Surrounded by vineyards planted on hills which plunge straight in to the sea, the towns of the Cinque Terre are a veritable natural oasis which in 1997 were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. To visit them, given that they are happily free of viable roadways, visitors are well advised to forget the car and use the local train service instead or, during the summer, the daily ferry service (for up to date timetable consult the website Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti). Far the best way to explore this stretch of coast and its five towns clinging perilously to rocky outcrops or nestling in tiny bays, is to follow the coastal footpaths which for centuries have been used by the local people. A twelve kilometer, scenic, sea edge route; all ups and downs through the olive groves and vineyards.

From La Spezia the SS370 highway leads as far as Riomaggiore, the furthest east of the Cinque Terre which, legend has it, was founded in the first half of the 13th century by Greek refugees. The cluster of houses which, from a afar, appear before the visitor like a spectacular multi-colored mosaic, face out on to tiny, winding lanes and alleyways linked by flights of steps and covered passageways all of which dominated by the ruins of the Castle perched on the hill of Cericò. In the high part of the town one finds the house which was once the chosen residence of the Telemaco Signorini; the artist whose paintings of these landscapes are well known. Higher still, from the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Montenero, a panoramic route along the ridges and through the gorges leads to the medieval town of Volastra.

Snaking through the hillside from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the most famous pathway of the Cinque Terre; the "Via dell'Amore". Carved out of the rock directly above the sea between 1926 and 1928, the pathway is best followed at sunset so as to enjoy to the full that which has been defined "the most beautiful walk in the whole world". After some 30 minutes, walkers find themselves in front of a group of houses clinging to the dark rock face directly above the sea, a tiny port sheltered between two rocky outcrops and, up on high, the Gothic Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

Another pathway, the "Via delle Trasparenze Marine", leads to Coniglia and the scenery is again, that of sky, sea, and lush Mediterranean vegetation. Chestnuts, holm oaks and coastal pines cushion the small town which extends out across a rocky promontory some one hundred meters or so above the sea. From here, one can see all four of the other towns of the Cinque Terre and the vineyards which surround them. It is the wine the most celebrated product of this land and those visiting the towns should be sure not to miss the occasion to taste the white Cinque Terre DOC and the Sciacchetrà, one of the world's most prestigious "passito" wines. To visit: the fabulous Ligurian Gothic church of S. Pietro built in 1334 on the site of an 11th century chapel.

From the surrounding terraces and olive groves, the center of Vernazza is easily recognisable with its unmistakable townscape characterised by defensive constructions, tower houses, the Torrione and the Doria Castle. Overlooking the small harbour and the lines of beached boats, is the small square known as "u cantu de musse", or "gossip's corner", on one side of which there is the Church of S. Maria di Antiochia with its high, octagonal-shaped bell tower. Spreading outwards from the "piazzetta" there are some of the most attractive pathways in the area, including that leading to the sanctuary of the Madonna of Reggio with its legendary black Madonna which was said to have been brought here at the time of the crusades.

Finally, there is the most westerly of the five towns, that of Monterosso. In the 16th century the town was protected by a series of thirteen towers; today three of these towers remain: the tower of the Castle, the Aurora tower and the bell tower of the Church of San Giovanni. The town is divided in two by the castle hill and boasts a 14th century parish church with gothic façade. To visit: the Convent and the Church of San Francesco which house prestigious works of art by Van Dyck, Bernardo Strozzi, and Luca Cambasio. The picturesque alleyways in the oldest part of the town are particularly enchanting. Perfect conclusion to this stunningly beautiful itinerary; the superb beaches which extend out in to the crystal clear sea.