a network of mule paths strung along the cliffs. These ancient sentieri are now paved for the most part, and considered one of the more gorgeously scenic and not-too-difficult hikes in Europe. A heavenly plate of pasta with pesto sauce is the payoff at the end of the day, followed by a cold bottle of the local white dessert wine called sciacchetre. With poetic names such as the Via dell'Amore, these panoramic footpaths pass through an overgrown, fragrant mantle of macchia, the Mediterranean's slowly disappearing ecosystem, together with agaves, prickly pears, palms, olives, and everywhere the daringly carved stepped vineyards that produce wine renowned at he least since the 14th century, when it was praised by Boccaccio. Monterosso is the first, the northernmost town, with a handful of hotels and the only village with what might be called a stretch of waterfront, and thus a natural base. They say you can reach the fifth village, Riomaggiore, by foot in five or six hours--but what's the rush?
Best times: May, Jun, and Sept; avoid weekends
(1000 Places to See Before You Die)”